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Helenvale Multi-purpose Community Centre
Edenvale, Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape


Type:Community Centre
2013SAIA EC Award for Architecture
2014SAIA Award of Merit


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33°54'24.34" S 25°32'57.32" E

Award for Architecture Citation

While architecture for social engineering is an anathema, where the architects involvement in a project helps direct and enrich the brief so as to create more than just a building, but a community generator, it is praiseworthy. When the resultant design is well considered, the designer engaged with the site from edge to edge, so as to knit the project into the social and urban fabric it has all the attributes of merit. This is such a project. While not an extensive or complex brief the scaling, palette of materials and organisation of spaces all take on an urban dimension and become part of the public realm of the community it serves while being mindful of aspects of security and robustness. It is deemed by the panel of assessors to be exemplary of its type and conferred a regional Award for Architecture.

Award of Merit citation

Helenvale, on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, is situated in a hilly landscape. The small grain residential fabric of this community marches relentlessly like a monotone quilt over the hills and valleys. Sporadically, there is a thickening of the fabric with larger-scale urban elements where social, commercial and community functions are accommodated. Welcome relief from the relentless and depressing character of this environment can be found in the form of certain investments in the upgrading of public urban spaces. In these areas, it is as if there is a quickening of the collective pulse and a far more positive experience of Helenvale comes to the fore.

This community centre forms part of the public space-making programme. The facility, replacing a previous and obsolete community centre, is appropriately sited on top of a hill. The views from, and towards, this small acropolis seem to imbue the whole area with a more positive air.

The public and urban spaces that have been made culminate in, as well as connect seamlessly into, the community centre. The climax is a well-defined public forecourt, emphasised with a vertical element (a specific requirement of the development agency), a 'community street' (as organising element of the whole complex), and a less important exit/ entrance to this 'street' at its far end. All the community facilities, like the support services offices and various multi-purpose halls, relate to this 'street' in a logical and direct way. In this well-lit and well-proportioned space, provision has been made for semi-private waiting areas. At times, people wait in these areas for very private purposes and these cubicles enable the wait to be more dignified.

There is a straightforward and logical simplicity to the structure and forms employed throughout this building. Considerable care has been taken to bring daylight into the building, and to constantly and positively relate the interior of the building to its immediate exterior. This immediately assists with orientation, and creates a positive transparency where all activities can take place in the open. What exterior spaces are left on the site have been well considered, cared for and brought in to complement the building. Colour, daylight, expressive and exposed structural elements are used throughout to emphasise orientation and to create memorability.

Compared to the previous facility it has replaced, and in experiencing the positive role that this building and the adjacent urban space-making actions have brought about in the area, Matrix Urban Designers and Architects should be congratulated for their positive role in the physical and social development of the Helenvale community.

(Paul Kotze - 2014)

Writings about this entry

Herholdt, AD (Editor). 2013. Coastal Contemporary : Architecture of Nelson Mandela Bay : 2000 - 2013. Port Elizabeth: DOT Matrix Publications. pg 32-37
South African Institute of Architects. 2014. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2013/2014. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 32-33