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08 Aug PA 250

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Old inner-city buildings take on new role

Compiled by Benjamin Brits

Located in the Johannesburg Central Business District (CBD), is the heritage-listed Jeppe Street Post Office that was primed for conversion opportunities.

2Currently in South Africa, it is estimated that we have a housing backlog of around 2.1 million units. This is equivalent to approximately 12 million people without access to adequate housing. Affordable property is difficult to come by, social housing is vastly under-supplied, and homebuilders are facing the reality of a slow and unpredictable economic environment.

In South Africa’s urban areas, where employment and education opportunities are fairly easy to come by, the problem is even more stressed. The CBDs of the major cities are difficult places in which to find accommodation. Despite significant demand in the market, supply fails to keep up as more and more people are attracted to the economic opportunities on offer.

The centralised plant room area. Credit: Sebenza Sanitary Engineers

In the post-1994 election period, the Johannesburg inner city became an unattractive place and many corporates exited the area. This essentially left a stockpile of empty buildings, that when repurposed, would be one solution to this crisis. This opportunity was grabbed by Affordable Housing Company (Afhco), founded by entrepreneur Wayne Pitt in 1996. The company then started repurposing old buildings into quality residential spaces.

Part of one of Afhco’s biggest current projects is the Jeppe Street Post Office building, with adjoined Telkom building, located in the Johannesburg CBD. The Jeppe Street Post Office is a heritage-listed building that was constructed in 1935. Heritage-listed buildings or sites are usually recognised by government for their historical, cultural, religious, or natural significance to the country.

The 70 000m2 redevelopment has a total value in excess of R250-million. The project involves production of residential as well as retail areas, specifically repurposing the upper floors into 563 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, while retaining the 8 000m2 ground floor for retail opportunities. Adjoining the heritage building is the Telkom building, which is also being converted in the same style and has a service servitude to the Post Office building.

Scope of plumbing works

The wet services aspects of the project were awarded to Sebenza Sanitary Engineers (SSE), who undertook the entire plumbing on the project. Essentially, the 3building was gutted, the ducts created, and all the rooms built from scratch. The scope of work then included the following.

Design, supply, and installation of new PVC and HDPE above-ground drainage and water reticulation system

Geberit’s Mepla system was used here primarily for the speed of the installation, but also because this was specifically requested by the client, whom SSE has worked with over an extended period. Geberit offers a 50-year guarantee, which is an appealing aspect of any product. However, the guarantee is conditional: the installation team must be trained by Geberit and Geberit will do site inspections as the product is installed to ensure its correctness.

The system control panels and pumps. Credit: Sebenza Sanitary Engineers

The project work has been broken down into five phases and currently, the fourth phase has been wrapped up and the fifth phase has commenced. It is estimated that in the region of 12 kilometres of piping has already been installed.

Supply and installation of the rainwater systems

Previously, the rainwater drained into light-wells located on the first floor. Then, 150mm downpipes would connect from these into the municipal stormwater drains. Because the ground floor was converted into retail spaces, many of the tenants didn’t want the downpipes there because they either interfered with their shelving or their store layout, so SSE had to remove the old downpipes throughout the retail space and replace the old system with the Geberit Pluvia system.

Design, supply, and installation of hot and cold water storage systems (including control panels)

4For the hot water installation, SSE used the Thermocube tank and heat pump system supplied by Sirac. This is an indirect heating system and is sized at 45 000 litres. The choice of this system could be attributed to Sirac being one of the few companies that supply the indirect heating solution, and also, is effective in legionella control — which is one less thing to worry about when dealing with developments of this magnitude. As the SSE team already knew the set-up of the project (that is, how many residential units there are), it was easy to establish how much hot water would be required and how many people would need to be accommodated. One plant room was set up for the entire development. The retail section of the project has its own components.

The 45 000-litre indirectly heated hot water vessels and heat pumps for the project. Credit: Sebenza Sanitary Engineers

As part of the water reticulation system, sump pumps, booster pumps, and circulation pumps were also installed — supplied by DAB Pumps.

Forming part of the scope of work, all the sanitaryware was installed by SSE, and Plumblink’s Plumbline brand was selected to be installed. The choice on this was influenced by the fact that this line is affordably priced for this type of development, has good guarantees, meets all the required SABS standards, and stock availability is never a problem.

Smart meters were installed for each of the units.

Project challenges

A particular challenge of the project was the reticulation from the lower floors to the upper floors without impacting too much on the 4th floor Telkom servitude. The servitude on these floors exists as it forms part of the Telkom data centre infrastructure, which had to be worked around.

Another major challenge was the old steel sewer system that was essentially dilapidated, and which is also approximately seven meters below ground, so it was not just a case of digging up and replacing the piping. SSE engaged with NuFlow to do relining on the pipes. A particular element of this challenge was that the sewer systems are located between the Post Office and the High Court, where it runs directly underneath the entrance used by the judges and alleged criminals. It would therefore have been impossible to excavate and install a new sewer, as this would have posed a considerable risk for the High Court building in terms of security.

Information by Afhco, Sebenza Sanitary Engineers, and South African History Online.

 Project details and professionals

Project name 

Jeppe Street Post Office






Architect / designer 


Project manager  

DDT Project Management

Consulting engineers




Electric Storm

Wet services

Sebenza Sanitary Engineers


TG Harrison


Main building

DDT Construction

Wet services

Sebenza Sanitary Engineers


Electric Storm





HDPE drainage


Hot water vessels and heat pumps



DAB Pumps

Sanitaryware and taps


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