Willow Bridge Lifestyle Centre
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Award of Merit Citation
This shopping mall is an instance where this type is conceptualised and resolved in a unique way, making for compact dimensions achieving an externalized shopping center with activity surrounding an active open-air street of human scale. Edges are experienced as a collection of individual shops addressing the space.
The massing of the building is elegant, the detailing of connections and corners are all well executed, landscaping is integrated with the court’s space and is congruous with the architectural language and pallete, signage is well designed, controlled and unobtrusive, yet effective. This development is not architecturally themed - rather a specific style syntax is constructed by means of the development of a tectonic ensemble that has an honest expression of materiality, structurally congruent materials, and a focus on spatial qualities and legibility. The meritorious achievement is of quality, congruency and honesty.
Award of Excellence Citation
It is unusual in the commercial sector - and in particular the mall as type - to discover a project that challenges all preconceptions of what such projects innately are. This project takes its cues from South African love of outdoors, of open skies, of long vistas and open horizons, and responds to these in an architectural fashion devoid of funnies or fads.
The clients outlined their desire for a new concept retail centre that would not only reflect the uniqueness of the site and respond sensitively to its context, but also directly challenge the outdated and traditional retail model of its neighbouring regional shopping malls.
Retail centres have become increasingly important civic buildings and serve a function within the public realm way beyond that of merely being a convenient place to shop. They can be viewed as modern town squares, market places and high streets. Apart from enticing customers to come and shop, they need to reflect the growing desire to experience an environment that both supports and encourages the human need to socialise, gather, relax and be entertained within a safe and stimulating place. This experience would then be further enhanced if the visitor could enjoy the beauty of natural light, fresh air, open skies above and the changing seasons. If one can depart from the painted blue-sky plasterboard ceilings of the artificially lit themed mall and replace it with the reality of nature outside, great progress for the future of retail design in South Africa will be made. The developers showed enormous courage and faith in supporting these design principles, which resulted in what is the first truly open-air mall of its size in South Africa.
The linear nature of the site influenced the concept of re-inventing a contemporary version of the retail 'high street'. The building also needed a successful interface between the urban edge of the Tygervalley business district and the natural beauty of the greenbelt and rehabilitated Elsieskraal River that borders the residential suburbs. The centre is anchored by major tenants on both ends. The overall length of the open street measures 260 metres and is articulated by three 'village squares' and series of pedestrian bridges that cross the street at first floor level. The squares are, in all cases, the focus of the restaurant offerings and are further enhanced by specially designed water features and raised three planters.
The aesthetic influences on the design of Willow Bridge came from the need for the architecture to have a comfortable human scale and the desire to respond to the traditional Cape vernacular of the area.
This was achieved through specific material choices such as the 'klompie' brick shop-front dividing columns and in architectural elements such as the typical 'lean-to' veranda roofs that protect shoppers from inclement weather.
The success of Willow Bridge, and that all future open-air centres, will be based on whether the mindset of the public can be changed from shopping within 'comforts' of internalised air conditioned spaces, to outdoor environments with varying climates, as enjoyed on famous retail streets throughout Europe.