As green living, building and design continue to take centre stage, eco estates and sustainable developments are becoming increasingly popular
WORDS: ATLEHANG RAMATHESELE
While the appetite for estate living is on a steady incline as people crave heightened security and a sense of community, the demand for green living in eco estates in particular is growing. This is partly due to rising environmental consciousness among homeowners and property investors. In a nutshell, eco developments encompass all the typical amenities associated with estate living but tend to have an emphasis on nature and outdoor activities in unspoilt settings. It’s largely about connecting to nature and preserving it.
Green living solutions such as solar panels, passive heating and cooling of buildings and water recycling are also often a regular feature at eco estates, providing cost-effective and energy-efficient estate living. According to Samuel Seeff, chairman of the Seeff Property Group, aside from offering a more sustainable lifestyle, eco estates contribute to preserving the natural environment and conserving indigenous wildlife and vegetation. It also encourages the use of sustainable construction and materials.
The emphasis on green living has also spilled over into design. ‘Green’ and ‘sustainability’ may have been buzzwords for quite some time but they only started gaining meaningful traction in the South African landscape recently. Peter Stokes, partner at dhk Architects, says their firm’s investment in green living and sustainable design and the related thinking at a fundamental level started to gather momentum around 2017. “This coincided with the founding of the Green Building Council for South Africa (GBCSA), which was followed shortly thereafter by amendments to the National Building Regulations and a notice in the Government Gazette in September 2011 to include the first chapter on environmental sustainability,” says Stokes.
South Africa’s adoption of the movement has steadily grown as the need to build and design more green living and sustainable developments became increasingly apparent. “Due to a growing population, added waste, diminishing resources (particularly water) and the rising costs of living, it’s imperative that we design more sustainably,” says Stokes. “It’s essential that South Africa focuses on reducing water use, carbon emissions, and pollutant and waste generation, while simultaneously enhancing energy efficiency (and making use of renewable energy where possible) and carefully selecting materials that will not have long term negative environmental effects,” he says.
Stokes acknowledges that there are still some factors hampering green living design and building locally, insufficient awareness and understanding, and a lack of transformative legislation and incentives chiefly among them. He believes designers need to put the building inhabitants and the environment first, get back to basics, understand and implement passive design principles and adjust their design outputs for the various climatic regions in South Africa. dhk Architects’ commitment to sustainable design and building for wellbeing can be seen in their Parklands College’s new Innovation Centre project. The building was made to ‘breathe’ on its own. All the larger rooms are fitted with CO2 sensors and an automated window opening system that measures air quality. It automatically opens windows incrementally to optimise the air and eliminate the need for air-conditioning.
Over the past decade, the V&A Waterfront has blazed a trail of sustainable development rewarded with Green Star accreditations, including the Allan Gray building, the Watershed and No.5 Silo – all 6 Star Green Star buildings. A number of other firsts include the former Grain Silo, which was transformed into the Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) and the boutique Silo Hotel, as well as No.6 Silo incorporating the Radisson Red (the first 5 Star Green Star hotel).
The V&A Waterfront’s newest 6 Star Green Star Design awarded commercial building, the Ridge, deploys some of the most advanced sustainable building technology available globally. “We designed the Ridge to be a world-class living, breathing building by incorporating a number of standout features,” says the Waterfont’s development director, Mark Noble. This includes the zigzag shaped engineered timber façade ingeniously orientating the glass windows towards the north or south, which prevents lower angle sun from the east or west from entering the office spaces. This provides natural daylight while reducing glare.
Another feature is the thermally activated building system technology (TABS) installed into the ceilings above the working areas. “This cools the concrete structure by water circulating from the chiller and heat pumps on the roof, which cools the air around the workspace,” Noble says.
A FIRST FOR AFRICA
The first biophilic development in Africa, The Fynbos, has been launched in Cape Town and will see a 24-storey living, breathing mixed-use building take residence in the heart of the CBD. Once complete, it will blur the lines between nature and the built environment. One of its most notable sustainable design features is its exterior draped in a 1,200m2 vertical garden made up of 30 species of indigenous trees and 20 species of shrub. Paul Upton, head of developments for Dogon Group Properties (marketing agents for The Fynbos), says the concept is centred on integrating nature into an urban setting. “Biophilic design is an approach to architecture that looks to connect building occupants more closely to nature. Biophilic buildings incorporate things like natural lighting and ventilation, natural landscape features and other elements to create a more productive and healthier built environment,” he says.
Climate control at The Fynbos will be provided by natural layers, with exterior plantings having a cooling effect to provide shade and screening. Upton says vegetation is an absorptive barrier that assists in natural noise reduction. Plants also absorb harmful chemicals and clean the air. “Water efficiency at The Fynbos will be improved through low-flow fittings, well-point filtration, and a sophisticated rainwater harvesting system, which is integrated into the unique cantilevered and staggered balcony design,” he says. PV solar panels to generate double the electricity quota needed to power the common areas, minimising fossil fuel consumption, and a centrally heated water system allows for economies of scale and avoids individual geysers, will be integrated. Expansive windows and glass sliding doors, utilising specialised double glazing that reduces the amount of energy spent on heating in winter, will allow in abundant natural light.
ECO ESTATES WORTH MENTIONING
Boskloof Eco Estate, Somerset West
This estate, located adjacent to the Morgenster and Vergelegen wine farms, offers spectacular views amid unspoilt and protected fynbos and endangered Renosterveld. Expect to see small buck and other animals and a wealth of bird species roaming freely.
Devonbosch, Stellenboch Winelands
Devonbosch, a mixed-use development offering residents a lifestyle where retail, business and recreation intersect, is gentler on nature. The development eases the demands on the environment by managing water resources, providing sustainable energy, and implementing internal waste recycling measures. The buildings are designed through environmentally sound practices such as the installation of double-glazed windows, photovoltaic panels and smart cooling and heating installations.
Meyersdal Eco Estate, Johannesburg
This estate, which forms part of the 1,100ha Meyersdal Nature Estate, is just 10 minutes south of the Johannesburg CBD. Only 15% of the land is developed. Facilities include mountain bike tracks, a 7km hiking trail, dams stocked with fish, game species, including kudu and steenbok, and a wide variety of birdlife.
Simbithi Eco Estate, Shaka’s Rock
This 430ha estate is a coastal paradise of vegetation, wetlands, undulating hills, stunning vistas and outstanding amenities. There are dams stocked with fish, a world-class equestrian centre and well-maintained walking and mountain bike trails.
Pezula Private Estate, Knysna
Bordering Noetzie Beach, Pezula is one of the best environmentally aware luxury developments in the world, offering a beautiful location and 5-star facilities, such as a golf course and club, tennis courts, sports grounds and the Pezula Hotel and Spa.