Melrose Arch Residential Courtyards

Melrose Arch Residential Courtyards

Project Team
Client: Melrose Arch Development Company
Landscape Architect: Uys & White
Landscape Contractor: Real Landscapes

Two courtyards of the Melrose Arch precinct in Johannesburg received a SALI gold award in the 2007 Awards of Excellence. Although separate projects done at different times, they were entered together by Real landscapes as one project. The newer section, the A3 courtyard, will be discussed first, followed by the H2 courtyard which is now three years old.

Although the courtyards are not linked, they are central to three buildings which make up the Melrose Arch precinct consisting of the hotel, office buildings and residential apartments. The concept, according to landscape architect Danie Rebel, is that of ‘new urbanism’, where the work and living areas have an open relief space in the central courtyard.

A3 courtyard

Rebel’s brief was to design a communal garden for the three buildings which would serve as a ‘golden thread’ linking the three built component parts into one space for the residents and office workers. “The challenge was to bring privacy into the design”, he says. It was also necessary for the garden spaces to be upmarket in order to complement the lifestyle of the apartment owners, and the emphasis was therefore on a sophisticated design where the one central space could respond to all three buildings. The theme uses natural materials and “it is all about simplicity, creating open spaces in a simple manner,” says Rebel.

A long narrow pool is part of the garden courtyard space. The original design was for a koi pond but the training pool developed through the design process as an integral part of the landscape. Water spouts emerge from a natural stone wall on the side of the pool and lend an attractive fountain-like appearance to it, but they can be switched off when residents are swimming. Quercus palustris (Pin Oaks) just behind the pool wall create a filtered screen between this courtyard and the H2 courtyard.

To reinforce the sleek, modern design, materials were limited and mainly sandstone was used. A central design element is a walkway which creates a ‘line’ between the private apartment gardens and the central, communal area. Tall sandstone columns resemble a pergola-type structure and define the walkway, ‘lifting’ the landscape and creating a vertical element to it. Cables have been placed up the length of each column and Star Jasmine planted at the base to eventually creep up them to the top and along the length of galvanized beams which jut out horizontally, parallel to the ground. This aspect of the hard landscaping was undertaken by Real Landscapes under the guidance of Gustav Malan, who had to ensure that each beam on each column was at precisely the same level. Dumpy levels were used to ensure that this occurred. The galvanized beams were welded onto reinforcing rods and set in concrete. “The hard landscaping of this project was definitely not your average runof-the mill design and the installation challenges were considerable,” says Malan. The fact that the major part of the garden is built on top of basement parking also added to the complexity of both the design and installation.

The sandstone walkway is very linear and to provide a contrast to this, curved terraces have been built into the lawned areas. Built of natural stone, they add interest to the landscape and also ensure that water drains to one central point. The drainage system in the courtyard consists of a gravel layer with perforated piping. Soil levels and contours had to be filled at the correct angles to ensure water drainage to a central point. Plant material is formal, structured and pruned, with softer textures used in the private lawned areas and behind the pool. Here the plant arrangement is looser and Arums, leafy Asparagus plants and Azaleas have been planted to create a softer look. The lawn type used is All Seasons Evergreen. “It is not an indigenous garden; we’ve used what is appropriate for the project,” says Rebel. Other plant material includes Chondropetalum tectorum, Hedera helix, Ophiopogon jaburan, O. Kyoto ‘Dwarf ’, Hemerocallis flava and Watsonia pillansi.


The scope of work undertaken by Real Landscapes included:

  • building of sandstone columns
  • installation of the galvanized steel cables
  • tiling of the columns
  • stepping stones and brick edging
  • sandstone retaining wall
  • stone steps with pebbles in between
  • cobbled paving at three points of entry
  • soft landscaping

The irrigation was subcontracted to Irrigation Focus and the building of planters to Siteworks Landscapes. According to Malan, the most difficult part of the installation was getting the trees onto the site, and this was done by using an overhead crane. The Pin Oaks, weighing 1.8 tons each, were lifted from the truck by crane three months before the rest of the landscaping was installed and placed on an open soil area for later planting. Smaller Betula alba trees were carried in by hand, as were plants which were loaded into buckets. Approximately 1.200 cubic metres of soil was brought in with Bobcats and concrete dumpers. A further challenge was the gravel required on top of the roof for an Aloe garden. Rebel had specified this in order to soften the roof area, and ornamental gravel was brought up in bags. “The construction and maintenance of the A3 courtyard has been carried out to a high standard, ensuring the integrity of the design,” says Rebel.

H2 courtyard

This four year old courtyard presented considerable design challenges for Lucas Uys of Uys and White. It has a slightly lower usage factor than the A3 courtyard and was designed primarily as a visual space, although it is used by office workers in the Melrose Arch precinct. The starting point of the design was a ventilation grid which serves as a smoke extraction device for the basement which is several metres below the garden. It has been turned into a feature in the form of a viewing deck comprising a 2m high platform or central podium, with a circular balustrade. The platform is reached by walking up a raised grass embankment. A short distance away from the viewing deck is a beautiful spiral maze, created by combining semi-circles of clipped Murraya exotica hedges with sandstone seating. Leading to the maze is a gently curving pathway. These two aspects together create a feeling of movement in the garden.

The innermost point of the maze is a small contemplation area, quietly contained within itself. “The maze has created a special space and a place of privacy,” says Rebel. Around the maze seating, spiral sculptures in stainless steel have been created as playful artistic elements. They are in a sense decorative aspects of the ventilation grill and are slightly raised from ground level, twirling upwards in rings which resemble the circular shape of the maze itself. “The stylised and modern use of materials makes a strong design statement,” says Rebel. Hardscaping materials in this courtyard consist of sandstone with a glitter finish for the walkways and spirals, which reflects attractively in sunlight. The contrast between the gold fleck of the glitter stone and the artistic steel elements is subtle, and the use of these materials imparts a sense of sophistication which is appropriate both for the courtyard and the entire development.

Malan says that this courtyard was a more difficult installation than A3 because of the massive drop of six meters down to the basement below. Soil (530 cubic metres) had to be brought in by the construction company’s crane protruding through an open hole in the concrete slab. This took five days, lifting one cubic metre at a time over the edge of the courtyard. A Bobcat machine was also lifted onto the slab and levelled the soil.The installation was also difficult from the point of view of the glitterstone tiles which had to be placed in one direction only, square with the building. This involved a considerable amount of cutting. Malan says that the greatest challenge for this courtyard was the tiling with circular motions for the seating walls and floor areas of the maze. A short distance away from the maze, a hard and soft landscaping element in the form of square stepping stones interspersed with lawn creates an attractive checkerboard effect. This, together with the circular pattern of the maze, combines to form a strong sense of geometry in motion within the courtyard.

Text by Karyn Richards. Photos by Gustav Malan and Connall Oosterbroek