Africa’s 1st Green City … Living with Purpose

Within the first three minutes of speaking with Henk Boogertman, executive director of Menlyn Maine, it soon became clear that what he and his team were building was more than just an impressive marketing stunt.

Of course, Menlyn Maine being dubbed as Africa’s first green city is notable in itself. But Boogertman and his team are looking to achieve more than that. They are not only creating the single largest development project in South Africa’s capital city, Pretoria, but they are striving to stimulate a paradigm shift in how South Africans live, work and play.

“We believe we’re doing something rather unusual and are confident that we’re developing something exceptional,” says Boogertman.

The concept for the ±8 billion rand Menlyn Maine project, nicknamed “the Sandton of Pretoria” by Boogertman, was inspired by the principles of New Urbanism, an urban design concept that incorporates a traditional neighbourhood community with quality architecture, urban design, tree-lined streets incorporating both natural beauty and human connectivity in public spaces whilst encouraging residents to either walk, cycle or use public transport from one location to the other.
However, Boogertman started putting pen to paper some six years ago while practising as a senior partner in one of the largest and most successful architectural companies in South Africa, Boogertman + Partners Architects, where he proposed the idea of creating a decentralised Business District in Pretoria that was built around a park, like for instance Hyde Park in London and Central Park in New York City.

“In South Africa, malls have become the place where people gather and where they feel safe,” he explains. “The park is something where people can come back to the streets again. We need to go back to the high street shopping environment with parks and sidewalks in, a safe environment and an attractive place to walk around in. It’s nothing new, nothing extraordinary, just a good and healthy way of living brought back to the local South African context.”

Generally speaking, the residential neighbourhoods, retail spaces and office buildings have all been separated in South African cities, but what Menlyn Maine is striving to do is bring them back together again to create a healthy mixed-use city environment that “doesn’t die down when everybody goes home from work”.

Reaching new green heights

“Menlyn Maine is more than just a city. It’s a pioneering lifestyle that not only enables one to live with purpose, but also ensures the sustainability of future generations,” says the company on its website.

Other than the fact it’s a flagship project for Pretoria – the 55 000 square metre Central Square project behind the next phase of the development will be creating approximately 3,500 jobs during construction and approximately 1,500 jobs after completion – Menlyn Maine’s primary ‘claim to fame’ is its attempt to be Africa’s first truly green city.

It’s a high bar to reach, but the top honour is open for the taking. In December 2011, Siemens and the Economist Intelligence Unit published the African Green City Index, which analyzed the aims and achievements of 15 major cities in 11 African countries with respect to environmental performance and policies. According to the results, no African cities ranked in the “Well Above Average” category, but Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg joined the likes of Accra, Casablanca and Tunis as “Above Average” cities in Africa.

Pretoria ranked as “Average” in the Green City Index, but interestingly had the lowest population density out of the 15 cities whilst generating the most waste at 1,070 kilograms per person per year.

What this means is Menlyn Maine has a real opportunity to be a game changer.

Boogertman says they’re not only aspiring to be carbon neutral, but all of Menlyn Maine’s buildings have been designed with the aim of achieving a four-star rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). This in itself would be an impressive achievement, but the developers are making history with their aim to build an entire green city precinct with a 4-star LEED rating, which will eventually offer a total lettable area of around 315,000 square metres including 320 residential units and support a population of approximately 20,000 people.

“No one has ever achieved anything like this in South Africa, or even Africa as far as we know,” says Boogertman. “It’s quite an ambitious project in that sense.”

As a symbol of its dedication to its noble task, Menlyn Maine has partnered with the Clinton Climate Initiative as one of 16 green cities being built around the world. Boogertman says Menlyn Maine will incorporate several green initiatives into its project like careful thermal planning, recycling of refuse and water harvesting, sustainable landscaping by using indigenous plants that don’t use lots of water, energy saving like waterless urinals and LED lighting, as well as encouraging walking, cycling or public transportation as convenient alternatives to driving.

Considering buildings are responsible for ± 40 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and on the other side account for a quarter of the world’s emissions – with South Africa producing 355 tons of CO2 emissions per square kilometre – Menlyn Maine says its buildings will reportedly consume ± 50 per cent less energy than the average commercial building and generate 33 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions leading to operational savings of over 100 rand per square metre per year.

The beneficial statistics speak for themselves, and yet Boogertman admits the biggest challenge so far has been to make Menlyn Maine commercially viable as “it’s quite expensive to go green”.

“Everybody buys into the concept of green buildings, being carbon neutral and the wonderful park landscape, but it does come with a price,” he says.

Constructing the Future

With over 200,000 square metres being dedicated to office space, Boogertman says the development is progressing very positively so far and the first two corporate tenants, Nedbank and Sage VIP have already moved in.

The GBCSA awarded Nedbank a 5-Star rating while Sage VIP received a 4-Star rating. Sage VIP has also recently been awarded the SAPOA award for the best Commercial Head Office building in South Africa.

At the launch of Nedbank, a member of the development team said: “What we have built here is so much more than an incredible office building. It is a piece of the puzzle that will help humanity find its way into a sustainable future. For that we can all be exceptionally proud.”

A 3,200 square metre building will be built next, to be tenanted by Regus, which is scheduled for completion in June 2014.

Sun International has also just announced its intention to build a 3 billion rand Urban Entertainment Centre in this precinct of the future by relocating its Marula Sun gaming license to Menlyn Maine. This world class project will include a casino, convention and conference centre, 8,000 seater entertainment arena, restaurants and speciality retail. A 100 room five star hotel will also form part of the complex.

Boogertman says the project is also currently in the advanced planning stages of its vibrant city centre where everything will be rippling out from, like retail offerings including food, services and other specialty stores. The Central Square project will not only be the focal point of Menlyn Maine, but will also fulfil the role of being the meeting place for the entire community.

According to the development plan, it will include the construction of a 4,000 square meter Virgin Classic gym, a 217 room Tsogo Sun Square Metro hotel, 9,600 square metres of office space and 27,000 square metres of speciality retail and arranged around a piazza with restaurants, coffee shops and an art gallery. The Central Square is anticipated to be opened during Easter 2016 while the rest of the project will be rolling out and completed over the next decade.

“It’s more exciting than the usual one off mundane project,” he says. “Hopefully it will be setting a standard that will be very difficult to beat in a South African context.”