Somewhat controversial but successful Environmental Designer, Landscape Architect, and Developer Dr Chris Mulder whose integrated design firm CMAI developed Thesens Island in Knysna South Africa is honored by his former University Via Bizcommunity.com and illustrations from sources as credited: Although I wonder if this is transferring gated suburbia to the country – despite its laudable aims to uplift the rural population and provide needed jobs – what are the costs in terms of commuting and environmental impacts? Having said this I was impressed by Dr Mulder’s presentation at the 2010 ILASA conference, while many others were bewailing the lack of importance attached to Landscape Architecture in South Africa, and with the current economic climate the shortage of work, Chris was positive about creating his own developments and suggested in the question and answer sessions of the conference that Landscape Architects were well positioned to lead development teams in that their training encompassed more integrated and holistic views than most of the other design disciplines and he has been a model of this both for his own development s as well as for his clients. His take on a question of mine was that If you are short of work – make it – become a developer yourself!
In March 2011, Mulder was informed by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform that the village, together with the deprived neighbouring village of Thornhill, was to be declared a Comprehensive Rural Development Site (CRDS).
The department wrote: “We see the development as a first in South Africa where you as private investors have come up with a unique concept and method to fully involve and integrate an impoverished rural communities as beneficiaries in skills development, sustainable and on-site training as an integral part of your development. The model you have conceived has been acknowledged by the minister as a potential role model to uplift other rural communities in South Africa.”
“The village has been designed against the background of the increasing awareness of the importance for the future of safe access to food and water and of the need to live with the land in a sustainable manner. Everything is being done to ensure we make the best possible use of natural resources such as solar energy, while rain water will be harvested off roofs, stored and used for irrigation. The timber salvaged during the removal of alien vegetation will all be re-used on the development for garden furniture, fences, streetlamps, etc.”
New rural lifestyle
Since the completion of Thesen Islands, he has been working on a number of new residential projects which he believes will create rural development nodes that will help slow the move to urban areas. Against this background Mulder developed a concept he calls New Ruralism, combining residential property development with agriculture. In addition to Crossways Farm Village his firm is involved in similar projects at Kurland in the Southern Cape and at Velddrif on the West Coast.
“These projects, planned to have a high labour content, will not only stimulate job creation but in all instances the land on which the development is undertaken as well as the farming operations will rest in a company of which the farm workers will all own a third. In this way we want to promote land ownership amongst people who for the most part are currently unemployed,” he concluded.