Mall of Thembisa is Thembisa’s new shopping centre on the busy Olifantsfontein Road in the North Western quadrant of the growing township in Gauteng. The mall, which offers 44 746 m2 GLA, serves as a catalyst to kick off further development in this underserviced portion of the township. Plans include high density residential and commercial elements in the long-term.
MDS Architecture designed Mall of Thembisa for rural retail development specialists McCormick Property Development (MPD). Earthworks commenced mid- 2019 and Mall of Thembisa opened to the public on 20 November 2020.
Louis Pretorius, partner at MDS Architecture, says that the double-storey rectangular building is centrally located on the site and is surrounded by 1 475 parking bays. The development includes a standalone Cashbuild and KFC, a taxi rank for 56 taxis as well as a community-based market garden initiative on site.
Jason McCormick, Managing Director of MPD, explains that a central tenet of the approach to shopping centres is to ensure that the social fabric of the community is fundamentally changed, for the better. “We love innovating and challenging our professional teams to create unique centres that speak directly to their communities. We want each centre to be an improvement on the previous one – we challenge the team to make them unique and to ensure that they boast elements that are specific to the community and area it will serve.”
The presence of pockets of dolomite on the site created engineering and construction challenges which required the addition of specialist consultants to the project team.
“Double level malls are generally expensive to develop but this site had a significant fall and the difficult ground conditions required piling and subterranean elements to rectify this. However, this played into our hands, allowing on-grade parking on both levels whilst reducing the building’s footprint and the amount of piling required,” explains McCormick.
The design takes the slope of the site into consideration, as well as the building’s central location. Shoppers enter the building on lower ground level along the east façade; and upper ground level along the west façade, essentially giving the building two prominent front façades.
Says Pretorius, “This positioning required strategic design thinking in terms of the placement of services and delivery areas, which are extensive components of any retail development, especially one of this size.” In response, a services passage ensures easy access to multiple service areas, while design elements along the façade enhance the aesthetic and mask potentially unattractive aspects of service areas.
The area experienced 150ml of rainfall between March and April 2020 which caused massive stormwater damage, in addition to the delays that were experienced because of the Covid-19 hard lockdown. The rainfall washed away half of the hill above the building and resulted in extensive repairs being done once the site was re-opened.
Entrance canopies and façade
The main feature of the external architecture is the distinctive entrance canopies which comprise columns in the shape of stylised tree trunks with branches and shield shaped roofs. The concept of the shield was selected to represent the strength and protection that shield imagery evokes. The largest shield-shaped roof covers the external food court area and main entrance to the building, and the tree-trunk columns are a prominent design element throughout the building – in the double volume spaces in all three courts, as well as along numerous external walkways. The design element is also repeated in motifs painted on the building’s façade and it is what inspired the logo for the Mall of Thembisa.
Externally, the building is painted in monochrome colours with a pop of colour occurring above each entrance. Leaves are referenced in the colour palette throughout the building and mosaic tiling introduces lines of different colours.
The anchor restaurant, Imbizo, is located on the most prominent north east corner of the building. The circular, aluminium-clad, triple volume form takes full advantage of the magnificent views of the township beyond and forms a focal point of the building from the main road.
The food court includes a children’s play area, central hand-washing station and al fresco dining options.
Given the anticipated footfall numbers at the Mall, the brief was to maximise natural light and a feeling of space within the Mall of Thembisa. The numerous pop-up roofs flooding the interiors with natural lighting through clerestory windows are a prominent architectural feature. There are also extensive openings in the upper ground floor slab, with glass balustrades creating double volume spaces which further bathe the building with natural lighting all the way down to the ground level.
The stylised motif of the tree trunks and branches of the external canopies and walkways have also been carried through to the inside of the building by repeating them in the ceiling design and tiling patterns. The monochromatic colour palette is also used consistently in the interior, allowing tenant merchandising and synergy to pop within the mall. Pops of colour are introduced via the tiling, column cladding and hanging pendants with colour changing lighting on the columns creating further interest in the various courts.
A continuous signage bulkhead above the shop fronts and feature lighting bring unity to the interiors and add a sense of intimate proportion to an otherwise grand space.
“Timber elements and finishes are used in the toilet areas and the main court to further provide warmth and texture. The design and selection of finishes ensure intimate proportions in a grand space are achieved at Mall of Thembisa,” says Pretorius.
Innovative local community involvement initiatives
The Kasi CoLAB is a township designer’s emporium that provides local designers with a prime location within Mall of Thembisa from which to trade, free of charge. Eleven local entrepreneurs were selected to trade rent-free for a year with a view to growing their businesses during this time.
The open-plan space located close to a prominent entrance includes a seating area and vibrant graffiti painted by local artists. The CoLAB has already seen the local designers growing from strength to strength with several of them breaking their own turnover records on opening day.
One of the most exciting initiatives is the creation of a farming co-op on site. “I have been wanting to start a farmers’ market for fifteen years and we have finally brought this to life at the Mall of Thembisa,” says McCormick.
The site is adjacent to a flood plain of the Kaalspruit where local farmers have been farming the land for years. A cooperative was formed with these farmers, Reahola, which grows spinach, cabbage, beetroot, assorted herbs and more on site. An offtake agreement that was facilitated with Imbizo (the largest restaurant anchor) determined the first seedlings that would be planted. The seeds were selected to cater to the needs of the Imbizo kitchen who purchased their first crops from the co-op in August 2020.