(Port Elizabeth) – SVA International Architects are nearing completion of the mammoth two-year, R420-million upgrade of one of South Africa’s iconic retail nodes, Greenacres Shopping Centre.
The massive transformation of Port Elizabeth’s retail icon is set to wrap up in the first half of 2017, with the cherry on top being the opening of a state-of-the-art Virgin Active gym adjoining the centre next July.
The upgrade is one of the many transformations undertaken by the architectural firm, which has had a long relationship with Greenacres, having been at the helm since the design of the original building for OK Bazaars (now Shoprite/Checkers), which opened on October 22, 1981.
Since the building of OK Bazaars on the grounds of the former Fairview Race Course, Greenacres has grown into a 46,500m² shopping centre, being joined over the years by Shoprite, Woolworths and The Bridge. Although the four entities are separately owned, they boast a combined gross lettable area (GLA) of about 90,000m².
According to Jannie Wagenaar, one of the SVA architects heading the project, the revamp has taken Greenacres from an eighties icon and transformed it into a contemporary attraction with floating cantilevered roofs at its various imposing entrances, with an abundance of natural light and an airy atmosphere.
“When Greenacres opened its doors, the in-vogue shopping centre design was very much a heavy geometric-patterned style, with low ceilings and narrow passages,” said Wagenaar.
“Over the years, shopping centres have developed into very social spaces – the equivalent of the new main shopping streets for communities with wide, flowing walkways, high ceilings and lots of natural light. This is what the new Greenacres represents.”
According to SVA Associate and lead architect on the project, Shadley Ravat, some modern and earthy design elements added to the new-look centre include natural timber strip ceilings celebrating the entrances, with the timber theme carrying through into the centre’s furniture. Multi-glass panelling and green walls at the new entrances – elevated from 4m in the old centre to a striking 12m high with the new design – further enhance the earthy, real feel which is continued with spring-shaped bicycle stands.
Now stores spill onto walkways with much less of a divide between them and the general public areas, which gives the effect of walking down a main shopping street, he said.
“The combination of the relocated food court as a social and commercial connector, the bold entrances, new branding, and creative freedom given to SVA based on a sound client relationship has resulted in a revitalised, contemporary renovation,” said Ravat.
Since establishing its presence in the Eastern Cape with the design of OK Bazaars, SVA has not only become the largest architectural firm in the province but also firmed up its retail grip. It is currently the go-to firm for most of the major shopping centres in the region, including Kenako Mall, Pier 14, Motherwell Shopping Centre, Cleary Park Shopping Centre and Equinox in Jeffreys Bay.
“There is a rise in the appeal of open spaces. Shopping centres are moving toward being airy, well-ventilated, with lots of natural lighting and greenery with plants and trees inside,” said Wagenaar. “It’s moving towards creating a greater user experience reminiscent of shopping on the old main street. In the past the emphasis was on pleasing the store. Now the emphasis is on pleasing the shopper, and in doing so enabling them to interact more with the store.”
Greenacres centre manager Brent Starr described the transformation as “night and day”.
“It is a total overall, bringing in a clean, classic look and taking out all the clutter,” said Starr, adding that the revamp had seen the return of “many of our loyal customers”. Many big brands were also now interested in setting up shop at the centre, he said.
“Having the original architects involved has been an amazing experience, as they have understood our needs from day one and helped us change with the times.”