Text by AOJ and Gregg Cocking / PRchitecture
This landmark project is located on a prime corner of the Boundary Park Industrial Park development currently underway in Northriding, Johannesburg. The site location and tenant’s large office staff complement led to a less conventional office and warehouse ratio of 60:40. “This model is seemingly becoming more common nowadays with a shrinking global economy and the improvements in technology. Many large companies with distribution facilities are downsizing and consolidating their operations,” says Alessio Lacovig of Architects Of Justice (AOJ).
The tenant, Ascendis Medical, is one such company. With a progressive directorship at its helm, it needed to consolidate three facilities into one to optimise operations and improve business efficiencies. This large and rather complex program was cleverly distributed by AOJ over three floors of P-Grade equivalent offices totalling 6 500 m². Apart from a strong focus around sustainability, the office was designed around two key principals from the onset, one being user experience and the other the creation of a statement building.
In the design, the office footprint was shaped around an irregular open courtyard to increase the perimeter façade. This maximises the building’s presence from the adjacent street intersection, increases the amount of natural daylight entering the building and enhances the external views from within the building. Both the shape of the courtyard and the longer perimeter façade result in a building that appears even larger from the major intersection on which the building is located, emphasising it’s importance as Ascendis’ new head office. The highly intricate and impressive glass corner entrance is the most striking architectural element of the building; shaped to improve passive solar control of the triple volume entrance foyer.
AOJ’s directive to make the building as prominent as possible, and the site conditions, whereby the building sits elevated from the road intersection, made it possible to include a 2 000 m² basement parking level, which at the same time improved earthwork cut-to-fill ratios and stormwater management. This elevation of the building also gives the main foyer and its linked walkways on all floors fantastic views as the surrounding contours fall to the north. “Maybe this was lucky in a way, but it ultimately came about from considering the design early on in the process and thinking of how we could make the most out of the communal spaces,” says Lacovig.
The Ascendis building was the first of four to be designed by AOJ at the Boundary Park precinct. “In order to secure Ascendis as a tenant, Orpen Group, the developer, first needed to illustrate the potential of the development and the site to them, which lead to an initial design pitch, by AOJ, to Ascendis for the building. “This pitch clearly went really well,” notes Lacovig. “With the site being at a major intersection on Malibongwe Drive, a very busy thoroughfare, the opportunity was there to make the landmark building.” The initial mindset focussed on creating a shimmering glass building to relate to Ascendis as a company which competes globally.
“Our design was a response to the client’s desire for a fully glazed façade that would suit an international style of architecture, to fit with what is more commonly seen in areas like Sandton but that would costs less to build,” explains Lacovig. “The conventional way to achieve this is to use curtain walling because you’re trying to get glass to span floor-to-ceiling over several floors, and you subsequently need double or triple performance glazing, which further pushes the price up.”
AOJ’s approach was different; they identified the two aspects of most value when making a ‘glass building’, being the user experience from the inside and what the building looks like from the outside. By running the glazing continuously across the length of the office, and from the ceiling height down to 800mm above the floor (effective desk height) and not from slab to slab in a relatively dense office space, you can achieve the desired perception of transparency from the inside. “For a building of this scale, it also reduces the construction cost because there is less glass and it also increases the speed at which the contractor can build on site, because they are now applying a more conventional building method of brick work and openings for windows, rather than having a concrete structure and relying on a single supplier to finish off the façade,” explains Lacovig.
“From the exterior, what this does is reduce the amount of glass on the façade which is exposed to the sun, which automatically reduces unwanted solar heat gain.” A second full glazing element was introduced as an additional skin to the façade. “This second skin is not only the major aesthetic element of the building, but it is also a noise buffer (as it deflects road noise from Malibongwe Road). In addition, a fixed solar control element was added; this also serves as an access walkway for easy cleaning of the windows from the outside,” he says.
Ultimately, it was about creating a façade which was functional, and not just an aesthetic showpiece. “Good design is multifunctional. We needed the large glass façade, and the economic constraints very quickly pushed our creativity to make this element more valuable,” says Lacovig. The coloured blue glass came into play as an idea to tie the building back to the Ascendis brand, and it was designed in such a way that the client can cover it with vinyl in the future if they want. The only break to the glass façade comes in the form of a solid box, in which the building auditorium is housed. This also serves as a signage wall for Ascendis branding.
