Newtown Junction: preserving heritage and bringing new life to the city

Newtown Junction

Newtown Junction

13 August 2014 - Newtown Junction, located in the heart of Johannesburg’s Newtown Precinct, will see the long-neglected ‘potato sheds’ transformed into a vibrant, mix-used development that will comprise a 36 000 m² shopping centre, 30 000 m² of office space, gymnasium and four levels of basement parking providing 2 400 bays.

The development is situated right in the middle of Newtown’s cultural district next to the Museum of Africa and the striking 1913 Edwardian building that was redeveloped into the popular Market Theatre.

Developed by Atterbury Property, Newtown Junction signals both the growth of Johannesburg’s city centre as well as the renewal and revival of the city in a way that preserves its heritage and history.

Construction commenced in October 2012, with completion set for the end of September 2014.

Aurecon played the role of structural engineer on this landmark project, bringing to the table a wealth of knowledge around the complexities of working in the Johannesburg Central Business District environment as well as an ability to ramp up significant project resources at short notice.

Careful consideration of heritage structures and the inputs of multiple stakeholders

The R1.3-billion development is backed by the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) and has seen the South African Heritage Resources Agency’s (SAHRA) inputs carefully considered, due to the historic nature of the site.

“Mixed-use developments often dictate working with a complex design team. On this project, this included three architects, i.e. retail, commercial and heritage. It was essential that Aurecon build strong relationships across these teams, as well as develop construction efficient solutions to expedite the tight programme,” says Stoffel Mentz, Aurecon Project Director and Structural Engineer.

He goes on to say the new development displays a very unique design. “The project team under the guidance of DHK Architects took particular care in creating a structure that connects the past, present and future with vibrant flair, making it an exciting place for people to work, shop and eat in one of South Africa’s most compelling economic hubs.”

Newtown Junction’s retail area includes a portion of the steel warehouses (potato sheds) that were originally designed in 1910 for the purpose of storing vegetables and fodder that were distributed to fresh produce markets across the country by rail.

Accommodating existing structures

“There are four basement parking levels, two retail levels above the parking as well as three levels dedicated to office space above the retail portion. A portion of the building was constructed under the elevated M1 highway, which required a very unique geometry in order to accommodate the highway piers,” says Mentz.

“Some sections of the structure’s roof are only 3-4 m below the structure of the M1 highway above. Furthermore, the floor level of the lower retail level is up to 3 m below the founding levels of the highway piers and columns. This meant the project team had to isolate construction while building around existing highway piers and columns. What’s more, we had to design lateral support systems to protect the bridge piers, ensure that the safety of motorists was not jeopardised as well as design a roofing system that caters for storm water flooding from the highway in these areas,” explains Mentz.

Overcoming an abundance ground water

Coupled to this, the project site was founded above huge amounts of ground water, with excavations that plummet down to 15 m below the ground’s surface. This required the project team to remove approximately 1 500 cubic metres of water per day from the foundation levels.

“In order to streamline this task, Aurecon designed a series of subsoil drainage systems that collected water under the entire basement footprint, and then funnelled the water into sumps, before pumping the water into the municipal storm water system at ground level. The same series of pumps now forms part of the permanent structure, and also functions as a mechanism of handling excess storm water resulting from the access ramps into the basements during rainstorms,” says Mentz.

He also explains that without this innovation, rainfall would create a pool of water on the access ramps and end flooding the basement parking areas. The newly designed storm water system has eliminated this problem permanently.

Ongoing design and layout changes

Besides ongoing changes to the layout of the retail area of the mall, which is typical of any retail project, six movie theatres were also incorporated into the project a year before the project’s projected completion.

Aurecon’s project team had to redesign the internal structure of the building to accommodate these changes and make sure that deadlines were met.

“The specialised theatres required custom sound insulation solution due to their proximity to the highway. In order to muffle the sound of the neighbouring traffic, high tech insulation was installed in the theatre areas under the guidance of acoustic experts. We also fast-tracked the design of two of the theatres to ensure that they were fully functional when the mall opened,” says Mentz.

Newtown Junction is a unique and bustling hub that will bring new life to the surrounding precinct. Coupled to this, the heritage-inspired design will make it a go-to destination for the people of Johannesburg as well as tourists.

“Newtown Junction’s design successfully retains the magic of the past, blending it with the excitement of the future, and will become an important landmark in the city centre. Aurecon applauds the developers for this bold, ambitious project and is proud to be involved in this landmark development,” concludes Mentz.


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