On a challenging site, Architects Of Justice (AOJ) have created a geometrically striking industrial-chic office building which employs forthright sustainable design methodology and technology.
“In mid-2015 we were commissioned to design a new office building for Caldas Engineering, a supplier of crusher parts to the mining industry,” says principal architect, Mike Rassmann. As Caldas had expanded steadily over the years, their current premises in Meadowdale had become cramped and didn’t possess good views into the yard and over their stock, something which was imperative for a company which relies on the fact that they can dispatch stock quickly.
Caldas required more yard space (for stock storage) and more office space (to accommodate their increasing staff complement). The company acquired a 4300m² rectangular property in Activia Park, Germiston in Johannesburg, South Africa, which met their requirements for more yard space but unfortunately did not have any quality office space on it.
“The property had limited derelict office space at the back of the site, and we had to maximise the yard area due to the fact that every spare square metre of space would be beneficial for the client,” explains Rassmann. Hence the starting point for the design was to locate and size the new office building, named Rubela Park, on the site in order to maximise the yard space, while still ensuring that the new building would have an optimal solar orientation.
This proved to be quite a challenge as the position for the access road on the east boundary and the orientation of the site, which runs lengthways east to west, meant that laying the building out for optimal north/solar exposure would firstly impede on the yard space and secondly reduce the street exposure of the building. Rassmann explains that AOJ paid very close attention to, and made use of, the town planning requirements to take advantage of the guidelines and get the maximum number of storeys in the building in order to lay the square meterage out over more floors and thereby reduce the footprint of the building, which in turn increased the amount of yard area.
After careful consideration and analysis it was decided to orientate the building lengthways in a north-south direction to maximise the yard space, and place as much of the office space on the north side of the building and locate all the service spaces to the south of the building. As the length of the structure would be facing east and west, large windows were placed on the east façade, to maximise natural light and thereby reduce the electrical consumption of the building (as little artificial lighting would be required to light the work spaces).
On the west façade, high, narrow clerestory windows were strategically placed to reduce the heat gain from the west sun in the afternoons, but to still provide a sufficient amount of additional natural light into the offices that had to be located on this side of the building. To further improve the amount of natural light entering the building, a mezzanine level, which allows for a generous double volume along the east façade, was located between the ground and first floor. This double volume meant that the size of the windows on the east façade could be maximised, flooding the ground and mezzanine floors with natural light. Direct morning sunlight is dealt with by means of vertical louvres. “The building looks like it has a lot more glass than it actually does,” notes Rassmann, pointing to the fact all the windows were very strategically positioned in the design.
Two of the client’s major requests were to keep the design of the building as cost effective as possible and to minimise the amount of maintenance required on the façade. In order to achieve this the building is essentially a modest and efficient rectangular facebrick box, with a raw industrial interior, embellished on the exterior only by a simple external translucent polycarbonate screen, which not only moderates solar heat gain on the façades but also provides much needed shape and interest to the form of the building. Following the low maintenance brief, the only paint used on the exterior of the building is on the ground floor which is reachable without the need to set up scaffolding.
In order to take maximum advantage of South Africa’s optimal solar conditions, a photovoltaic (PV) solar plant, for electricity generation, was installed on the roof of the building. PV electricity generation is ideal for office buildings as they are predominantly in use during the day when electricity generation is taking place, thereby removing the necessity of installing a costly battery and inverter system within the building.
To complement the green credentials provided by the solar façade controls and the PV installation, a large mono-pitch roof harvests rainwater which is stored in a sixty kilolitre tank above the ground floor boardroom. This water will be used for irrigation of landscaping and the washing of vehicles.
The building is laid out over three levels; a ground floor housing the reception, a boardroom, a meeting pod, an open plan sales office, covered parking and a garage; a mezzanine floor housing a staff lounge with kitchen, executive offices and an indoor planted area (to incorporate greenery into the building interior); and a first floor housing the administration offices. “Although internally we went for an industrial finish, the windows and ceiling spaces were designed in such a way that the building could be retrofitted at a later stage into a more traditional office environment,” says Rassmann.
AOJ worked closely with, and enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the client from early in the project (“The design was loved from the beginning and was happily approved. In fact, there were very few adjustments from the original concept,” substantiates Rassmann), and after utilising the facility, Caldas Engineering couldn’t be happier; “After having occupied the building for a number of months now, we can say that these offices have had a positive impact on our business in terms of it being representative of our brand, our staff comfort and the way our operations run across our facility. We are very proud of the sustainable features that have been incorporated into the building design and have found the building to be climatically responsive – providing a comfortable internal climate no matter the external conditions. Although the metre to properly measure our electrical consumption was only fitted during the week of writing this, we are confident that during the daylight hours we are drawing little, if any, electricity from the Eskom grid to run our office facility. In addition to this, the careful sizing and positioning of the external windows also means that we require very little artificial lighting in the building during our operating hours. The design of the internal office layouts, careful positioning of the building on the site and strategic visual linking of certain departments to the yard space has meant that our operations are now more streamlined than they were at our previous premises. The raw industrial interior comprising galvanised steel finishes, exposed services and diamond ground concrete floors gives our clients a distinct impression that they are visiting an engineering firm geared to cater to all their crusher wear needs.”
The project received a Gauteng Institute for Architecture (GIFA) Award of Commendation in 2017 and Rassmann feels that it is always a highlight when your projects are acknowledged by others. “We knew that the client was happy with the outcome, as were we, otherwise we would not have submitted the project for the awards, but to be recognized does cement that notion.” GIFA describe the project as a box in a box in a box but much crisper and lighter than can normally be expected from mere industrial buildings. “Fastidious detailing and a sense of width and space shows a generous but particular design state of mind. The client and staff have been transported by the architects to a work environment that is open, free and light and enhances collaboration and pride. Details, down to the patterning of landscaping steps in brick have been carefully considered. Views from within the structure are allowed to punch through the attached screen and are made more tantalising. One is aware of an openness, fostering a creative team of staff and management who are supported by this light-filled, fresh, tall, crisp and uplifting environment.”
“This project really was about creating something low maintenance which looked great, and at the same time, which operated on a sustainable level,” concludes Rassmann. “We used forthright sustainable technology to get the building to perform the way we wanted it to, things that should come naturally as common sense and which should be integrated into the design of all buildings. Unfortunately though, many of today’s commercial buildings are just designed for their looks.” Rubela Park, however, does the job it is supposed to do in terms of being eco-conscious, while at the same time offering a blueprint for commercial projects which goes against the grain – proving that a project can be budget conscious, low-maintenance, energy efficient and beautiful, all at the same time.
About Architects Of Justice
The three partners in Architects Of Justice, Mike Rassmann, Kuba Granicki and Alessio Lacovig, formally established their practice in 2009 after working in various other architectural practices. “Our main reason for starting our own business, was that we wanted to do architecture in a way that all the projects we touched would be unique and exciting,” explains Rassmann. The three partners share the same goal of wanting to make a positive effect on the built environment by doing justice to their clients, their sites and architecture in all of their projects.
LOCATION: Germiston, South Africa
ARCHITECT: Architects Of Justice
PROJECT MANAGERS: Condor & Co Project Management
QUANTITY SURVEYORS: Lyndon Projects (PTY) LTD
STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS: V&H Consulting
CIVIL ENGINEERS: Klunene Consulting Civil Engineers
MAIN CONTRACTOR: Zatmar Construction