Commercial & Mixed Use, Hotels & Lodges, Interiors & Brand Architecture

Umhlanga Arch

Umhlanga, Durban, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

Four years since announcing the commencement of the world class R1.3 Billion Umhlanga Arch development, the first phase of this mixed-use precinct is now complete. The development first broke ground in October 2017, planned as a joint venture between. The Multiply Group and Devmco Group.

Four years since announcing the commencement of the world class R1.3 Billion Umhlanga Arch development, the first phase of this mixed-use precinct is now complete. The development first broke ground in October 2017, planned as a joint venture between. The Multiply Group and Devmco Group.

Recognised immediately by the iconic arched façade, the development brings the idea of mixed-use living to life. Live in luxury apartments and work in AAA-grade office spaces in the state-of-the-art glass arch. Stay in the South African flagship Hilton Garden Inn. Play along the European-inspired High Street and experience bespoke retailers and curated events in the Legacy Yard. Savour new tastes at Legacy Yard Food hall. Share drinks with friends at the Back Yard rooftop bar.

Location and Site

Umhlanga Arch is located between Ncondo Place and Vuna Close on the sea facing slopes of the Ridgeside precinct at Umhlanga Ridge outside Durban. 

The prominent sloping site has a height allowance of up to 235msl, with a height difference on the site of approximately five floors. Ridgeside is a four-precinct development that will complete Umhlanga Ridge. The 140-hectare site lies nestled within a rough triangle created by Umhlanga Rocks Drive and two major highways, the M4 and the M41 and on completion will effectively link Umhlanga Ridge to Umhlanga Rocks.

Client Brief

The brief to the architects, Craft of Architecture (COA), called for a mixed-use development of 45,000m2 of bulk which, when added with parking and services, ends up at an area of 90,000 m2 .

Being a corner site with maximum height allowance, the client wanted something special – something different to what was currently available in the area. An important aspect of the development idea was also based on the mixed -use concept of live, work, stay and play… all in one place. The development was to include: A ±5,000 m2 dealership, which comprised of ±3,000 m2 showroom and ±2,000 m2 of state-of-the-art workshop facilities; A 203-room Hilton Garden Inn; 162 apartments, with Penthouse suites and 30 New York style lofts; ±2,000 m2 of retail with food and beverage laid put as a typical London high street; ±6,500 m2 of AAA grade offices; During the project the development brief also expanded with an addition of a Legacy Yard food hall and The Pencil, an exclusive members club.

Planning Considerations

Due to the scale of the project and the various components that had to go into it, the planning process happened in 3D by stacking simple building blocks. 

Large volumes of parking are required to accompany this type of brief and this was located in a naturally ventilated semibasement of 8 floors between Ncondo Place and Vuna Close. This parking block became referred to as the podium. It starts at the bottom of Vuna Close and terminated three floors above Ncondo Place. There was a special requirement to have the dealership easily accessible from the main access road, Ncondo Place, and to give the dealership exposure to Umhlanga Rocks Drive. The residences and the hotel would be positioned on top of the podium at the part of the site where the height limit allowed for a tall block. It seemed fitting that the larger resident component would be on the seaside and the hotel box on the street side. The public component of the high street was placed on top of the podium occupying the 3rd floor above Ncondo Place. This also allowed for enough height to ensure panoramic sea views and a safe pedestrian environment free of cars. The commercial component of the offices seemed to be best suited at the corner of the site facing the busy M12 above the dealership.

Design Details

  • A podium was created with the required 8 levels of parking bridging the gap between the Ncondo PI. and Vuna Cl.
  • The roof of the podium acts like a park with lawns and trees surrounded by shops and restaurants.
  • All the blocks are accessed via the public park on the top of the podium, ensuring that the shops and restaurants are activated.
  • There was an intention to express these blocks individually but they needed to come from the same ‘family’. The bold form of the design was intended to withstand all the differing components and inputs.
  • The distinctive arch in the office wing creates interest and invites one to explore beyond the arch. The reflections in the arch soffit highlight trees from the street and cars from the park.
  • During the design and development process, and in response to the urban planning part of the parking façade facing Vuna Close, this was improved by being lined with loft apartments.

