Located in the sleek Green Star SA certified Alice Lane precinct in Sandton, the Virgin Active Alice Lane classic club is the first gym in Africa to strive for green interior certification.

Health and wellness is central to Virgin Active’s ethos, and the benefits of green buildings and interiors – particularly increased productivity, and health and well-being of building occupants – seemed an attractive goal as the company extends its footprint across Africa.

The ‘classic collection clubs’, aimed at higher earning individuals, were a good starting place to strive for green interior ratings, as many of these are located in new green developments. The Alice Lane interior fit-out is the first in a series of clubs aiming for Green Star SA certification.

Lizl van Wyk, interior architect on the project from Design Line, says subsequent projects have been easier to green since so much knowledge was gained on the Alice Lane project, and because the Green Star SA Interiors rating tool is so much further down the line.

Making the achievement of a Green Star SA Interiors Pilot certification particularly challenging on this project was the fact that the initial brief was not to go for Green Star SA, and the Interiors rating tool had not been released by the time the gym was opened in 2013.

“There was no scope for installation change, and getting the required documentation once the project was complete and most of the team was off-site was difficult,” says ecocentric founder Jutta Berns-Mumbi, green consultant responsible for the Green Star SA Interiors certification submission. She says certain operational changes have been made to meet the Interiors credit requirements, and the project is aiming for a 4-Star rating.

More broadly, the gym played a role in the evolution of the Green Star SA Interiors v1 rating tool.

The inclusion of a gym in the pilot phase made the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) technical working group (whose task was to refine the tool and ensure it was locally appropriate) realise the tool was too focused on office environments, to the exclusion of spaces such as retail and health and fitness.

The member journey

Van Wyk says functionality of the space is very important. Because it is a heavily used area with a lot of activity, interiors must be robust and made of durable materials, while intensive thought is put into the journey a member would take as they enter the club.

More than merely a place to exercise, the club offers a café, boardroom area that can be booked for meetings, workstations with computers and uncapped Wi-Fi, relaxation areas, reading nook, media wall and lounge.

Club manager Wil-Riaan Engelbrecht says the club entrance evokes a business lounge and is a welcoming, comfortable space away from home.

Journeying up the gleaming red staircase takes members to the workout areas. Here, Engelbrecht explains, the spacing of exercise equipment is specifically done to maximise views while training, and also to ensure people do not feel cramped.

To assist with acoustics, the professional team specified Saint-Gobain’s Ecophon ceilings; 326m2 of this Class A certified product, which absorbs sound, was used on the project.

“Initially we thought the list of environmentally appropriate materials available was a bit limited, but now we are seeing suppliers being more conscious and most of them have certifications proving their green credentials,” Van Wyk says.

Staying energised

The Alice Lane club also features novel training equipment that doesn’t need to be plugged in and draw power from the grid, but generates a small amount of energy through exercise to power screens. Access to views and natural daylight is optimal.

Another feature of the gym is the rooftop training area, which has Curve treadmills and a boxing training facility, allowing members to train in the open air with great views of Johannesburg. Special attention was paid to the lighting in the club to maximise efficiency and ensure user comfort.

Designed by pamboukian lightdesign’s Paul Pamboukian, the club is fitted with efficient LED lighting throughout, and different areas can be adjusted for brightness and colour by using an iPad or smartphone.

Energy efficiency enthusiast and Virgin Active’s safety and engineering director, Peter Schilder, says all exercise equipment complies with EU energy directives. The energy reduction target for the club is 5% below the benchmark of 39.6W/m2. This calculation is based on a 346kWh average per square meter per year, for the total floor area including the roof, with consumption over 24 hours a day.

There are efficiency initiatives at various stages of completion across Virgin Active’s 114 clubs in South Africa and Namibia.

“All these initiatives have resulted in about 30% electricity savings since the 2010 baseline. Sir Richard Branson recognised the beginning of these initiative by awarding South Africa the Virgin Group Sustainability Award at the end of 2010. We were also awarded the Energy Patron of the Year in 2012 by the South African Association for Energy Efficiency,” says Schilder.

Water wise

Water matters are a priority. “We capture the heat removed by the airconditioning system to heat the spas, pools and the water our members use to shower in. Therefore, most of the year we use no electrical energy to heat water,” Schilder says.

The pool is also covered when not in use to retain warmth and cut down on heating requirements. Backwash water from the spa pool is recovered for use in toilets and urinals, and backwash from the main pool is recovered for use in the entire office building’s toilets and urinals.

“The spa and the swimming pool use UV sanitation systems, which means less chlorine is used, which is healthier for your skin. It gets tested four times a day to ensure the levels are correct,” says Engelbrecht. This means the design of the plant room is different and requires specialised training for maintenance staff on how to backwash the system and replace the UV lights.

“We need to ensure we are able to sustain the green initiatives, source green cleaning products and find the right supplier to repair the specialised bamboo flooring when that needs to happen, for example. These things also need a proper handover when we want to refresh the interior,” concludes Engelbrecht.


By Christy van der Merwe

The full article appears in the August-September 2015 earthworks magazine.