The Helenvale Multi-purpose Centre, Port Elizabeth

The existing community centre on a rocky site in the heart of Helenvale was too small and in disrepair and no longer served the needs of the community. The initial brief called for renovations and additional facilities.

However after analysis of the site and the brief and consulting the community, it was realised that the site's maximum civic potential would be achieved by introducing a new, more legible and integrated facility. Key to the design is a Community Plaza extending the civic landscape from a new urban park on Leith Street (Helenvale's primary modal interchange) and stepping up to the main entrance of the building. A sculpture consisting of a large stainless steel ring, with a boy flying a kite (out of resin) in the community park, also connects the park with an art work directly opposite at the the entrance door of the complex, consisting of a stainless steel plate with words laser cut, supplied by school children from Helenvale.

This spatial relationship connects the complex with the community it serves. The tree-shaded plaza includes a tower, an NMBM requirement for Community Centres, which defines place, and a welcoming pergola to ferry the community into the lightly enclosed Community Street. The boy has become known as the "Little Madiba" and is very popular for photographic sessions, especially for brides on a Saturday.

The Community Street is the most special place in the building. The primary functional and spatial organising element, the community functions including Community Offices, Community Hall and a large Multi-Purpose Hall - are attached to it. This linear space is the dominant form characterised by transparency and defined by a laminated timber mono-pitch roof structure.The Community Plaza flows through it, accentuated by the continuation of the floor material and a spinal vertical plane, from outside to inside and outside again.

The Community Street orientates the complex parallel to Leith Street, a spatial characteristic prevalent in the dense, semi-formal urban fabric of Helenvale. Waiting is often arduous, especially in a facility offering a wide range of services e.g. rape counselling and parole supervision. The Community Street includes seating pods for waiting. These semi-enclosed, semi-transparent, timber-clad forms create smaller, more intimate, sub spaces that offer privacy as well as public interaction.

The Community Services offices and boardroom are located beyond the seating pods and flank the Community Street. In contrast to the Community Street the form in which they sit is a flat-roofed plain white box. The openings, grouped as a linear element, highlight the horizontality of this form and direct attention to the main entrance.

The Community Hall and Multi-Purpose Hall have similar forms and articulation, and are characterized by a rich pattern of red facebrick flanking walls, enveloped in a plane of articulated, charcoal cladding. If all the halls are fully occupied and the offices staffed, the building has a total capacity of 1 000 people. Active and passive environmentally conservative measures such as automatic electric light management, heat pumps, rainwater harvesting and wall and roof super-insulation, fulfill an integral role in the design.

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