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Mendi Multi Purpose Centre

Located in the township of New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, South Africa what once used to be a 'blacks-only' Beer Hall during the Apartheid era was earmarked for redevelopment as a community building in the early 2000s.

The original concrete & brick structure, built in 1974, occupies a prominent site along a busy movement route, creating an eye-sore in the local community for many years. Following extensive fire damage in 1976, the building was never repaired and slowly deteriorated into a hollow shell of distant memories and negative connotations within the local community.  Over the years numerous attempts have been made to restore the building and finally, in 2010 The Matrix… Urban Designers & Architects were appointed to compile a project brief for the development of Mendi Beer Hall.

Following an extensive public participation process and community involvement, a final project brief was finalised in January 2011 along with comprehensive Business Plan for the development of a Multi-Cultural Centre focused primarily on the Performance Arts in the local community, providing a platform for artists to further their development.

The following components were identified to form part of the new Centre:

  • Multi-purpose Performance Hall
  • Visual Arts studio
  • Entrance foyer
  • Restaurant area
  • Office and administration component
  • Ablution facilities and general storage areas

Although initially designed as a place for alcohol consumption the original structure had over the years formed part of the local community fabric and also now offered a unique spatial character which could be integrated into the new building instead of demolishing completely. Subsequently, a design approach was set out to preserve the original character of the Beer Hall concrete & brick structure and incorporate its spatial quality into the proposed new design, utilising the idea of 'memory' as an architectural design informant.

All 'new' building components and additions are carefully 'attached' around the original structure and integrated to create a prominent distinction between 'new' and 'old'. The large multi-purpose performance hall is located 'within' the existing Beer Hall structure, articulated as a 'crafted' box and cladded in metal sheeting, creating a unique 'handmade'-like texture which is part of the local township architectural tectonic – a 'collage' of time and memory. A 14-metre high tower structure at the main entrance corner provides an important visual landmark in what is predominantly a low-rise urban context of little vertical articulation. Existing murals on the Beer Hall walls have been retained as part of the historical character and further preserved with a protective clear coat.

The choice of robust and 'raw' materials further aims at reducing future maintenance costs and vandalism while creating a unique architectural spatial character of carefully proportioned formal elements and manipulation of texture, scale and natural light. Extensive use of exposed galvanised steel elements forms an integral part of the materials palette creating an elegant aesthetic while new skylights in the existing roof slab allow natural light in the various 'deep' spaces of the original structure. Located in close proximity to the existing Red Location cultural complex the building would aim to further integrate into the local cultural precinct and form an important community landmark.

The new Multi-Purpose community centre seeks to create a place of architectural dignity and a sense of place in the local community while at the same time establish a building which is contextually and socially relevant and one which offers local artists a platform for their work and future development.

Project Facts

Value:R25 million
Client:Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture – NMBM
Location:Ibhayi, Port Elizabeth
Awards:ECIA Commendation Award 2017
Date of Project:2017
Design Team:Albrecht Herholdt. Tony Danev, Marc Chong-Seng