With a natural wetland on its doorstep, the Reid Lifestyle Centre elevates estate living with a luxurious green touch


Balwin Properties is one of the largest sectional title developers in SA, priding itself on providing affordable eco-friendly apartments on residential estates. It develops these mostly outside city centres where property is less pricey, and offsets the longer commute with a more spacious and relaxed green setting. An increasingly important part of this in recent years has been the lifestyle centre – a place where residents of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments can unwind, and entertain family and friends without disturbing their living space – or that of their neighbours.

‘The lifestyle centre is an evolution of the club-house,’ says architect Verissimo Tavares, director of VTC Architecture, which has worked with Balwin since 1998. ‘Remember the old clubhouse? It was an open room next to the swimming pool, with braai and kitchen facilities, and toilets. You’d cart down some food and beers and maybe play darts while the kids splashed in the pool. Well, it’s come a long way since we started working with [Balwin CEO and founder] Steve Brookes in ’98.’

The Reid Lifestyle Centre, on the Reid Lifestyle Estate in Linbro Park outside Sandton, epitomises this in an idyllic country setting with a restored wetland. The green leaf in the Balwin logo on the stone wall around the estate symbolises growth and sustainability – and both are celebrated here in a new way, earning the Reid Lifestyle Centre a 6-Star Green Star (Public & Education Building v1 Design) rating and targeting a Net Zero Carbon Level 1 rating.

The swimming pool is still a star feature, as with the clubhouses of old, but the sparkling turquoise water is solar heated, there’s a separate kids’ pool, and the sound of fountains in the background creates a soothing ambience. Instead of braai stands and a dart board, the Reid has modern leisure and sports facilities: a restaurant and pizzeria, a Training Science gym and trainer, a games room, cinema, children’s play area, squash facilities, a fitness track, sports fields, a soccer field and giant chess. Coming soon is a Montessori school. There’s also an eco-friendly laundromat and car wash, a concierge and boardroom facilities, and free WiFi throughout.

‘The Reid takes the GASH (good address, small home) concept and estate living to another level,’ says Tavares. ‘From the start, our vision was to connect the private open space to the lifestyle centre. And if you compare it to New York City and Central Park, Central Park would need to be something like 40 times bigger to give New York residents the equivalent green space to relax, exercise and rejuvenate in, that residents of the 1 000-odd apartments at the Reid enjoy.’

Much of that space comes from the wetland, which has become a central feature of the Reid. Ironically, it was the wetland that kept other developers from buying the property – it was seen as unusable, wasted space, potentially dank and smelly, with conservation regulations that prevented it being drained or filled. But to Tavares, it brimmed with potential. ‘In design and architecture, when you have restrictions on a project, they guide you; they’re a positive. Residents here essentially buy apartments – how stunning to give them a spacious green estate to walk and cycle in, and a wetland with a nature trail running through it.’

Brookes and Balwin director Rodney Gray shared that vision. ‘They didn’t want to give up any land they didn’t need to, but we didn’t encroach in any way on the wetland – we worked carefully around it.’ And when green building specialist Solid Green was brought on board, they went further, healing the wetland and heroing it.

‘South African legislation prevents building within 100m of a wetland unless there’s a wetland management plan in place to rehabilitate it, and you don’t put weight on it,’ says Solid Green sustainability consultant Nomamfengu Mbele. ‘We developed a watercourse management plan and a wetland rehabilitation plan for Balwin, with an attenuation and water treatment system for stormwater.’ It entailed creating an attenuation pond above the wetland to absorb extra water, with grease traps to filter out pollutants, and cleaning water in the wetland without using chemicals by introducing plants to rehabilitate water quality. ‘The wetland has become a beautiful feature and a drawcard,’ says Mbele.

Balwin and the architects wanted the Lifestyle Centre that overlooks it to reflect the same green values. ‘We took pleasure in crafting a building that blends with its natural setting,’ says Tavares. ‘We used wood and stone, and kept it to one and a half volume, so it’s spacious without being daunting – a welcoming, comfortable space. It has a rustic farmhouse feel, with trusses exposed, gable ends open to let in natural light, and clerestory windows to enhance that. The windows throughout have openable sections, and where that’s not possible, vents allow fresh air to circulate.’

All this was a major shift from the usual ‘look nice, build fast’ approach of developers. ‘Balwin was super excited and committed to improving the lifestyle of the development’s residents while allowing the centre to pursue a 6-Star Green Star rating and a Net Zero Carbon Level rating,’ says Mbele.

‘The building’s photovoltaic solar system was designed to meet 100% of its energy needs, with a range of energy-efficient measures. All enclosed spaces are individually switched, so it’s easy to light only occupied areas, and the HVAC units have motion sensors that turn them off if spaces stay unoccupied for a certain time. Water-efficient fittings, xeriscape landscaping and a greywater system to reuse water from the laundromat drastically reduce water consumption.’

Sensors constantly measure the air quality in the centre, and this information, together with data on energy and water consumption, is displayed publicly throughout the building. ‘The idea is to raise residents’ awareness around sustainability and encourage them to reduce consumption,’ says Mbele.

‘After all, the key to a greener future is changing behaviour.’ As part of this, Balwin committed to providing the entire design and contracting team – from carpenters and plumbers to the electrical engineers – with greater knowledge and skills through a two-week Green Star SA Accredited Professional online course. ‘It is training that will benefit all Balwin projects,’ she says.

The company also committed to sharing financial information related to the design, construction and operation of the centre with the GBCSA, contributing to research on assumptions about the ‘additional costs’ associated with sustainable developments. ‘Balwin has created a new standard for developments of this nature,’ says Mbele. ‘They’re demonstrating that a more responsible way of developing and operating can become business as usual.’

OWNER/contractor/project manager/quantity surveyor
Balwin Properties

VTC Architecture

Solid Green Consulting

Leap Landscape Architects and Environmental Planners

LYT Architecture

By Glynis Horning
Images: Balwin

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