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In South Africa there is a new urban landscape that draws from the rich traditions, cultural history and environmental character of a sub-tropical garden region, the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The name of the province means home of the people, and indeed, there are almost three million people living within a half-hour drive of this ambitious urban development north of Durban. The Umhlanga Ridge New Town Centre, a carefully planned, eco-friendly environment has completed its first phase with the largest shopping center in Southern Africa, called Gateway Theatre of Shopping. Eventually, the pedestrian friendly development will be a dynamic mixed-use urban centre built on the site of what once was sugar cane fields, using indigenous trees, shrubs and plants to embellish the urban lifestyle. Gateway Shopping Centre incorporates many of the world's firsts but is certainly unique in design; a major shopping and entertainment place that will become the heart of an entire new town! Covering more than 120,000 square meters, the complex has beautifully accomplished what developers Old Mutual Properties, had hoped for. Already, since its opening in September of 2001, Gateway has become an exciting destination for both the local community, as well as international clientele who frequent this vacation region on the Indian Ocean. No wonder! The center boasts an incredible array of over 375 shops, restaurants and entertainment venues and three multipurpose water features with distinct personalities. The water features of Gateway are incredibly important element of the overall environment and visitor experience. Visually and sensually, they connect a diversity of shops, venues and people while helping to script a pleasant experience that mirrors the goals of the project. The goal was to create an overall retail shopping experience to serve local community that also had an international feel and draw. The theme was to be South African, but the client and designers were sensitive about the cultural diversity and so they didn't want to depend on historical or typically 'African' icons to define the architectural form. The design achieves this by looking to rich colors, texture and cultural history. The linear nature of Gateway Shopping Centre reflects the surrounding landscape which consists of layers of overlapping horizontal elements. One of design firm RTKL's associates, Ken Maynard, was lead architect on the Gateway project. Based in Baltimore, he led a team of 12 architects from RTKL's retail/entertainment architectural studio as well as its ID8 group, an environmental, graphics and theming team. "Water features were an integral part of the vision right from beginning," Maynard said. "Water is a very important element at Gateway, because it reflects as well as creates nature, sound and entertainment. This is a community big on surfing and nature. Water helped capture that essence as well as bring the impact and theme out beyond the doors of the building." "The water features mimic their surroundings using vibrant colors and natural materials, but they serve as major attractions, as well," said Michael Denman, director of overseas operations for Crystal Fountains. There are two exterior features; one is the Palm Court fountain at main entrance to mall. Located in a courtyard, surrounded by outdoor cafes, the feature comprises seven decorative urns pouring water into a pool. The feature creates a refreshing, cooling atmosphere, with soothing background water sounds produced by the 5-meter fall. "The design challenges with the Palm Court feature were how to pour out the water, control the noise and contain the splashing water in the pools," said Denman. "We suppressed the landing impact by directing the flow of falling water onto a cushion of more water, this also reduced the noise to the perfect level." To create the pouring effect, the spouts were custom designed. The water falls onto a natural rock-scape, which seemingly flows into a lily pond, like a Roman bath. Overhanging walkway, or flat bridge, gives the feel that water 'disappears' underneath into the pond. However, in reality, there could be no physical link, since lilies require little or no turbulence. The horticultural expertise of Landscape Architect Gary Bartsch, of Gary Bartsch International was required to solve another mystery. "We wanted the water in the Palm Court fountain and lily pond to have the same look," Bartsch said. "We wondered if the lilies could be treated by low levels of bromine." At the start of six to eight months' research on optimum water temperature and bromination, it was discovered that the lilies, which are standing in containers with their roots in soil, were having difficulty flowering. "We corrected that with fertilizer and organic matter and now they grow and produce flowers extremely well - almost too well," said Bartsch, whose work to strike a happy balance between chlorine and plants has helped create a relaxing, peaceful atmosphere in the Palm Court of Gateway. With several cafe's around it, and escalators on either side, the Palm Court feature is a major destination and also serves to draw people up to the source of the water; the urns are actually on the first retail level. The other exterior water feature attraction is the first of it's kind in South Africa, according to Mike Rodel, General Manager of Gateway. Old Mutual Properties desired a Las Vegas-style show feature - water 'magic' that would be a strong attraction for people visiting the shopping center. Of course it also needed to fit with the rest of the natural landscape/subtropical theme. Following discussions with the client Crystal Fountains' designers suggested a multi-purpose water feature for the roundabout on Umhlanga Boulevard, a 50-meter diameter circle that serves as the heart of Gateway. The Boulevard feature entertains using a programmable illuminated song and dance routine, with powerful effects to complement the natural beauty of the Umhlanga Rocks area. It has a series of cascading effects, using various textures and finishes. Crystal worked with a local architect to select materials, including natural rock from South Africa. Philip Howes, design manager for Old Mutual Properties, describes the one of a kind feature as, "by day, the fountain is a playful children's dry plaza fountain, by night it transforms into a water, light and choreographed musical extravaganza with a host of special effects. It is a huge draw for Gateway visitors." The water feature is 30 meters in diameter and comprises an illuminated 25-meter long wave effect that surges up five meters, a jet that reaches a height of 20 meters, and a series of shark fins that will race back and forth at breathtaking speeds. The water feature company designed a unique series of 64 water switches to operate the jets, which can be changed five times a second. Water flows at 6,400 gallons a minute and a pedestrian bridge will allow viewers a close-up look at the fountain. "We took a technology that we'd previously developed and adjusted the water switch to work this way," Denman said. "There's nothing else like it in the world!" With a special computer program, sound system and speakers, patrons of the surrounding restaurants can enjoy the eight-minute evening shows, every hour on the hour. Electrical designer and programmer, Gerald Tester, went to Durban to re-program the show, recently. Tester witnessed crowds of 200 or more people coming out of the mall to watch it, and talked to people who said they came to the mall just to see the show. An eclectic mix of music means there's something in the shows for everyone: the theme from Star Wars; Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen; choral work O Fortuna from the opera Carmina Burana; Beethoven's Pastoral Suite # 6 in F major and an inspirational piece called African Dream sung by a well-known local artist. The lyrics from the African Dream song seem fitting of the new urban landscape setting as well: All I want is for our hearts to be beating just as one To silence the confusion Then the pain and the illusion Will disappear again and we will never run. CHORUS: In my African dream There's a new tomorrow My African dream Is a dream that we can follow Maynard describes the Boulevard feature as the symbolic entrance to Gateway, while the Palm Court fountain connects most closely with the overall theme. The architecture of the center presents a contemporary blend of aesthetics - a melding of site, local color and detail - with an international appeal. The style is timeless and mellow, materials are warm and friendly, its places open and spacious and its attitude outreaching, inclusive and soaring. "These outdoor spaces would not be nearly as successful if there were no water features," Maynard said. "Especially because of the entertainment aspect. Sitting at the cafe admiring the water features brings people back, it adds to the experience and contributes to a sense of comfort." In South Africa's garden province, with such a connection to nature, Maynard asks, "How could you not have water?" And when the center jet of the Boulevard feature soars to its impressive 20 meters on a windy day, visitors are lightly misted by its spray and can't help but feel connected. "It adds to the tropical feel," suggests Geoff Bright, project manager of Gateway Theatre of Shopping. He is thrilled with the success of the project, indicating that they get 1.5 million visitors per month, already exceeding their hope for 12 million a year. "We also estimate people are staying four hours and the water adds to the whole environment, it's a very important part." Paul L'Heureux is CEO of Crystal Fountains, an international water feature specialist.

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October 20, 2019, 6:11 pm PDT

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