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Corobrik face brick enhances design of Port Elizabeth's Helenvale Resource Centre

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Quality building materials and good design should not be restricted to high profile buildings. Even greater thought needs to be put into facilities that serve those that need them most - in this case the Helenvale Resource Centre in northern Port Elizabeth.

Christie van Niekerk, Corobrik's Western Cape Manager, said that one of the chief challenges facing those involved with this project from the outset was finding a balance between providing the best quality building materials and meeting the tight budget provided by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM).

The choice of clay face brick was a perfect fit with the need to keep maintenance costs to a minimum 65 000 Roan Satin FBX for the super structure and internal walls and 102 000 Roan Travertine FBX for the external boundary walls, entrance walls and outbuildings, with quantities having to be increased as the project progressed.

Van Niekerk pointed out that clay brick is not only characterised by its longevity, but also by its ability to save on electricity as it helps regulate temperature in both summer and winter.

The inclusion of environmentally-friendly characteristics added to the structure's sustainability. These included automatic electric light management, heat pumps, rainwater harvesting and wall and roof super-insulation.

Architect, Miles Hollins, from The Matrix Urban Designers and Architects in Port Elizabeth, who conceptualised the project, said that it had progressed from a scheme that included extensive renovations to a complete rebuild of the facility.

The existing community centre was an isolated event on a barren, rocky site in the heart Helenvale. Too small and in a severe state of disrepair, it no longer served the needs of the local community. The initial brief called for extensive renovations to the existing building as well as additional facilities. However, after a thorough analysis of the site and brief and through intense consultation with the client and the community, we realised that the full civic potential of the site could only be realised by demolishing the existing infrastructure to make way for a new, more legible and integrated facility, he explained.

Key to the design was the creation of a community plaza that extends the civic landscape from a new urban park that forms part of the Helenvale Precinct Plan across Leith Street (the primary modal interchange in Helenvale) and then climbs up to the main public entrance to the building.

3,000 of Corobrik's burgundy pavers were used as borders to define the walkway leading to the entrance of the centre, connecting the new complex with the community it serves.

The tree-shaded plaza includes a tall marker tower that defines place and a welcoming pergola that ferries the community into the lightly enclosed Community Street, said Hollins.

He added that the Community Street was the most special area and the primary functional and spatial organizational element of the building. Various community facilities (including community offices, a sub-dividable community hall and a large multi-use hall) are attached to this space. Both halls are characterized by a rich pattern of deep red face brick flanking walls, enveloped in a cranked plane of heavily articulated, charcoal-coloured cladding.

Long waiting times needed to be taken into consideration by the architects when meeting the needs of the community using the Helenvale Resource Centre, particularly for those in conflict situations and needing services such as counselling or parole supervision. To address this, the Community Street includes seating pods for waiting. These semi-enclosed, semi-transparent, timber-clad forms create smaller, more intimate, subspaces that provide privacy, whilst also allowing for public interaction.

Community facilities (including the Councillor's chambers and a boardroom) are located beyond the seating pods and flank the Community Street on the Leith Street side of the building. They are housed in a simplified, sharp-edged, flat-roofed, solid plain white box with openings grouped into a linear element that directs attention towards the main public entrance to the Community Street.

The Helenvale Resource Centre is situated within the Northern suburb of Helenvale, Port Elizabeth. This image highlights the intensity of the urban grain which is Helenvale.