City launches innovative green Helderberg Environmental Centre

03 Jun 2022 in Where We Govern

In commemoration of the upcoming World Environmental Day on 5 June 2022, the City’s Executive Mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis and Deputy Mayor, Alderman Eddie Andrews, today addressed a launch event to showcase the City’s Helderberg Environmental Centre, a new state-of-the-art green sustainable centre located at the Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West.

The setting of the reserve on the slopes of the Helderberg, overlooking False Bay, makes it an ideal location to teach communities in and around Somerset West about the Western Cape’s plant and animal kingdom and our impact on it. As such, staff at the reserve identified the need for an environmental education centre where school groups and visitors can be accommodated.

The Helderberg Environmental Centre is a success story of how alternative construction methods and sustainable design thinking can be achieved.

‘The new Helderberg Environmental Centre is truly a magnificent building and provides the perfect setting for the various environmental education programmes the City’s nature reserves offer schools and interest groups. This centre provides us with  a practical example of what a green City facility can look like. The project as a whole has proved just how beneficial implementing green construction practices can be, especially if one considers the amount of semi-skilled EPWP job opportunities that were created to assist with the material selection and specific green construction techniques,’ said the City of Cape Town Executive Mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis.

‘I am excited about the learners and various groups that will be visiting and benefiting from this facility going forward. The message we would like to get across this World Environmental Day is to ensure our youth understand the importance of biodiversity in Cape Town. The environmental education here at the Helderberg Environmental Centre is a beautiful example of a sustainable building. Protecting our natural assets, our coastline and biodiversity, protected areas and nature reserves is pivotal in ensuring our collective wellbeing.

‘Cape Town has a wealth of nature reserves; greenbelts; parks and public open spaces. These are the green lungs of the city that need to be preserved, but this can only be done with the assistance from our communities,’ said the City’s Deputy Mayor and Mayoral Committee Member for Spatial Planning and Environment, Alderman Eddie Andrews.

The Helderberg Environmental Centre demonstrates green construction methods and sustainable designs.

Many of the conventional materials and methods used in the construction industry have a negative impact on the environment. This includes a high embodied energy, water and waste footprint. The City decided to use this project as an opportunity to ensure that environmentally responsible material is used.

The design of this holistic sustainable facility considered a number of components such as:

  • Waste
  • Functionality
  • Ecology
  • Thermal impact
  • Ground, waste and storm water impact
  • Light pollution
  • Reducing carbon emissions.

Some of the sustainability features of the new centre includes the impressive tyre retaining wall; eco brick wall and the integrated water treatment system, which includes the four chamber underground Black Water Treatment System.

In order to demonstrate alternative construction methods, the design showcased three approaches where waste was used in the wall construction. The concept for the enclosure is based on two curved walls, one fitting into the other and were constructed as follows:

The inner curved wall and foundations were constructed from rammed earth and repurposed building rubble.

The outer curved retaining wall was constructed from repurposed tyres. Building rubble and Ecobricks made from plastic bottles filled with plastic waste were used to fill the tyres for the wall. A total of 830 truck tyres were used for the tyre wall, which is approximately 40m long and 3,4m high.

The internal walls are constructed from Ecobricks. The ecobricks are made by filling and compacting plastic waste inside plastic bottles. The bottles were then stacked inside a frame to make the walls. Natural cob was also used to plaster over the ecobricks instead of conventional cement based plaster.

The three wall types showcase the principle of carbon burying. The materials that would otherwise become a burden in a landfill were reused and repurposed and given a new life . This new facility now serves as carbon sinks by sequestrating waste. The idea of repurposing and upcycling materials allows this centre to speak to sustainability. In addition, approximately 176 cubic metres of earth and recycled building rubble were used for the rammed earth walls and foundations as well.

The integrated water treatment system serves the new facility and solves the burden of the waste water generated by the existing facilities. Waste water from the new facility; the nearby restaurant; ablutions; the visitor’s centre and rain water from the new facility are captured and sent to the underground black water treatment system. The black water treatment system takes waste water and passes it through a four chamber process before being stored in storage tanks for the flushing of toilets in the new facility and existing ablution blocks. This ensures minimum water usage and zero water wastage. The treatment system makes use of bacteria and microorganisms to break down solids and treat the waste water, a process that mimics nature without releasing harmful nitrates into the atmosphere.

This new facility is situated close to the parking and entrance of the reserve. It hosts a stage and has a clip-on bedouin tent, which expands the covered usable area of the facility to accommodate larger functions.

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