“The predominant material on the façades of the building is facebrick,” says Mike Rassmann from AOJ. “This choice was largely to reduce maintenance on the building and one cannot get away from the fact that cementitious products are a big polluter of the environment, and if you have to plaster a façade of this size you will be using a large amount of cement, not to mention paint. Using a facebrick façade is in many ways a responsible thing to do, although it does require more attention during construction to get the bricks laid properly.”
Part of the challenge AOJ had was trying to find the right colour brick; “We wanted a modern looking building, and for the brick not to show behind the blue glass. This is quite difficult to do it with facebrick’s earthy, natural tones, so we picked the most muted dark brick available which has the added benefit of not showing dirt as much as a lighter brick would,” explains Lacovig. The brick used in the courtyard, on the other hand, was a lighter colour brick which was specified for improved reflection of daylight within this space.
The courtyard was an integral part of the architect’s design from the outset. “A courtyard in an office building gives you the ability to have a wider office floorplate, because you can have natural light entering the workspace from two sides,” Lacovig points out. “We ended up having a 17-metre-deep floorplate, which, if you illuminate from only one side of the façade, becomes very dark.” This 17m depth is also the consequence of the basement parking grid layout and is well suited for the buildings structural design.
“While the courtyard does create a social space, it was more about making the building energy efficient and more comfortable for users. It enables more natural ventilation and more natural lighting, thus reducing energy consumption as you don’t have to have lights on throughout the day nor do you have to fully rely on mechanical ventilation to moderate the internal temperature, which, in a building of this size can add up quite quickly to hundreds of thousands of rands,” he says.
The courtyard is directly linked with the main foyer reception of the building on one side and the staff canteen on the other. This proximity allows this social space to be used for informal meetings between staff and visitors alike. A covered glass structure creates a walkway that ensures moving to the canteen from the reception is comfortable even in bad weather and also provides sheltered seating space. Large north facing stacking doors can be used to open the canteen space onto the courtyard on more temperate days, and makes this space appropriate for larger gatherings
The building, with a 60:40 split between office block and warehouse is seen more as a head office with a distribution facility attached, rather than a warehouse with an office facility attached. “During the design, there was a toss-up between Orpen building exactly what Ascendis needed at that point, and being mindful of Ascendis’ imminent growth by adding a third floor. This made things a little more complicated for AOJ,” says Lacovig, “but that is part of the process, and despite the back and forward, much of the original design intention remained in the completed building.”
The third floor consists of additional office space for growth and a 100-seater auditorium with meeting rooms as part of a training centre, allowing the company to expand without relocating in the future. On the west corner of the same floor, a bar and outdoor terrace offers a place for staff and visitors to socialise while taking in the surrounding views and setting sun. The warehouse component incorporates a double storey pilot office at the centre of the interface between the warehouse and the yard, giving the operational staff full control over the dispatch and receiving processes. A two-storey staff block with change rooms and worker’s canteen space is linked to the yard of the office, keeping the utility aspects of the building on the same side. A backup water supply is housed on the internal portion of the pilot office roof to keep the facility operational for up to seven days should municipal supply be interrupted, while the warehouse roof was designed to accommodate solar PV panels in the future, which, given the current challenges South Africa is facing, would completely address the need for the building’s water and power security. A higher floor specification was used in a dedicated section of the warehouse, so VNA (Very Narrow Aisle) racking could be used to take advantage of the 14m warehouse height and improve use of the floor area.
“Additional foundation footings were also incorporated into the warehouse floor, adjacent to the courtyard wall to allow for even further growth of the office space by 10m into the warehouse. This would effectively complete the fourth side of the courtyard space. That has not happened – and it might never happen – but it is another way that our design futureproofs the building for Ascendis and Orpen,” notes Lacovig.
Project motivation editorials are provided by the project nominator. If any technical details, company names or product names are incorrect, please notify the SAISC so that the error can be corrected.
|Physical address of the project
460 Malibongwe Rd
|GPS Co-ordinates||27956 78, -26.044 789|
|CLADDING (If applicable)|
|Completion date of cladding|
|Cladding profile/ type used||Safintra Saflock 700/WideSpan|
|Cladding area coverage||9000m² + 2300m²|
|Cladding tonnage||45 tonnes + 11.5 ton|
|Project Team Role||Company|
|Nominator||Safintra South Africa|
|Client/ Developer||Orpen Group|
|Architect||Architects of Justice|
|Quantity Surveyor||Ferrer Hagim QS|
|Cladding Supplier||SAFINTRA South Africa (Pty) Ltd|
|Cladding Contractor||Hollyberry Roofing|
If you were a part of this project, and your company details are incorrect or missing – please notify the SAISC so that the error can be corrected.