South Africa is representative of a condition that is common to many developing countries; known in economic terms as ‘The Missing Middle’, it is characterized by a high number of micro-enterprises and macro-enterprises but very few small to medium enterprises. This economic condition is also reflective in the kinds of retail buildings we see in South Africa, big-box shopping malls and small-scale informal trade represent two disparate worlds of the retail sector which we have become very accustomed to seeing. What is missing in the South African context is a retail typology that lies between these two ends of the economic spectrum.
This thesis explores an alternative retail typology to that of the shopping mall, one that aims to fill the gap between small-scale informal trade and large-scale retail centres in the context of South Africa’s low-income suburbs. The retail centre is located in the rapidly expanding low-income suburb of Du Noon on the site of an existing taxi-rank owned by the city of Cape Town. Aiming to exploit this site’s commercial potential, its periphery is divided up into a series of smaller commercial properties to be developed by private entrepreneurs .
The taxi-rank remains managed and owned by the City of Cape Town but benefits from the rentals and sales of the surrounding commercial properties. As a public/private venture it is an alternative to the mall, not only as a business model but as a building type. As opposed to the introverted singular mass of the shopping mall, the building is broken up into a permeable edge on its periphery and an open court in its centre.
Half of this open court functions as a taxi-rank whilst the other half forms a grand market space fronting onto the street.
Given the small-scale of the surrounding context, the building is particularly concerned with breaking its apparent mass into smaller segments that give it a finer grain at street level. Breaks at key points along the building’s periphery break up its scale as well as provide links to existing pedestrian routes and surrounding cul-de-sacs.
The building employs two unique construction systems. One system allows small-scale contractors to build vertically by making use of prefabricated concrete slabs, the other is a system developed for the large hanging roof over the market space. This would be a system of steel tension cables hung into place by a platform lift and clad in rubber.
This thesis takes an imaginative and original look at the possibilities of retail centres in South Africa. Whilst being concerned with developing a new retail typology as a product, it is equally concerned with its process. As well as developing the design project, a narrative was imagined that explores the process of this building’s development.
* All images by Alex Coetzee unless stated otherwise