Creating a Place in Needy Communities

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Creating a Place in Needy Communities

An innovation in creating efficient and economical steps to coincide with existing retaining blocks led to a popular technique of creating stairway access and providing comfortable, practical seating arrangements at outdoor leisure amenities and school sport facilities. This resulted in ‘placemaking’ or social gathering areas.

According to Wikipedia, the term placemaking was coined in the 1970s by architects and planners to describe the process of creating squares, plazas, parks, streets and waterfronts that will attract people because they are pleasurable or interesting. Landscape often plays an important role in the design process. One of the most basic features of this principle is seating. “This might not strike you as an intellectual bombshell,” William H.

Whyte liked to say, “but people like to sit where there are places for them to sit.” Whyte’s famous observations of plazas and parks suggested that people were not that picky about where they sit, as long as they could sit somewhere. But he also demonstrated that certain types of seating could revitalize a moribund place.

Seating that is accessible, comfortable, well-maintained, and located in the right places is critical to successful placemaking. Cape Town, last year, in particular saw an upswing in making available improved spectator platforms for less advantaged communities.

Hans Blumer of Dennis Moss Partnership, who was involved in designing three of such seating arenas using Terraforce’s 4×4 Multi Step Block, says that construction of these was initiated by the Stellenbosch Municipality in 2008 with the vision to upgrade existing sports fields specifically for the previously disadvantaged communities, “With the Soccer World Cup in 2010 these projects had to be completed in time, thus leaving a “lasting legacy” to the advantage of the communities,” says Blumer.

The three arenas in Stellenbosch are located in Pniel, Kylmore and Groendal respectively, and in all three cases an existing grass embankment was converted to seating. Georg Brand of Dassenberg Retaining , the retaining wall contractor awarded the installation of the seating, says that all three examples demonstrate a combination of 4 x 4 Multi Step Blocks and L12 Terraforce blocks , with good sub-soil drainage in certain places behind the seating.

Says Brand: “For horizontal reinforcing, Y12 steel bars were inserted with a concrete infill into the 4×4 blocks. Installation was carried out in the wet Cape winter under the worst conditions. Excessive storm water runoff with no control measures in place and at two sites, soggy clay due to subsoil water pouring out.”

In Willowmore, a similar installation was completed in the time before the World Cup with a slightly different section detail. Holger Rust of Terraforce, the company that designed the 4×4 Step Block, says: “Based on our client’s comments, the blocks were found to offer one of the most cost-effective and durable methods for creating user-friendly seating arrangements at public sports and recreational facilities.”

He adds that many examples have been installed during the last 25 years in all parts of South Africa, other African countries and on other continents. “The method lends itself to constructing small seating arrangements for pre-school facilities with; say 50 seats, to large scale arenas, capable of accommodating 20, 000 spectators, as has been done at a gold mine in South Africa. With proper planning, unsightly and eroding embankments can be turned in to something useful and pleasing to the eye.”

The company has also been involved in applications where it was necessary to combine some heavy duty earth retaining with a seating arrangement. Blumer says that the 4×4 Multi Step blocks work very well for fulfilling project requirements:

“All three stadiums were equipped with a club house each before the upgrading was initiated, with seating provided only on grass embankments. Installing formal seating with Terraforce blocks at the club houses proved to be a welcome innovation which was greatly appreciated by the various communities.”