(Port Elizabeth) – The opening this week of the largest Virgin Active health club in the Eastern Cape – a modern, R100-million, raised health and fitness space – signifies the culmination of a two-year upgrade of Port Elizabeth’s iconic Greenacres Shopping Centre precinct.
Jannie Wagenaar (SVA PE) and Brent Starr (Greenacre Centre Manager) outside the new Virgin Active at Greenacres.
Picture Brian Witbooi

Designed by SVA International, the highly-anticipated state-of-the-art, 3 572m2 Virgin Active – 100m² larger than the former premises across the road – officially opens its doors on Saturday (July 29). The firm also led the renovation of the adjoining shopping centre.

According to SVA International’s Jannie Wagenaar, who worked on the project, the architectural team’s brief was to create a contemporary, cube-like fitness space that would become a landmark in its own right, while fitting in with the upgraded shopping centre precinct and activating the centre’s underutilised rooftop parking.

Their solution was to create an eye-catching, two-level building raised on pillars above the existing ground-level centre parking. The building’s elevated entryway connects via a bridge to the upper parking decks at the centre’s northern retail entrance.

Wagenaar said the elevated nature of the building presented a number of unique structural challenges as well as opportunities to maximise the 360-degree views of the city.

Jaco Howard, also of SVA International, said the team had made the most of the ocean views from the swimming pool, situated on the lower level, by using large windows with high-performance glazing and sun louvres on the north-eastern corner of the building.

On the mezzanine level, full-height glazing on the studio windows, interspersed with off-shutter concrete details, framed the views of the Lady Slipper mountain to the west, he said.

Howard said fitness spaces naturally demanded high-volume areas, which gave the team plenty of room to flex their architectural muscle.

“The building is very simple and sleek, so we incorporated pop-out elements such as vertical sheeting, glazing details and red composite aluminium finishes to create points of architectural interest,” he said.

Of the structural challenges, Wagenaar said one of the major engineering feats was effectively suspending the swimming pool above the ground-level parking.

“Concrete is not a waterproof substrate, so we undertook a number of intense waterproofing measures to ensure that there are no leaks, including adding additives to the concrete.”

Wagenaar said the 308,000-litre pool was undergirded by a system of large structural beams to support the weight and counter the movement of the water when the pool was in use.

He said various sustainable initiatives, such as rainwater harvesting for topping up the pool, and recycling grey water from showers, were being investigated.

“The rooftop, which is white, is also designed to be energy efficient and solar-farm ready.”

Greenacres centre manager Brent Starr said the opening of the new health club would add tremendous value to the Greenacres precinct and he looked forward to a positive collaboration between the health club and the shopping centre.

“This state-of-the-art health club is the largest in the Eastern Cape and is completely unique in its layout and format. For Port Elizabeth and the whole Greenacres community, it’s a huge draw card. We feel this partnership will really benefit both parties and we look forward to the journey ahead.”