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27/03/2021| By: Tim Harlech-Jones, Executive Director

Mixed-use Architecture refers to the practice of designing buildings, or a precinct of buildings, which have multiple uses, such as retail, hotel, office, residential, cultural or public space offerings. These buildings can be within a shared building, which is vertically compartmentalized, alternatively within a large development area.

Cities have always been designed with very distinct precincts in mind. Central Business Districts (CBD) and commercial nodes would be filled exclusively with office buildings, which meant that there was a ‘buzz’ of life during the week, but completely empty in the evenings or weekends. This separation has divided cities into segmented and different zones for live, work and play. This segmentation is clearly evident in the planning and segmentation of South African cities.

However, over the years, there has been a shift in the way cities are designed and the way that they have grown. The first shift has been for businesses (and tenants alike) to decentralise to outlying nodes and to develop new commercial centres. Some of these new nodes have been designed to allow for a mixed-use approach to future development. The second shift, which has credence to this article, is the blurring of lines between live, work and play and, as such, new types of developments have been designed to accommodate for a diverse mix of retail, office, residential, hospitality and entertainment spaces, all in one area. This new approach to Urbanism is increasingly being embraced with new developments in South Africa and across the African continent. Some of the most notable developments in South Africa include, Melrose Arch (Johannesburg), the V&A Waterfront  and Century City (Cape Town), Umhlanga Town Ridge Centre (Umhlanga), Menlyn Maine (Pretoria), and numerous others.

In form and function, mixed-use buildings or developments are complex in their nature due to the specific servicing and structural requirements of the various functions. Therefore it is important to select an Architectural firm with experience in such a building(s). The firm must be able to demonstrate a reputable portfolio of work. Mixed-use design has a multitude of aspects to coordinate during the design process, and the best Architectural and Interior Design firm for the project will be one who understands the process and complexities required to successfully deliver a project from inception to handover and final commissioning.  Another aspect is the team structure – the firm must be able to showcase, firstly, that the team of Architects and Interior Designers involved is experienced enough. This includes for seasoned professionals, but also young Architects with fresh perspectives. No matter where the mixed-use building or precinct is being built, it’s important to provide consideration to the prospective Architectural firm and how their various past projects integrate with the environment and the surroundings. Design process and understanding is an important consideration. Compromise on the professional experience could cause time delays and bring about design or construction problems during the construction phase. Inefficiency of the design process will have a fourfold impact on the investment, due to (i) elevated cost of build, (ii) increased operating costs during the lifetime of the property, (iii) reduced or lost revenue potential, and (iv) reduced value of the asset.

It is important to differentiate from urban design or multi-use in the context of large developments – mixed-use is a single structure of different components in a vertical arrangement, whereas multi-use refers to different structures that are intrinsically linked, whether this is an urban design context or even within a planned single development. Each one has its own challenges – the challenges in the vertical context will be the structural and services arrangement, yet the challenge in an urban design context is one to link the various functions and components with respect to accessibility, visibility, walkability. In both cases design and planning plays an integral part, and space making is important to consider in treating spaces between the building fabric in a positive light.

Bentel has the requisite skillset and experience to design commercially successful, well-planned and aesthetically pleasing mixed-use buildings, having successfully completed numerous projects in South Africa, as well as across Africa, the Indian Ocean Islands and the Middle-East.

“Throughout Bentel’s history, we have been involved in all types of commercial-orientated projects, with retail playing a significant role. There has been a recent focus in the last decade or so on urban design and mixed-use developments, and we are currently capitalising on this market trend,” comments Tim Harlech-Jones, Executive Director at BAI.

When one considers Bentel’s long history in mixed-use design, some of the key projects in South Africa, and across the African continent, include: Montecasino Entertainment complex (Sandton), Legacy Corner (Sandton), Michelangelo Towers (Sandton), Nelson Mandela Square (Sandton), Bedford Square (Johannesburg), Secunda Eastside (Secunda), Waterfall City Masterplan (Johannesburg), Mon Tresor Masterplan (Mauritius), Levy Junction (Lusaka), Icon House and Second Circle Mixed-use (Accra), and a number of other landmark projects.

Montecasino, Fourways, South Africa

Michaelangelo Towers & Legacy Corner


A number of Bentel’s mixed-use projects have received recognition over the years, with the awarding of industry awards for excellence in the field of Architectural and Interior Design. Some of our recent awards include the winning of a 5-star 2020 African Property Award for best Mixed-use ‘Un-Built’ in Africa for Harbour Arch in Cape Town. This project now enters the International Property Awards during 2021 and competes against other continental winners. This follows on from the 2019 and 2018 success at the African Property awards for Grandview Addis mixed-use (Ethiopia) and One on Whiteley mixed-use (Johannesburg) respectively. We also received a 2018 and 2016 Asia Pacific Property Award for best mixed-use project in India for Market of India (Chennai, India) and Vegas (Dehli, India) respectively.


Vegas Mixed-Use Development, New Dehli, India                                                                                             Harbour Arch Mixed-Use Development, Cape Town, South Africa


Tim goes on to say  “We have been privileged to have been given the opportunity, by our numerous clients, to participate in some exceptional projects, which have been recognised by various award platforms. Awards are not our motivation, rather the recognition that we are positively contributing to the urban environment and designing responsible and well-planned buildings.”

To conclude,  is apparent that it is important for a client to consider the prior experience and relevant expertise that a firm has when appointing an Architect or Interior Designer for such a . Simply put, this genre of design requires the ‘best firm for the job’, so-to-speak, across a number of criteria.  In Africa, mixed-use projects have been widely vaunted to add value and contribute to the built environment. This offers a unique opportunity for the variety of local Africa-based professionals to participate in the growth of such a model of real estate across the region.


About Bentel Associates International:
Bentel is a leading African and Indian-based design firm established in 1960 which has a dedicated and focused service offering across multiple sectors, comprising retail, office, residential and hospitality projects. Today BAI is an award-winning architectural firm known for having designed many unique and landmark developments throughout the African continent and the Middle-East. 
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