Setting a new standard for rural retail
Flagstaff, located in the OR Tambo district in the Eastern Cape, began its existence as a trading post and essentially still serves as a regional node for shopping. The opening of the double-level Flagstaff Square at the end of 2021 has provided a convenient, stylish experience to its community as well as shoppers from nearby districts who visit the area to buy bulk supplies.
The shopping centre was designed by retail architecture specialists MDS Architecture. The building includes both a covered open element and a closed mall design.
Rural retail development specialists, McCormick Property Development (MPD), entered into a joint venture with locally-based Eyamampondo Properties. Aki Savva, partner at MDS Architecture, says that the design brief was the creation of a unique, one-of-a-kind shopping experience that the local community could connect with.
Extensive infrastructure was needed to ensure the development’s success. The roads around the site are being upgraded, and a 440 kVA grid tied PV rooftop system was installed to cater for power consumption. Given the lack of municipal water and sewerage to the site, self-sustaining solutions were required to support the development. Water is now provided to the site from two boreholes and an on-site plant deals with the building’s sewage.
Savva says, “The region is very humid and there were delays caused by high rainfall of over 820mm during the construction period. Despite losing 62 days due to the rain, the mall opened on schedule.”
Flagstaff Square is an 11 000sqm double-level L-shaped building anchored by Shoprite and Clicks. The shopping centre boasts 43 stores and four ATMs with a strong focus on fashion – stores such as Truworths, Foschini, Pepkor and Studio 88 are well represented. Banks and ATMs are an extremely important service in rural communities who often have to travel great distances for banking. A full-service ABSA branch will open by the end of the first quarter of 2022.
An important design consideration for Flagstaff Square was to provide easy access to pedestrians for both the lower and upper levels of the centre. “The site’s dimensional constraints and the natural fall provided a challenge to seamlessly tie the building to its context. The main level of the building faces the main street and is thus easily visible and accessible. We saw potential for an upper-level secondary entrance and created convenient access from the residential neighborhood located behind the shopping centre,” says Savva.
The main-street entrance welcomes pedestrians via a bold entrance portal in the shape of a giant red flag. A similar, but understated solution was applied to the upper-level access.
The design intention for the aesthetic of the shopping centre was to ensure clean horizontal and vertical lines with emphasis placed on the entrances. This concept was also carried through to the colour palette; the field elevation provides a neutral backdrop in white, grey and earthy brown tones which contrast with pops of colour at the entrances.
Savva explains that external and internal spaces were harmoniously linked with the use of materials. “Bulkheads flow out from internal spaces and floor patterns are maintained across various materials. The concept for the floor patterns was inspired by barcodes, evoking the trading post roots of the town in a contemporary way. We have taken advantage of linear lights to encourage pedestrian flow through the building. Long lights which run parallel to walkways assist in bringing shoppers through to all parts of the centre, while lights placed perpendicular to the flow serve to insinuate pause spaces.”
Natural light was an important design aspect at Flagstaff Square. The clerestory glass windows along the mall provide soft southern light, which helps to illuminate the space, and large voids in the first-floor mall slab allow for this natural light to penetrate to the mall level below. The mall on the upper level is visually linked by double-volume spaces to the lower level. Says Savva, “This has assisted in also bringing in natural light from the upper level into the lower level, creating a lighter, more airy space.”
On the lower level, several shops facing the public realm are softened with covered walkways, creating a comfortable and inviting interface with pedestrians.
A formal taxi rank in the parking is key to the mall’s function as a meeting place and transport node in the area.
Unique artistic expression
One of the most memorable aspects of Flagstaff Square is the eye-catching graffiti work throughout the centre. Three feature walls, designed and painted by local graffiti artists Sphesihle Langa and Mduduzi Dzabine, create attractive and inspiring spaces which are often used as selfie backdrops.
Meet the team
Developer: McCormick Property Development
Architect: MDS Architecture
Main contractor: Mike Buyskes Construction
Quantity surveyor: Quanticost
Structural and civil engineer: Hannes Hatting Consulting Engineers
Electrical engineer: Ingplan
Mechanical engineer: Pretocon
Fire consultants: Pretocon
Health and safety: SafeTworx
Mural artist: Siphesihle Langa