Architecture for yoga

WORDS Jacqueline Gray PRODUCTION Klara van Wyngaarden PHOTOS Marijke Willems

Named the second-biggest fitness trend of 2014, yoga has come a long way since India. People are calling it a lifestyle choice and, with centres like The Yoga Republic in Randburg also pushing architectural principles, we can see why.

Clearly trend spotters of note, in 2012 already, Claire and Clint Smith saw an opportunity for a centrally located, multi-purpose establishment in Fontainebleau, between Randburg and Sandton, which could accommodate numerous yoga styles and promote a healthy lifestyle in an eco-friendly fashion. 

Finding a suitable space proved tricky, but eventually they came across a small, somewhat dilapidated corner shopping centre that Claire and Clint believed had the potential. Nonetheless, before work began, the pair consulted a Vaastu Shastra consultant. Loosely comparable to Japan’s feng shui, Vaastu Shastra is an Indian and Hindu architectural philosophy that engages with directional elements in buildings, as well as the laws of nature and their effect on dwellings. It is believed to facilitate health, harmony, balance and prosperity.

To the couple’s surprise, they were advised to turn their original building plans around to best facilitate the centre’s energy flow. In addition, they also inserted energy plates prayed on by priests in India under the building’s foundations to further enhance the energy flow. Colourful murals depicting auspicious animals have since been painted at various strategic points to further enhance the generation and flow of energy.

Then the real work began. The centre was gutted and the roof raised to make room for a second storey. A significant amount of the work was undertaken directly by Clint who also owns his own eco-consulting, project management and green building solutions company. According to him, a significant amount of the centre’s original building material, such as the roof trusses and clay bricks, were reused to craft the centre’s new walls and spaces wherever possible. Much unused material was also sent to a building recycling plant.

Numerous other eco-friendly elements were incorporated into the centre such as insulation, integrated heat pumps, waterless urinals, motion sensor activated LED lights, double-glazed UPVC frames and low-e glass windows – low emissivity windows limit the amount of infrared light, which causes heat, and ultraviolet light, which causes fading. Furthermore, there’s no aircon as roof vents naturally cool the centre’s air, all waste is recycled and solar power, rainwater harvesting, water purification and recycling systems are in the pipeline.

Many of the walls have been left bare, while some have been coated with olive-hued environmentally friendly paint or brushed with a thin layer of cement. Reclaimed palette wood and raw steel have been used in much of the centre’s furniture and to enhance some of the architectural accent points such as the staircase, landing and kitchen facade. Large glass doors and windows are a prominent feature and allow plenty of natural sunlight and air in throughout the day.

Following months of hard work, The Yoga Republic opened its doors in 2013. It has multiple studios (one of which is purpose built for hot yoga), a rooftop garden practice area, toilets and showers, a herb garden, body work rooms, an outdoor patio, storerooms, offices, a vegetarian café, a health supplement and eco-friendly product shop, and a chemical-free green pool (read more about green pools here) where swimming and hydrotherapy classes are held.

The overall effect is one of an informal, uncontrived aesthetic. The centre’s rugged, somewhat industrial lines are softened by the warm feature walls and personal touches such as a custom brick-and-wire chandelier, a handmade yin-yang wall feature, hanging heart-shaped glass orbs and inspirational words imprinted into the staircase.

The couple’s eco-friendly initiatives have also paid off from a cost-savings point of view. Despite effectively doubling its footprint, the centre has reduced its energy costs to a quarter of what it used at its previous location at a shopping centre on Republic Road. 

The centre has proved a hit with the surrounding community. In addition to approximately 50 weekly yoga classes, the centre is now also being used for workshops and fundraisers. Suffice to say The Yoga Republic stands out. It has breathed new life into what was once a drab pocket of Fontainebleau and serves a very real demand for a healthy lifestyle and exercise in an environmentally sensitive fashion.

How about greening your own home? Read our 10 tips here.