Design Components


The podium was mainly designed to accommodate parking requirements, but as the design developed certain responses to brief and urban framework had to be considered. The dealership and lofts were inserted into the podium block. In order to activate the street edge at Ncondo PI. all the pedestrian vertical circulation from the parking was moved to the front of the building. This included escalators, glass lifts and stairs.


The dealership ended up working best on two 4.5m high levels, with easy access off Ncondo Place to the showroom on the upper level. The bottom level is divided into a used car showroom and workshop with 18 service bays. The two levels are joined by a glazed double volume space on the sea-facing corner where a sculptural stair is suspended alongside a suspended feature car.


The 5 levels of AAA grade offices have been shaped into a curved wing acknowledging the prime corner positioning of the site. This is further accentuated by the wing being pierced with an opening from which the name Umhlanga Arch was later derived.

High Street

The high street is on top the podium on the 3rd floor above Ncondo place. The internal parking circulation has been positioned on the street edge to activate and allow easy flow to the public square. The center of the high street is design like a park with a lawned area for sitting or playing lined with trees and benches. The park is surrounded by shops and restaurants. All visitors to the residences, hotel and offices access via the area.

Hilton Garden Inn

The first Hilton Garden Inn in South Africa, the hotel is positioned adjacent to the access street and has 203 rooms located over 14 levels. The windows are vertically staggered to contrast against those of the residences.

Materials Used

There was an honest approach to the materials used, with off -shutter concrete, high performance double glazing and steel structures with timber and aluminium screens and louvers. 

The use of plaster and paint was minimised where possible. Face brick was used on the High Street to create texture and warmth. The colours that were selected for the façade were toned down, complimenting warm greys. The precinct has a prescribed colour pallet the architect needed to adhere to which is challenging when working with brands that have their own colour requirements. This was the case with the dealership for SMG/BMW which needed to be entirely white in colour.


One of the main challenges was maintaining the cohesive core concept with all the ongoing changes. 

Structural planning and services coordination in a mixed-use environment was also challenging. Offices on top of the retail, on top of the dealership showroom on top of a workshop all require different column spacing. The complexity of integrating the different uses /services/brands identities and expectations of elements stacked vertically and horizontally while also consolidating and taking them through eight floor structure gave the building an extreme complexity in nature. At the same time the team was challenged with proving the user with a clear, uncomplicated experience both visually and through usage and experience. It was an extremely complex program and set of challenges that entailed a large part of the process being removed that complexity for the users, providing them with the desired experience of a true mixed use building. One of the façade challenges was the size and clarity of the glazing on the façade of the dealership. The glass needed to be clear as possible to ensure optimal display of the cars to the passers-by. This requirement is challenged by the loss of control of heat gain when the glass is too clear, making the space too hot and bright. The glass panels similarly needed to be as large as possible in the sizes available but large panels require bigger obtrusive mullions.

BIM Challenges

In order to keep up with the fast pace of the project it was agreed upon to utilise BIM techniques as much as possible, to rationalise the documentation approach and accommodate the fast-tracked demands of construction. 

Documenting and Collaborating on a Durban based project, from a Cape Town office was assisted by the use of cloud-based platforms, which helped improve consultant communication and productivity. The BIM model was separated into various parts to accommodate the scale of the project. All consultants were on a separate platform to the architects i.e., ArchiCAD vs Revit, which meant that clash detection methods needed to swiftly be implemented to combat a demanding construction schedule. This was facilitated through weekly ‘LAN Sessions’ held at COA’s Durban office, which turned out to be a first on the professional platform in South Africa.


Umhlanga Arch has succeeded in cohesively combining every element of mixed-use development with a bold design statement that adds vibrancy and life to the rapidly evolving Ridgeside development.