Sean Pillan from Empowered Spaces Architects answered some questions regarding their 2016 project, the Waterfall Taxi Holding Facility in Johannesburg.
Can you give us a short background on yourself and your practice?
I completed my masters in architecture at the University of Johannesburg in 2012 and started working for empowered spaces in 2014. The company is owned and operated by Jonathan Leibowitz and Terence Shacklady. Jonathan was also involved on the Taxi Holding Facility as well as Lance MacBean. We worked together on the project focusing on different parts in the project, but working as a team with the rest of the consultants. The practice mainly focuses on Commercial and Industrial projects.
What was the brief?
We were asked by the client to design a facility for taxi drivers to use during the day whist waiting to get sent out on their specific routes. The client wanted to do something unique and interesting for the project and not make it a standard boring facility. They asked for the facility to be a 5 star green rated building and wanted it to fit in with the surrounding context as much as possible. The spaces they required were:
- A space for 4 taxi associations (offices) to operate out of, with room to expand should the need arise.
- An area for entrepreneurial women to cook and sell goods to the Taxi drivers.
- A refuse area with a recycling and sorting space to allow for the recycling of certain goods from the facility.
- An ablution block
- A site manager’s office
- Space for taxi drivers to park their vehicles.
The different zones found across the site are;
Rest Area: Once drivers have parked and make their way to the courtyard, they pass through the rest area which acts as a buffer zone between the exit road and courtyard. There are then four large planter boxes which attempt to soften the hard edges around the facility, whilst providing a partially shaded area for drivers to sit under and relax. The rest area opens itself up it the south side of the site, and due to the lay of the land, drivers can enjoy views overlooking Johannesburg. In addition to the steel trees providing shade, solar panels on the sheeting have been used to generate power to USB ported charging stations, allowing drivers to charge various devices.
Offices: Overlooking the courtyard, sit four office spaces, equally designed serve as a base for taxi association managers to facilitate their organisations and drivers in their day to day operations. Roller shutter doors serve as primary security for each space and secondary glazing acts a threshold for the office. Sheeting blankets and wraps the face brick, tucking it neatly away under deep overhangs where by managers have the option of working indoors or outdoors. Screen walls between the offices are used for signage to post notices for drivers and to visually focus your attention across the courtyard.
Canteen: The Canteen building acts as a barrier to the adjacent site with six shops facing onto the courtyard, enticing patrons with smells of freshly cooked meals. Each shop allows the user to display their goods and prepare meals for the drivers using gas as their primary means for cooking. The back of house area creates an intimate space for shop owners, one separate from the hustle and bustle of the activity in the courtyard. It allows the workers the chance to relax and communicate with one another. Drivers can sit back and eat their meals under a large canopy located in front of the canteen. The three main supports span outwards providing a large shaded space maximizing the usable area.
Refuse: The refuse area sits 850mm lower on the site compared to the rest of the buildings. This gives the opportunity to access the skip area from a higher level making it easier for the user to discharge their rubbish, while allowing easy access for the truck collecting the skip. The large refuse area facilitates the sorting process, allowing recyclers to pick and sort through materials in a secure area, out of sight from taxi drivers and the street. The site manager’s office overlooks the courtyard and the activity during the day, while provision for additional offices has been made to allow for future growth of the facility.
Ablutions: The ablutions are naturally ventilated spaces achieved via high level ClearVu panels, which also provide natural lighting and in turn reduce the power consumption required by the space. The solar panels that cover the ablution block’s roof, not only provide power to the facility, but also store power in a battery bank located at the back of the structure. Through smart software it is possible to manage and record the day to day usage.
Recreation Space: A Proposed Recreational Space for the taxi drivers is being processed. It will be located on the south side of the site, and will provide a place for drivers to relax or exercise during downtime. The natural slope on the site will be used to create a partially shaded seating area overlooking two mini football fields which is, the main view looking towards Johannesburg. In addition to the mini football fields, an outdoor gym area is proposed for drivers to exercise and stay in safe.
What would you say is the most noticeable feature of the project?
