Urban Design, Heritage and Architecture

  • Urban design and urban renewal project centering on the redevelopment of the Donkin Reserve in Port Elizabeth.

  • Client: Nelson Mandela Bay Development Agency
    Architects: The Workplace Architects
    Quantity Surveyors: Siseko Quantity Surveyors
    Engineers: Aecon Engineers
    Art Consultants: The Trinity Session
    Environmentalist: CEN IEM Unit
    Heritage Consultants: Ashley Lillie, Margaret Harradine
    Health & Safety: LabourNet ProSafe
    Landscape Architects: Patrick Watson, Mark Joubert
    Contractors: Randcivils, Ngelethu Construction
    Location of Project: Central, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape
    Date of Completion: 2008 to current

Donkin Reserve

Some of the challenges that the public participation process raised were issues relating to the relevance and value of the Reserve. What was its value to the Metro and its citizens? Who was it valuable to? What should this place be for the Metro and its citizens? This resulted in a conceptual framework that collected ideas and comments that lead to the central premise of redefining the place to respond more appropriately to the new Metro around it and, in doing so, became more socially relevant, more useful (particularly as a tourism product) and more economically viable.Phases 1, 2 and 3 are part of larger and ongoing interventions by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) on the Donkin Reserve and environs, starting in 2010 and to be concluded in 2013, that involves an urban open space upgrade and an upgrade to the neighbouring streets. Essentially, phases 1, 2 and 3 of this project aligns itself with the broader vision and ambitions of the Client for a revitalized, redefined, accessible, safe and re-energized inner city that represents all the citizens of our Metro.

This specific spatial focus of the project was to integrate existing important elements, such as the lighthouse and cottage and the Reserve as a whole, into a reworked public space that relates to its use through routes and activities, its heritage (as a potential major tourist attraction) and to integrate with new elements such as the Route 67 Public Art Route. This initiative of the MBDA, with funding by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF) and with its implementation co-ordinated by the MBDA, has become a central part of this and other upgrades in the area.

Conceptually, the heritage response to the works to the cottage and lighthouse (and the Reserve in general) follow a contemporary ‘values based’ approach that acknowledges current discussions on issues related to authenticity and appropriate interventions. This has resulted in a three part heritage strategy of:

1. Identifying the various parts of value, spatially and period wise and integrating or subtly separating them where appropriate.
2. Inserting contemporary elements, including the public art.
3. Redefining the heritage significance of the site as a composite of many elements including new elements.

The original lighthouse was constructed in 1861 and the cottage was constructed in 1865. In 1911 a second structure was added to the composition. This second structure was demolished during the Second World War and a number of additions were added to the cottage in 1939 – 1945. These additions resulted in a cluster of buildings around the base of the lighthouse. The restoration work included the demolition of some earlier more invasive structures around the lighthouse base and the ‘freeing up’ of the lighthouse.

The age of the cottage did not allow for modern day ablution facilities and this resulted in a number of additions around the original structure in the past. It was seen as appropriate to demolish these structures and to accommodate a new ablution facility within the courtyard on a similar footprint to the previous additions. These new toilet facilities are contemporary and concealed behind a decorative wall and screen and open on to the re-created courtyard based largely on earlier photographs. New sliding folding doors link the courtyard more directly to the original cottage.
The design indicates and subtly expresses the different additions to the building by making use of different treatments and colours. For example, all timber work of the original cottage of 1865 is painted where all timber to the rest of the cottage is exposed and treated. Further, the timber work such as architraves and skirting to the original structure has been restored to match existing while the newer additions are noted as different from the original and their timber detailing is more minimal and contemporary and of exposed treated timber. In the reception area, there is the addition of a frameless glazing window in the eastern façade that allows a more visual connection with the lighthouse structure (particularly its base) highlighting the expression of the lighthouse as a freestanding element and allowing for additional sunlight and harbour views into the current tourism office.

Across a grand mosaic 'balcony' (undertaken by students of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University), is a large flagpole at 60m high, the largest in South Africa. Symbolically, if the lighthouse and cottage complex represent a history of the beginnings of the Metro, the flagpole and national flag represent its future. The flagpole is used as an ordering device for other elements of the site that attempt to frame the top of the site and appropriately direct pedestrians and create places for pause and interaction in a simple way. The upper part of the Reserve is made more 'open', by the moving of scattered large palm trees to a tight geometrically organized group in the north west corner of the site.

From the flagpole base to the previously poorly connected steep south east corner, a winding path that is universally accessible follows the slope of the Reserve and connects the site to Chapel Street below better and further, towards the sea and Vuyusile Mini Square. This path is an integral part of the Route 67 Public Art Route. The winding path suggests the voter's queues of 1994 and is marked with crosses suggesting the voters standing in queues of that election.

In terms of this projects' legacy, we believe it will be less attributed to the built interventions but perhaps more noticeably the ongoing development of Route 67, the Reserve as a tourism and event product and new indigenous gardens that will gain height and density over time, soften the Reserve and enhance its core heritage values of open space that is green and accessible to all. In this fashion, the Donkin Reserve, formerly a memorial to white Settler history of the Metro is 'rededicated' to all, made physically and symbolically more accessible and its position as an important heritage place in the Metro is reinforced.