Rivertown Precinct Durban. Choromanski Architects


Durban Rivertown                                                                                                      (earthworks magazine issue 36 February-March 2017)
Rivertown Beerhall. Choromanski Architects

The Rivertown Beerhall & Milne Drain Public Space – UIA 2014 congress,legacy project

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 support a walkable connection.


Beerhall. Choromanski Architect

test opening of John Milne Drain as legacy project to Durban UIA conference 2014

Prince Alfred Street Beerhall. Choromanski Architects

Lunch Hour Rush at Prince Alfred Street Beerhall. Messengers Cycles and Rickshas Parked on Kerb. – Bourquin collection

Municipal Beerhall. Choromanski Architects

An Interior View of a Municipal Beerhall in the Durban Area.- Bourquin collection

Beerhall. Choromanski Architect

Historical  Map of Milne Drain

Beerhall. Choromanski Architect

View of Beerhall along Milne Drain -Beset Durban



Beerhall. Choromanski Architect

Rivertown Precinct Durban. Choromanski Architects

Rivertown Precinct Durban.



uMkhumbane Museum, Cato Manor. Choromanski Architects

uMkhumbane_Cato Manor_Heritage Place- Africa Architecture Award 2017 Grand Prix Winner

 Project by the Architecture Department,eThekwini Municipality and Choromanski Architects

Black Africans came to settle in Cato Manor during the 1920s, and rented land from Indian market gardeners who occupied the area since the early 20th century, as the apartheid system restricted settlement in the city.

Cato Manor covers a geographical area of approximately 1800 hectares and is situated approximately 7 kilometres from Durban’s City Centre. It is currently the home to an estimated 93 000 people who settled in the area through mass invasions in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.Cato Manor had been left vacant since the 1950’s and 1960’s following apartheid forced removals of an estimated 150 000 people. Today, Cato Manor residents include some of the poorest of the urban poor, despite the successes of the EU funded Cato Manor Development Association (CMDA) programme.

The area remains characterised by a high unemployment rate and social fragmentation. At the same time, Cato Manor residents are increasingly taking the initiative in the development of the area and there is a high level of community organisation, citizen action and participation. The Cato Manor Area Based Management (ABM) Unit of the Municipality seeks to work with these strengths and build on post-infrastructure development and consolidation processes such as social upliftment, responsibility and cohesion; community planning and participation; economic development and skills development.

The city’s Economic Development Unit together with Parks Recreation and Culture and the CMDA identified Cato Manor as an ideal location to develop The “uMkhumbane Heritage Site ”, to preserve the areas rich cultural and political history and stimulate innovation. The site at the confluence of two major arterials is crossed by the uMkhumbane River and included in the Durban Metropolitan Open Space System (DMOSS) and in close proximity to mixed residential areas, businesses and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

The first project reports responding to the heritage project were compiled in 2003 and an architectural competition by the City Architects laid the foundation for the appointment of the professional team. A master plan created by Choromanski Architects, incorporated the vision of the “uMkhumbane Heritage Site ” which compliments the Cultural Renaissance Programme of the eThekwini Municipality, and includes the following:

a cultural park and public square,

galleries for permanent collection on forced removals, focusing on the struggle by women and children and temporary collections,

dedicated space for community exhibitions,

gathering areas for oral, performance, installation exhibits,

social gathering areas for functions, eg. book launches, festivals (film, writers, poetry, dance, music)

concession areas including traders market stalls,

theatre as multipurpose space,

children’ innovative facilities,

linking of the development to tour routes through the community and surroundings areas, thereby extending the innovative entrepreneur spirit from the “uMkhumbane Heritage Site ” through Cato Manor and Surroundings

Funding for this project was initially provided by Lotto who together with the city stimulated momentum for the development, which was complimented by the donation of land for the site by the UKZN.

This site on the banks of the uMkhumbane River is also especially significant as it was chosen by the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini for the reburial

of the remains of his late mother in May 2011,Queen Thomozile Jezangani KaNdwandwe Zulu,who passed on in December 1959

A process of co-creating regenerative and enabling systems, where the project serves as a catalyst within its immediate environment, creates structure to enable the health of the surrounding community and natural environment. The activation of a neglected apartheid buffer zone along the uMkhumbane River to become a Heritage and Innovation Site

Creating new unique African Identity and Brands towards stimulation of a Township Economy

South Africa has a very wealthy history that is only now being appreciated for its complexity and diversity…”