Landscape architecture blends seamlessly with nature to make this estate – built around the last swamp forest on KwaZulu-Natal’s North Coast – a model for sustainability and community living.
You splash through a water feature when you enter Elaleni Coastal Forest Estate, and you can’t help noticing the 12-metre-diametre sculpture made of interlaced circles of aluminium-magnesium alloy as you do.
Crossing the water feature, which feels a bit like driving on an old-time causeway, ‘represents washing your worries away as you approach your home,’ says Barry Lewin, marketing manager of the estate.
Known as ‘The Circles of Life’, the sculpture has been planted with creepers that will soon develop a habitat of their own, and features centrally mounted solar panels that help power the estate’s eco-friendly street lighting.
It was designed to evoke everything that Elaleni stands for: not just taking from the environment, but giving back to it; the circle of community that sustains us all; and the succession that occurs in the forests as younger trees mature and grow.
Elaleni Coastal Forest Estate is situated on 46 hectares near KwaZulu-Natal’s Sheffield Beach, seven kilometres from Ballito Main Beach, and 26 kilometres from King Shaka International Airport. It’s the site of an old crocodile farm, which is fortunate because most of northern KwaZulu-Natal’s coastal forest was flattened ages ago to make way for sugar cane. But, because of the crocodile farm, the 17.5 hectares of indigenous swamp forest that’s now become the central, iconic inspiration of the estate’s ethos survived – a lonely but lovely remnant.
A quick look at the apex trees of the 17.5-hectare swamp forest:
Natal mahogany or umathunzini (Trichilia emetica) is a large, spreading, handsome evergreen that bears sweetly scented flowers that attract birds and insects. In traditional medicine, the powdered bark is used as a remedy for stomach problems; the oil can be extracted and used as a skin moisturiser; and, soaked in water, the seeds make a milky soup that’s eaten with spinach. The timber, which ranges from pink to light brown, is used for carving sculptures.
Swamp fig or umvubu (Ficus trichopoda) is unusual in be-ing the only indigenous fig with aerial roots that develop into new stems as they touch the ground and begin to mature. The sap is used in traditional practice to make birdlime (a sticky gloop used for trapping birds for the pot), while the bark is useful for making twine.
Natal strangler fig or umthombe (Ficus craterostoma) can mature into a massive giant, with sturdy buttress roots and strong strangler roots that can easily split rocks. The figs are edible but not very tasty. In traditional medicine, the bark is used as an ingredient in preparations taken to ease child-birth, while the leaves are crushed as compresses for treat-ing scratches and warts.
Raffia palm or umVuma (Raphia australis), which is also known as the Kosi palm, is one of the signature species at the estate. Its fruits, which are borne on spectacular spikes, and may remain on the tree for up to two years at a time, are dispersed mainly by the rare palm-nut vultures that are in-digenous to the area. Raffia palms live to more than 40 years, and flower only once in their lifetimes, but no one yet knows what triggers flowering. Kosi palms are rarely seen in cultiva-tion, which makes the forward-thinking use of the species at Elaleni (on traffic islands, for example) all the more unusual.
With an eye to generating the maximum benefit from this unique feature – for residents and the environment alike – the developers (North Global Group Properties (Pty) Ltd) chose an unusually low-density mix of 128 large freehold stands, two sectional title developments of 45 and 35 units each, and a small commercial facility – a ‘high-end satellite workspace for professionals and family businesses’, with nine office spaces and 70 square metres of retail.
Complementing these homes and workspaces, the development also includes two clubhouses: one (a spectacularly designed functions area that’s surrounded on all sides by movable glass) that will appeal mostly to the grown-ups, and another – with swimming pools, tennis court, and playground – that will appeal to families.
Family and community sit at the core of what North Global Group Properties have aimed to achieve here, and it’s through the design of the elements outside of the homes – the landscape architecture – that this becomes most apparent.
