Conversion of the existing Beerhall site of 1914

Conceived as a centre for creative city projects, the main focus of the development at the historical beer hall site was and continues to be the establishment of a facility that could become the nucleus for the programme leaders of art, culture and heritage in Durban; with performing and creative arts studios, directors’ offices, administration offices and large meeting spaces. The intention behind this is for the beer hall to serve as a sustainable and creative catalyst within the city thereby resulting in the rejuvenation and upliftment of the entire Rivertown precinct. The existing building was constructed as a municipal beer hall in 1914, and it functioned as such until 1968 after which it was rented out to various commercial tenants until occupation by the Durban art gallery as a technical centre in 1994. The site is located on the axis of a significant historical precinct which now forms an important link between the centrum node and the beachfront. Phase one of the development included the removal of a portion of the concrete cover over Milne’s drain to expose the historical structure below and establish the possibility of the conversion of the drain into a canal facility. The cover was removed in sections that were re-used as benches along the remaining cover and within the beer hall complex. 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 which have become the foundation of the city. The existing workshop areas of the technical centre were removed thus creating a multi-purpose open courtyard at the centre of the beer hall complex. A portion of the John Milne Road boundary wall was demolished, allowing the public to be drawn into the central courtyard from the Milne’s drain area where they are then able to circulate through the gallery spaces. Hall B (the former ‘eatery’) was the main exhibition area addressed during the initial phase, however with the relocation of the Durban Art Gallery and the continuation of the project, Hall A will also be converted into a gallery and multi-purpose facility.   Further development to the project is to include: improved ablution facilities, a large amount of planting and shade elements, increased lighting in pedestrian areas and a new approach to pedestrian circulation thereby ‘re-humanising’ the precinct and establishing ‘the people’ as the focus of the inner-city and key definers of future development.      

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