Can a Community Really be Designed?
Category Articles of Interest
Tim Johnson Principal of Seeff North Coast, examines the impact of living spaces on our lives, living spaces and communities
It has been said that the role of architecture is to create a habitat and fulfil the needs of society or individuals for better places to work and live. Often people find it difficult to verbalise why a space makes them feel a certain way, but great spaces make you feel uplifted, good about being there and invigorating. Research has given us a better understanding of the impact that the quantity, scale, dimensions and characteristics of space have on our creative thought processes, our well-being and our ability to learn. We know that in hospitals, good natural light helps patients to heal almost 20% faster, and it has a measured impact on student outcomes in schools. It's with these ideas in mind that this article has been approached taking into account how the community infrastructure is being designed in the new estates that have become a large part of the development landscape on the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal.
It's safe to say that we don't live in a natural environment. Fifty per cent of the world's population live in constructed, urban environments. There is therefore a growing desire to live in spaces that facilitate community whilst solving the problems of energy use, climate change and carbon emissions. It is so encouraging to see the commitment that many of our established and new Estates have made to these principles. In some corners, people talk disparagingly about the fact that security estates are like bubbles or shuttered from the realities of the outside world or even elitist. Whilst there is no arguing that living within many of our estates comes at a premium relative to the rest of the market, I can't help but think that the value being offered is so much more than the bricks and mortar of a house. I like to think that amongst other things, these developments are playing an integral part in securing and rehabilitating vital ecosystems, encouraging sustainable building practices, building communities and re-connecting people with nature.
Established estates like Simbithi, Dunkirk, Brettenwood, Palm Lakes and Zimbali have in their own way already created vibrant communities, challenged traditional building practices and protected some of our most precious fauna and flora, whilst newcomers like Elaleni and Zululami are looking to set new benchmarks. I was recently visiting Elaleni for an update on the progress, and I was blown away by the efforts of the developers and landscape architects in creating a truly inspiring place to live. Of the 46 hectares estate, 17.5 hectares are made up of a completely protected and rare swamp forest with an enchanting raised walkway. There are also numerous conservation servitudes and beautifully designed and landscaped common spaces. The gatehouse and entrance area is truly a theatrical experience as was the brief to the landscape architects, Uys & White, and is probably the most impressive yet unassuming examples of considered design on the North Coast.
We can consider ourselves extremely lucky to have so many of these estates on our doorstep. It's important that they are recognised not just as a home for the privileged few, but as sanctuaries protecting our precious natural heritage. Equally importantly, they are places where through the creation of a variety of common spaces, we can encourage more balanced and connected communities in a world where we increasingly don't even know our neighbours.
Author: Tim Johnson