Rivertown,Beer Hall,Milne Drain Development
Project by the Architecture Department,eThekwini Municipality and Choromanski Architects
The city of Durban was originally a mangrove wetland and an adjacent secondary dune of the Durban Beach. Two Vleis, namely the eastern and western dominated the landscape, thereby restricting city settlement. The Milne Drain together with other drains that still exist, serve as a memory to the once wetland of Durban. Owned by the municipality, the Beer Hall with its prime location along the historical Milne Drain, robust heritage architecture, and its past decadent legacy of use and identity made it a meaningful transformation project to initiate the Rivertown Cultural Precinct, which was made public at the UIA Conference hosted by Durban in 2014. The Milne Drain initially was an open channel, which fluctuates due to tidal change. It was later given a concrete cover over its entire length, which still exists today. In 2014, the cover was removed in cut sections that were re-used as benches within the new Milne public area and within the Beer Hall courtyard, which could be replaced when needed. Planting was included along the open edges of the drain, creating a soft green zone amongst the hard industrial facades of the surrounding urban environment and serving as a reminder of the marshlands. The existing workshop buildings of clay brick and asbestos to the technical centre were removed thus creating a multi-purpose open courtyard at the centre of the complex. A portion of the John Milne Road boundary wall to the perimeter of the Beer Hall, was demolished, allowing the public to be drawn into the central courtyard from the Milne’s Drain Public area where they are then able to circulate through the courtyard and gallery spaces The two primary buildings are to be converted into galleries and multi-purpose facilities of which the DAG building will be converted once the collection storage is relocated to a new home. The opening of the drain as a test,exposed the challenges such as:
- Health hazard due to very poor quality of water as a result of uncontrolled disposalof contamination by property owners,which eventually contaminate the Harbour
- Vermin and pests
- Tidal movement which restricted refuse in the Drain to flush out
- Informal use of water by homeless people and their activities such as wetting of cardboard for higher sale price
Further research is needed with regards to the stormwater disposal through the Precinct, from existing and proposed building stock, roads and sidewalks, and how this could be managed to establish an eco-aware community who will be sensitive to environmental destruction, and avoid contaminated stormwater flowing into the Harbour and Sea. Similarly to the Vleis performance as filters before city settlement The development to establish a walkable back of beach Precinct which Durban does not have, thereby supporting the transformed beach promenade of 2010. The cleansing of the Drain through innovative management and engineering which could become a landscaped public space through the city grid together with the historical Victoria Park. The Milne Drain could transform into landscaped public space connecting the city to the natural edge of the harbour with cultural buildings at both ends: the Beer Hall in Rivertown and The Bat Centre near the harbour in Cato Creek; a cultural node, which was established in 1994. The 800 metres distance between the two active city nodes, namely ICC and Beach Promenade enables the Precinct to almost immediately support a walkable connection.