In the days before shiny new shopping centres started popping up on almost every block in Pretoria, one building stood out, luring in the amazed residents of the capital city. This was Centurion Mall.
Not only was it rare in having all the standard big-name retailers (the only shopping centre at the time that offered this), but it was also built on a lake. And not just any lake… It boasted a jaw-dropping man-made coloured-water fountain, a feature that drew crowds in the same way that Johannesburg’s Wemmer Pan did. Now Pretorians had their own water feature.
The mall, built in 1983/84, was around Centurion Lake (on the Hennops river) and went on to become the second-largest shopping centre in the Tshwane Metropolitan area – and although this was much later, it symbolised the transformation of the area.
From sleepy rural beginnings to a metropolis, the rapid urban development that followed positioned the Centurion area as a strategic residential and business hub servicing Midrand, Johannesburg and Tshwane (it’s located at the intersection of the N1 and N14 highways, and the R21 also passes through).
It wasn’t always known as Centurion. The area grew out of farms established in the 1840s by the three Erasmus brothers. Centurion gained its town council status more than a century later in 1962 under the name of Lyttelton, after the areas of Doornkloof, Irene (where statesman Jan Smuts lived) and Lyttelton were combined. In 1967, Lyttelton was renamed Verwoerdburg, after the assassinated Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, who was often referred to as the ‘architect of apartheid’. It went on to be renamed Centurion in 1995. Residents chose the politically neutral name to reflect that of the Centurion Park cricket ground, close to the N1 highway, although the ground no longer officially has that name.
In the year 2000, the Centurion local government became part of the newly created City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, which includes Pretoria.
As the decades unfolded, the area grew exponentially, and the Centurion of today features a number of upmarket shopping centres, corporate headquarters, entertainment spots, a theatre, golf courses and a driving range, hotels, and guesthouses, as well as residential suburbs. Other well-known landmarks include the Netcare Unitas Hospital (considered one of the largest private hospitals in Africa), technology companies such as Aerosud, as well as Denel Dynamics, Siemens, SAAB Grintek Technologies and Telkom.
The area is recognised as a convenient transport hub. Not only is there easy access to highways to Pretoria, Johannesburg, OR Tambo Airport and Polokwane, it also boasts four railway stations (including a Gautrain station) in West Street. Trains run north to Pretoria and Hatfield, and south to Sandton and Johannesburg’s Park station.
The Gautrain Centurion station, meanwhile, is almost in the middle of one of the longest viaducts on the Gautrain system, stretching from the John Vorster N1 interchange in the south to the Jean Avenue N14 interchange in the north.
The development of Centurion is accelerating. According to a Pretoria News report this year, some 1 000 ha will be developed to give residents, businesses and visitors easy access to and from Centurion, and to ‘convert it into a business venue of choice’.
Tshwane Ward 78 councillor Peter Sutton says a myriad projects, worth an estimated R48 billion, are in the pipeline. They include, among others, the Tshwane Convention Centre; proposed new AU and UN offices; the towering Symbio City, and a new footbridge linking the Gautrain to the upgraded mall (billions are currently being spent on modernising the centre).
If built, Symbio City – comprising two office towers and a residential tower, as well as hotel and retail facilities –will soar to 447m – more than twice the height of the Carlton Centre, still Africa’s tallest building. It will reportedly feature a rooftop garden and be embedded with wind turbines to provide energy.
‘This project is to be completed by 2055, and is meant to attract investors who will bring in the expertise, funds and capacity to develop new structures and industries,’ according to Tshwane mayoral spokesman Blessing Manale.
There are also plans for a UN office in Centurion, as well as the AU to the west of the current shopping centre.
While business is booming for Centurion, two developments in particular are garnering attention at the moment. The new Exxaro headquarters, developed by Growthpoint, is transforming the Lakeside district, while property developer and investor Atterbury is turning the Old Mint district into a mixed-use development.
The Exxaro development broke ground in February 2017 and will be complete for occupation early next year. Comprising 18 500 m2 of gross lettable area on a long lease, it will house about 1 400 staff members of the mining company.
This new building is the second and final phase of Growthpoint’s redevelopment of the Lakeside office site, according to office portfolio asset managers Nico de Jager and Nqabenhle Manana.
‘Our new development also signifies the beginning of the urban transformation along the commercial edge of Centurion and approaching the Gautrain station,’ says De Jager. ‘We’re excited about [this] development, which adds another excellent green building to Growthpoint’s office portfolio and introduces a blue-chip business tenant,’ he says. ‘We’re delivering an innovative green building, integrating P-grade [prime-grade] aesthetics and finishes, and high-performance workspace.’
Working with Aurecon, the development’s appointed green building professionals, the design team has incorporated several environmentally sustainable initiatives into the building. Green measures include zoned lighting, energy-efficient building services and systems, water-efficient fixtures, rainwater harvesting for use in toilets and landscape irrigation, water-wise landscaping, and low-VOC interior finishes to ensure high level of indoor air quality, in addition to abundant fresh air.
Adding to the building’s lighter carbon footprint is its access to alternative modes of transport. Located on West Street, it is opposite the Centurion Gautrain station and close to a range of retail, banking, health and medical facilities. The property provides dedicated parking for more fuel-efficient vehicles, such as hybrids, electric cars and mopeds or scooters, as well as bicycle racks.
A pedestrian walkway is also being constructed along the development’s street boundary for the increasing number of pedestrians who access the area through West Street. ‘We believe Exxaro’s new headquarters will add to the energy and appeal of Centurion,’ says Manana.
He says the building’s location is in ‘a strategic position’, adding that areas within close walking distance of the Gautrain stations are ‘generally great for business – people prize the benefit of easy access and this makes them great places to work, live and play’.
Reflecting Exxaro’s environmental commitment, the building is designed for a 4-star Green Star certification from the Green Building Council of South Africa, which is also in line with Growthpoint’s high environmental standards for its office developments.
The Old Mint industrial precinct – next to the SA Mint, which produces the country’s coins (including the Krugerrand), and fronting the N1 highway between Midrand and Centurion, is a R800 million development. It’s a joint venture between Atterbury and Old Mutual Properties that will result in a new, 65 000 m2 industrial park. The first building under construction is a business unit offering premises ranging from 500 to 2 500 m2 in a single 10 000 m2 building. A second building will provide 4 500 m2 of warehousing and office space.
Earthmoving began in December 2017 and business units are expected to be complete and available for occupation by the end of this year, according to Atterbury. Fortuna Food has already signed the first lease at the business park for a 2 000 m2 unit, and will begin trading from its new facility from October.
Old Mint Park’s prime position in a major established and growing business node central to the Gauteng business hub makes it a great asset for business, says Atterbury development manager Derrick Pautz. ‘It benefits from excellent connections to major transport routes, sweeping highway visibility and convenient surrounding residential, education and healthcare facilities.’ And so the new phase of Centurion’s transformation for the future begins, built on a fascinating past.