Melrose Arch Office Building: Johannesburg South Africa 1997 – 2001
Team: Henri Comrie (design), Chris Wilkinson (project architect)
Client: Mines Pension Fund Properties
Coordinating urban designers: Osmond Lang Moesienyane with Urban Solutions (key members: Paul Wygers, Ludwig Hansen, Graham Wilson)
International urban design consultant: Paul Murrain
The framework for the ground-breaking, high- density, mixed-use precinct at Melrose Arch was conceived by South African architects/urban designers who had then recently returned from post-graduate studies at the Joint Centre for Urban Design in Oxford (JCUD) in the United Kingdom. The framework was developed in conjunction with Paul Murrain, who was an influential teacher at the JCUD during the 1990s. His involvement provided gravitas to arguments supporting high-density, mixed-use commercial development. The approach is one of using design codes developed by architect-urban designers rather than conventional zoning, as typically fashioned by non-designers. Melrose Arch has since set the tone for many similar mixed-use precincts in South Africa, often transplanting the previous sterile mode of segregated office parks or cheap shopping malls surrounded by a sea of surface parking. Inspired by the inherent commonsense of the urban design approach adopted by the project, Henri Comrie pursued postgraduate studies at the JCUD from 2000 to 2002.
Building H302 presented here forms part of a street-defining perimeter block within the larger framework. Four practices each won a building to design through a limited design competition, resulting in each being asked to work side by side within an arrangement consisting of a segment of a coded, predefined perimeter block. The other practices that worked alongside us and contributed to a vibrant debate during the design development were: OMM Design Workshop (now Designworkshop SA) , Orelowitz Rasmuss (now Paragon) and Kruger Roos (now Martin Kruger Associates).
The urban design code dictated that the four-storey office building should occupy a regular, background position within the perimeter block. It is no more than a simple, cost-efficient yet solid and timeless building which contributes to the making of positive urban space within a collective of mutually supportive buildings and spaces. The detailing and proportioning is influenced by Spanish and Portuguese architects accustomed to delivering good, solid architecture with limited budgets. Notable references are the work of Jose Paulo dos Santos, Alvaro Siza and Oriol Bohigas.