Margot Adelle Orr

UK & Europe

Margot is an urbanist, specializing in harnessing the inherent efficiencies unique to complex development projects. Having a strong history of achieving long-lasting and low-impact development through strategic design, Margot’s focus is commercially resilient development. Her projects often introduce new options for urban living and benefit from transit oriented development – ultimately leading to the creation of places that are distinctly livable.

Find out more about where I work and any related career opportunities.

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Johannesburg is vibrant city full of a diverse mix of cultures, opportunities and people. It is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa and is the financial capital of South Africa. However, it is also a city that was built for the personal automobile rather than for people. Development sprawls over more than 600 square miles and one of the most typical styles of family dwelling unit is a single family home surrounded by a yard and a security fence.

The people of Johannesburg are ambitious and they have a strong appetite for a new kind of community that is designed to for the way people want to live, work and play TODAY.

When the City of Johannesburg decided to build the first high speed rail network in Africa (Gautrain), Atkins jumped at the opportunity to get involved. Safe and efficient public transportation allows people to leave their cars at home and reach their destination without getting stuck in Johannesburg’s notorious traffic jams in the city and beyond. Of course, high capacity public transportation also unlocks an opportunity for building communities with densities that promote walkable neighbourhoods, allowing people to live closer to each other. Multi-story apartments allow security to be handled at the ground floor, so the need for anti-social security fences is eliminated. Communities built with apartments and townhouses also bring together the critical mass of people needed to support shops, cafes and community facilities within reasonable walking distances of most residents.

The quantity of development and pedestrian traffic at street level around the station at Sandton, Johannesburg’s version of Canary Wharf, has increased enormously since Gautrain opened. Offices, housing, restaurants, conference facilities and a wide variety of retails all thrive in this new walkable compact environment.

When Atkins designed and delivered a majority of the urban portions of Gautrain, we helped to set the groundwork for transformation in Johannesburg.

This is a game-changing project.Benefits

Of course, whether or not people would be willing to leave their cars at home was a question asked by a few sceptics. We are happy to report, only 3 years after Gautrain was completed (2012), it is running at capacity, and we were invited to undertake studies to facilitate expansion. Gautrain is an undeniable success. International developers are also taking a keen interest in the new opportunities associated with this new rail network. In 2013 Zendai (a Chinese developer) purchased 1,600 ha of land on the existing Gautrain alignment, along with permission to build a new station. The future of Johannesburg is looking very bright.

Stay tuned for an upcoming article on our work with Zendai.

Please contact co-author Stuart Downey ( for more information about Gautrain and Margot Orr for more information about City Building.

UK & Europe,

I lead multidisciplinary masterplan projects that focus on the development of large-scale mixed-use sites which often include residential units, offices, retail and leisure facilities, and community infrastructure. My team’s input involves establishing the project vision, urban design, planning, environmental assessments, economics, engineering and programme management; ultimately leading to the delivery of fully functional pieces of the city. Through our experience designing and delivering this type of complex development, we have identified the key questions and techniques that result in long-lasting and commercially viable projects.

The act of City Building is the single most important objective of development. Genuine City Building happens when development (big or small) integrates with the city in which it is built and both experience mutual benefit.

However, development is often simply delivered where there is demand, without rigorous understanding of how the resulting buildings and infrastructure will affect the city. Haphazard development of this sort misses a significant opportunity and puts the city at risk, even though it may seem perfectly reasonable at the time. For example, if the long term needs of the city are not considered when development sites are selected, the city may end up with occupied family homes on a site that is needed in the future for an important public transit route. In this situation, the city has to either displace established families or limit future public transit provision. Neither is a good option. BUT if we are able to think strategically and ask the right questions when developing, growth can be long-lasting, equitable and contribute significantly to the city.

The biggest secret of the development industry is that:

The questions are always the same.
The answers are always unique.

Some areas that designers, planners and engineers must consider with every development are:

  • innovations that are locally appropriate
  • how to keep the city moving (physically and economically)
  • who will use the development
  • where will the power come from.

When we ask these questions every time we plan, design and implement, we do not simply construct isolated development projects but rather we build pieces of the engine that is the city.

This is City Building.

The key questions answered by City Building are:

  • Economics: How to maximise benefit and minimise risk?
  • Land use mix: What kind of programme is most viable?
  • Delivery: When is the time right?
  • Scale: How big is big?
  • Identity: What makes an impact?
  • Memory: Why do people visit, stay and remember?
  • People: Who are we designing for?
  • Reinvention: How do we accommodate growth?
  • Empowerment: How freely can we move about?
  • Regeneration: Should we start from scratch or restore?
  • Adaptability: How do we live in an old city?
  • Efficiency: How do we connect people with people?
  • Infrastructure: How much do we need?
  • Resources: Where do we plug in?
  • Future proofing: How do we plan for changes in lifestyle and climate?

Stay tuned for future angles articles that use our most innovative projects to address the topics noted above.

Image is of Earth, scaled by population and illuminated by cities by Benjamin Henning

UK & Europe,