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Donkin Reserve - Environmental upgrade
Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape


Type:Public Space
2015SAIA EC Award for Architecture


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33°57'42.46" S 25°37'11.94" E

Landscape Architect: Patrick WATSON
Quantity Surveyors: Siseko
Cultural Specialists: CEN

Environmental upgrade of the Donkin Reserve

Project definition, a detailed status quo assessment, stakeholder participation, master planning, design development, technical documentation and implementation.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

(The Workplace Architects)

Award for Architecture Citation

This project adds an important spatial and cultural dimension to the city-scape at urban scale. The once-vacant and vagrant populated hill has become a tourist and artistic attraction as part of Route 67. The project is very well conceived in an architectural as well as an urban design as the space is integrated through gradations of interventions so as to connect to a greater urban setting.

The existing heritage elements – the lighthouse and cottage – were rediscovered and expressed in both a historic and contemporary architectural rhetoric. Good detailing is evident as well as a consistency in effort to integrate this space with the topography.

Only time and public use will determine if it is robust enough. The project is conferred a regional Award for Architecture.

Writings about this entry

Herholdt, AD (Editor). 2013. Coastal Contemporary : Architecture of Nelson Mandela Bay : 2000 - 2013. Port Elizabeth: DOT Matrix Publications. pg 162-165
South African Institute of Architects. 2016. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2015/2016. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 84