The Alexander Forbes headquarters is a large building of 100 000m2, prominently situated in Sandton opposite the Gautrain station. For many visitors to Johannesburg it will be their introduction to South African architecture at close quarters. Considering the size, its impact on the environment will be profound. The building houses the head office of a large financial services company and they were anxious to ensure that their values and morals were reflected in the architecture. A total of 2500 people are employed in the building, so the accommodation combined with the architecture was important in its language. This is a commercial office building hence its performance criteria needs to be evaluated accordingly.
The adjudicators were impressed by the fact that the structure was not adapted to suit climatic conditions, rather that climate informed the design as a natural harmonsation. Many of the architectural elements were generated from the influence of the sun. Considering the location, climate, and size of the building, manipulation of form to respond to solar conditions became critical. The role of louvres, skylights, glazing and scallops assisted with light whilst reducing the impact of heat. Staff welfare is of prime importance in any organisation. Substantial interaction was conducted with Alexander Forbes to ensure that spaces were included in the building to satisfy social and cultural capital in their workplace. Although this building has been confirmed as a Four Star Green Star ‘as built’ project, the principles embraced extend beyond mere box-ticking. Agreement was undertaken at an early stage between the Developer, the Tenant and Architect to exploit the financial capital that would be required to satisfy its sustainable performance. The building is a manifestation of the built capital acquired during its design and construction.
Staff facilities are impressive with an understanding of contemporary life, especially for women and married employees and the ramifications it has on children. As a result a crèche, gymnasium and health facilities have all been included in the building.
Place Making Performance
The design of the building is heavily influenced by its positioning. The main façade faces north-west, the most difficult to mitigate, considering the path of the sun. The use of louvres dictated the elevational treatment which communicates powerfully with the street. On the north-east and south-west elevations, the form mutates into scallops which scoop the morning and afternoon sun into the building. The south east façade has its apertures reduced in size to decrease energy loss and gain.
At street level itself, the building edge is softened with xeriscaping and the planting of indigenous trees and plants. An opportunity perhaps missed is the absence of social interaction between the street and the building, that could perhaps include lifestyle activities.
The accommodation impact was designed to reduce any negative impact on water, energy and waste. Reduced power consumption, re-use of water and recycling initiatives have contributed to reduce energy consumption by 40%, water consumption by 70% and waste generation by 50%.
Because of the large workforce, the building also has a didactic role in informing employees on possible contributions that can be made to sustainable architecture at home. Significant efforts have been made to reduce paper use and draw attention to recycling efforts. The building has been occupied for two years and its performance is monitored to confirm claims and provide an insight into sustainable commercial design in the future.
In awarding the AfriSam Sustainable Award for 2014, it is hoped that this building will provide a beacon of inspiration not only as a place to work but also a worthwhile contribution to the urban fabric and human experience.