Realising Conradie Park
Once a medical centre opened in 1938, the location on Moringa Way between Thornton and Pinelands has been known for many things: a government-owned military hospital, a leading centre for the treatment of Spinal Neurodegenerative Disease, and a site that stood derelict for more than 15 years. Today, this 2023 CIFA Award-winning innovation in urban living proudly claims this space, a game-changing better living model, made possible by dhk Architects and Jakupa Architects and Urban Designers.
An urban village
The brief for this noble endeavour was to develop an innovative model for rolling out high density, integrated residential communities. In response, the architecture of Conradie Park departs from the prevailing suburban typology of the surrounding neighbourhoods. It proposes a new typology of high-density living that is appropriate to its inner-city location, creating opportunities for people with diverse incomes to live closer to public spaces, schools, and work opportunities.
To conceptualise the design for the site’s new chapter, dhk Architects was commissioned in a joint venture with Jakupa Architects and Urban Designers. The team was responsible for the urban design framework, architecture, public open spaces, landscaping, streets and pedestrian walkways, courtyards, parks, and squares. The Conradie Better Living Model is one of seven provincial Game Changer projects instituted to improve the lives of citizens in the province, therefore providing sufficient affordable housing was a planning pre-requisite. The project combines different housing tenures, with social rental, subsidised First Home Finance/FLISP housing, and affordable market accommodation present on the same site, to foster a socio-economically diverse community.
The neighbourhood is not a gated estate, but rather a contiguous public-private campus that includes two schools, various creches, a convenience retail centre, a gym, and extensive pet-friendly parks. The space has been conceived as an urban village, with its own character and identity, while still retaining its connection with the wider city.
The development features red brick four-storey perimeter housing blocks set on pleasantly landscaped grounds for open air activities. As an interesting contrast to the new buildings, the site also features older structures from the first half of the 20th century. The architectural scale and spatial effect create a common visual language, which strikes one as more urban district/suburb than housing estate, and a congenial even-handedness in the distribution of smaller, medium, and larger units caters to a hierarchy of public, semi-public, and private functions. No visual or other coding differentiation is made to indicate the exact income level of residents, ensuring mixed housing of a democratic kind.
A public network
The Conradie Park concept integrates urban design into the overall architectural vision. The buildings sit within a continuous public realm network of streets, squares, parks, and piazzas, with generous tree-lined sidewalks and a linear park called Grande Park. Spread across around 30 erven, in single or multiple building configurations, buildings range from 13 metres up to 25 metres in height. The streetscape and walkways connect the public spaces together, creating an integrated overall network. A perimeter block forms a traditional design component to create protected space and facilitate greater surveillance, while strong public edges contrast the softer, landscaped private courtyards.
The urban design is robust, formed as a grid pattern of streets and perimeter blocks, with a consistent and legible high-quality public realm network. Small block sizes with a fine-grain network of streets and pedestrian walkways facilitate pedestrian permeability. The grid orientation aligns to the geometry of the canal and proposed linear park along the southeast boundary of the site, creating a well-defined park edge. This layout, rotated at 45 degrees to the north/south and east/west axis, also maximises solar orientation for most apartments.
Conradie Park serves as a multi-faceted space within its community, catering to a range of socio-economic backgrounds and providing diverse opportunity for its inhabitants. This kind of integration may well become a benchmark for projected socially-integrated urban environments planned across South Africa.