The most notable feature would undoubtable be the planters. They are the first elements the drivers notice before entering the courtyard. Secondly would be the canteen canopy roof.
How did the environment influence your design?
Because the client requested the facility to have a 5 star green rating, the environment played an important role in the overall design and materiality of the project. We started with the site and assessed the slope. This allowed us to position the facility (building) and parking accordingly to allow for a natural storm water runoff. In the initial conceptual design, we looked at the orientation of the spaces required by the client and decided to separate each function. By doing this we were able to maximize the amount of natural lighting into each space which would reduce the amount of artificial lighting need. The smaller buildings also allowed us to eliminate the need for mechanical ventilation by allowing for cross ventilation through the space. Because solar was going to be the only source of power for the project, these aspects are important to think about in order to reduce the power consumption of the site. By also separating the buildings and orientating them in a courtyard typology, it allowed airflow through the space, natural storm water run-off, visual security overlooking the entire site and a private space for the taxi drivers to gather in the centre.
How would you describe the concept of the project?
I can’t say there is a specific theme or style to the project, but it is based on a courtyard typology. We allowed the site and building envelope to almost determine the overall design. Because we looked at all 5 elevations to the project. We designed around each street elevation providing an interesting view for the passer by and approach for the taxi drivers. We looked at the vacant site adjacent the facility and accommodated a back of house (BOH) area for the cooking staff to provide some privacy later on when a project gets built on the site. And also the approach to the facility for the taxi drivers as they pass through each zone of the facility. The courtyard typology allows the edges of the building to form a relationship with the street and surrounding context. The inverse would occur for the taxi drivers where they would form a relationship with the spaces and buildings from the inner courtyard. It would also become a more private area for the Taxi Drivers slightly hidden from street view. The buildings bullnose edges are an attempt to soften the hard robust materials used in the facility. This also allowed us to scale the buildings accordingly.
What was the inspiration behind the concept?
We wanted to create a space for Taxi drivers to come during the day and relax. Driving on Johannesburg roads everyday can be quite daunting. So it was important to provide a space for the drivers to enjoy and feel comfortable. The spaces were defined by the site and orientation, but the buildings forms developed from a tradition bullnose warehouse typology. Siting in context of an industrial area, we wanted to carry that concept through from a warehouse. But in the same sense develop the buildings down to a more human scale. This allowed us to soften the hard edges of a warehouse but still keep the robust materials needed for the facility.
What challenges were encountered during the project and how were these overcome?
From the outset we decided to use robust materials for the facility but only focusing on three primary elements. This being Face Brick, Steel and Concrete. The challenge was to form a relationship with these elements where they do not compete with one another but instead enhance one another’s strengths and aesthetics.
Trying to achieve a green star rated design was a challenge to a certain degree. But because the team (consultants) on the project worked well together, the hurdles faced during the project where overcome with ease. For instance, gathering recycled material and using in on the project. But the project ran quite smoothly because the team worked well together.
Looking back at the completed project, what are your thoughts?
For the scale of the project, it came out really well. The interacted details that went into the design might not be noticeable at first, but play an important role in the overall feel and aesthetic of the spaces. The client is happy and the taxi drivers from the questions I have asked them really like and enjoy the spaces. I think the balance of materials work well together and create a space for the end user to enjoy and feel comfortable in. It was great to achieve a 5 star green rating for the facility. It just goes to show, if you have an inspired client and a great professional team to work with, you can achieve anything.
PROJECT: Taxi Holding Facility
ARCHITECT & PRINCIPLE AGENT: Empowered Spaces Architects
STRUCTURAL & CIVIL ENGINEERS: DG Consulting Engineers
QUANTITY SURVEYOR: Llale & Company
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS: Daniel Rebel Landscape Architects
FIRE CONSULTANT: Specialised Fire Technology
GREEN CONSULTANT: Solid Green Consulting
HEALTH & SAFETY: Carinmead Industrial Consultants
CONTRACTOR: Akhane Construction
ELECTRICAL ENGINEER: Claassen Auret