Cruising into KZN, Next Stop: Nelson Mandela Cruise Terminal


The Port of Durban, located on the East Coast of South Africa, is the ocean cruise capital of Sub-Saharan Africa. After decades of operating cruises out of a rudimentary shed, the city now enjoys a landmark terminal which is both energising and catalysing its urban context, offering a luxurious arrival to a prime coastal vacation spot. Nelson Mandela Cruise Terminal not only offers a spatial and visual connectivity to the historic precinct, but also creates a welcoming link between the city’s beachfront and the harbour edge.


The elongated platform situated at Berth B, along Mahatma Gandhi Road positioned between a sand bypass installation to the East and the adjacent port operations to the West, offered a prime location within the point precinct for the much-needed cruise terminal. Its proximity to the historic quarter and the beachfront promenade to the Northeast establishes a vital connection between these significant areas, promoting accessibility and fostering a sense of integration between a new installation, the historic quarter, and the surrounding urban fabric. Ultimately, the site provided a magnificent opportunity to integrate an urban regenerative condition within the precinct.



Architecture enjoys a multivalency which spawns the extraordinary. The Nelson Mandela Cruise Terminal project was blessed with a rich tapestry of opportunities – at once, a potential catalyst for the regeneration of a decaying historic precinct, a new piece of urban jewellery in a liminal location between land and sea, and a portal to celebrate the Zulu culture. This terminal building was inspired by these wonderful opportunities and was driven as much by the desire to create a bold landmark as it was to derive an urban offering overtly celebrating the textures, colours, and motifs of indigenous crafting and building.



The terminal was conceived as the new portal to the Kingdom of the Zulus, welcoming tourists to the province and its traditional culture. To deliver this gateway, the terminal projects a powerful form which displays many layers of metaphor. Conceived with an overt African identity, the envelope of the terminal draws inspiration from the earthy colours, vibrant textures, and traditional triangular motifs displayed in Zulu crafts. Its terracotta cladding with variant colouration wraps all surfaces of the building, including the roof, and unifies its form to offer a powerful image for passengers to view from docked liners’ decks above. Randomly arranged structural columns set on an ‘African grid’ support a vast canopy interfacing an expansive piazza. This over-sailing construct announces the entrance and together with the folded form of the façades and roof characterises the terminal to generate a simple, yet intricate architectural expression.



Designing the terminal for the efficient embarking and disembarking of 6 000 passengers per day posed several key challenges. Unlike an airport, a cruise terminal demands large flows of people over short time frames, so a clear and legible planning solution over a single level was fundamental. The terminal is also designed to convert to a conference centre during off-season, which was achieved by allowing the division wall between the arrivals and the baggage collection halls to fully slide away. To support quick turnaround times, careful attention was also paid to efficient vehicle and pedestrian traffic flows.

The terminal building posed a significant challenge in terms of its structural requirements, too; with
its large, shed-like design and expansive spans, the building’s structural integrity required a consistent
1.2-metre-deep primary steel structural zone covered with profiled aluminium sheeting.

Main Image NMCT


The terminal’s design process placed a strong emphasis on incorporating fundamental sustainability measures to minimise environmental impact, conserve resources, and promote a more sustainable and responsible maritime industry. From façades, light, and energy, to water and landscaping, consideration and conservation were priority for the longevity and overall impact of the project.

The Nelson Mandela Cruise Terminal is proving to be a very positive and powerful contributor to the regeneration of one of the oldest parts of city of Durban. It not only welcomes tourists and guests to the city, but also highlights the beautiful culture that awaits them on their journeys. The building has drawn significant attention as a piece of African architecture exuding the craft of KwaZulu-Natal’s native culture, delivering a powerful and compelling welcome to recreation in the urban fabric of the City of Durban.

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