Landscape architects Uys & White paid special attention to the shape of the land – specifying swales to direct rainwater, for example, upgrading dams, and creating safari-style roads with 30-metre verges that become shared open space for the community, and a safe place for children to play and explore. (None of the roads on the estate is tarred: instead, concrete strips and paving bricks in innovative patterns embrace, rather than clash with, the indigenous forest, informal planting areas, and open, grassy lawns through which they meander.)
Design specifications for all buildings on the estate require that they reduce their carbon footprints by 50% over comparable developments elsewhere. So, for example, home owners are required to limit their dependence on the national electricity grid, and to recycle their grey water.
Although the estate does rely on municipal services, this requirement underscores the sustainability of the development. And it has practical implications for the immediate environment, too: no soakaways are allowed, for example, and all sewerage is diverted to the municipal works, since soakaways would pollute the estate’s dams and threaten its forest.
To ensure the peace of mind that this idyllic environment has created, the estate boasts a cutting-edge security strategy that includes on- and off-site control rooms, cameras on the perimeter fences, and a radar-based early detection system that allows despatchers to zoom their cameras in on specific movements as they become aware of them (a first of its kind for northern KwaZulu-Natal). Also, the security contractor provides services on the neighbouring estate, which increases safety exponentially for both communities. And, of course, Elaleni’s rapid-response vehicle is powered by electricity generated on the estate, and it’s capable of speeds of up to 75 kilometres per hour.
Sales have moved with exciting speed, and resales of freehold stands have already attracted up to 55% increase in value. A few residents had moved into their homes by late 2019, and – as the sectional title units are due for completion and handover in December – they will soon be joined by more. And 26 plans have been passed for homes that will be built in 2020.
Of course, a project of this kind must pay careful attention to governance, and the formal homeowners association (with its two sectional title bodies corporate) will take ownership of the estate after the first five-year development period. In the meantime, directors drawn from residents can be elected to the HOA’s board at the estate’s regular annual general meetings, which will ensure a smooth handover.
‘The rules at Elaleni are quite relaxed,’ said Lewin. ‘Pets, for example: you’re allowed to keep two pets per home – cats or dogs – because it’s difficult to create cohesive communities without them.’
And, as he says, creating community is everything for Elaleni Coastal Forest Estate.
- Developer: North Global Group Properties (Pty) Ltd
- Architects: Bloc Architects
- Construction (sectional title units and individual, turnkey projects): North Global Group
- Landscape architects: Uys & White
- Freehold properties range from R1,635,000 to R3,850,000; turnkey homes start at R5,850,000
Images by : chrisallanphoto.co.za, elaleni.co.za
BLØC Architects are multi-award-winning architects and interior designers. BLØC was recently voted as having designed the second most influential project for 2019 – Africa Region by ArchDaily, as well as placing in the Top 50 Houses for 2019.
BLØC are the official estate architects for the Elaleni Eco Estate in Sheffield Beach, KwaZulu-Natal. BLØC was tasked with generating the estate architectural guidelines to ensure a carefully planned, energy-efficient, ecology-oriented residental environment inspired by appropriate contemporary architecture set in a coastal forest with vistas of sea, dams and forest.
BLØC designed the various public facilities, including the guardhouse, offices and clubhouses, as well as the second phase of the estate. BLØC is responsible for all the multi-unit residential developments on the estate, including Forest Views, LUSH and The Woods.
Most of our residential work is in estates, and we have extensive knowledge of working within estate guidelines, and are able to assist with site selection.
Through a strong partnership with our clients, we strive to produce solutions that consider all possibilities and form spaces that respond harmoniously to all parameters. Regardless of scale or programme, our firm is enthusiastic in its approach and professional in its process.
We believe that architecture has an integral role to play in solving our global environmental issues and that through well-researched practical responses we can deliver sustainable architecture that is well adapted to its surroundings. Our more than 30 years of experience ensures cutting-edge design, incorporating the full range of building types and over 1,000 built works.
Project locations include Australia, Miami, Chicago, Mozambique, Mauritius, Nigeria and cities throughout South Africa.