The new Sandton headquarters of Discovery puts employee wellness at the heart of its sustainable pursuits and is already turning heads with its green ambition and sheer size. The new landmark has been ascending for the past two years on the corner of Rivonia Road and Katherine Street, diagonally opposite Sandton City. It will ultimately be one of the biggest and greenest office buildings in Africa once its first phase is completed in 2018, boasting features including a rooftop running track and an indigenous landscaped roof garden. The developers are planning two more phases, to be completed by 2023.

Yovka Raytcheva-Schaap, associate at Aurecon’s Building Unit, says the developers and Discovery aspired to design a building that was environmentally and occupant friendly as well as having a positive affect on local communities.

“As a result, Discovery’s new head office will target Green Star certifications [from the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) for base building and interiors, and will incorporate elements creating social benefits for the neighbouring communities,” she says.

David Pierre-Eugene, head of group facilities at Discovery, says the strongest design principles are the ideas of wellbeing and movement. “Everything about the building has been designed with these themes in mind, such as additional staircases that nudge staff to use stairs rather than lifts,” he says. The wellbeing element not only speaks to physical health, but also nutritional health and emotional wellbeing. “Areas for reflection, collaborative and social spaces will be created as well as provision made for healthier food choices at the various catering facilities. Our aim is to create a building that physically represents our values, ambition and core purpose.”

Joint venture partners

The development is a joint venture between Growthpoint, owning 55%, and Zenprop with a 45% share. Discovery will be leasing the building over 15 years. Once completed, the building will have a ground floor plus eight levels of office space and a feature roof level.

The project is indeed a behemoth. Stuart Gibbs, development director at Zenprop, says the developers’ procurement strategy on the project was one of employing the best skills and resources available in the industry through the entire value chain, and splitting the work scope packages between various sub-contractors.

“This is proving essential in managing our delivery risk, due to the sheer scale of the development,” he says. He adds the developers have also been forced to drive the value engineering processes even harder than normal because there is so much that is unique about this building, along with the added pressure of the devaluing rand. “We have to find a ‘South African solution’ for a world class facility, without compromising quality in any way.”

Sustainability features

Green buildings play a vital role in providing spaces in which businesses can thrive, says Growthpoint Properties office division director Rudolf Pienaar.

The developers have committed to a 4-Star Green Star SA certification but are ultimately targeting a 5-Star rating for the office building. Pierre-Eugene says the aim is to achieve this higher rating for both the interior and structure. The project will target both design and as-built certifications for base build.

One of the building’s main features will be an abundance of natural light. Two sunlit atriums and a floor-to-ceiling double-glazed unitised curtain wall provide ample access to daylight. This bulk of the building will be wrapped around a series of sunlit atria that plug into a central concourse – a vertical circulation terminus that connects all nine storeys to an undulating roof garden. This hub is where visitors and workers will enter the building, engaging with the building both vertically and horizontally.

Because the building is quite a deep space building, the design ensures light reaches into the depths of the structure. As a result, two big atriums with skylights at the top will serve as ‘light lungs’, streaming light right into the middle of the building.

The publicly accessible ground floor will also spill out into a landscaped podium, which the developers will evolve into a “precinct connector”, pulling together developments in the area with pedestrian links.

Optimally designed efficient lighting will boost the building’s energy performance, while sanitary fittings, as well as grey and rainwater harvesting, will ensure the building’s potable water footprint is kept to a minimum. The air-conditioner will incorporate CO2 monitoring in occupied areas, as well as carbon monoxide monitoring in the basement.

Five-star interventions

The development team is ready to go the extra mile for the extra star. “Discovery has undertaken to push the boundaries,” says Martin Smith, who heads the Aurecon Environmentally Sustainable Design team, adding that 5-Star certification would offer a host of benefits.

Possible interventions the developers are investigating include a high-efficiency chilled water plant, basement fans with variable speed drives, and renewable energy. Lighting and power uses will also likely be separately sub-metered and monitored.

The building could also offer irrigation runoff recycling, and to improve its emissions will likely install early detection systems for refrigerant leaks.

A flawless facade

The new Discovery building’s most eye-catching feature will be the swirling glass facade that draws light into the building. The double-glazed facade was critical from a thermal heat control and natural lighting perspective. Facade engineers Pure Consulting are in charge of sculpting the impressive facade.

Pierre-Eugene describes how the facade will allow for natural light to infuse the building, reducing the need for excessive artificial lighting, which not only makes the building more energy efficient but also creates a more natural environment. Reflective blinds on all the facades will contribute to daylight harvesting while at the same time controlling the glare to all occupied areas, Smith says. But he notes the high-performance facade also presented a challenge. In the old buildings, employees would push away from the facade to escape the heat or glare. “Because this is a high occupancy building and to ensure future flexibility, it was critical to get people as close as possible to the facade, but we had to ensure that they would be comfortable.”

Rooftop garden

Raytcheva-Schaap is especially proud of the rooftop areas, specially designed as a comprehensive lifestyle zone. “The garden in the sky” will feature a beautiful 650m running track that will snake through a vegetable and herb garden. Also included on the roof will be multi-sports courts, a yoga deck, amphitheatre, and an executive wellness area. The idea is to create a lush landscaped green carpet on the roof that will add to the wellbeing of Discovery’s people. This is in addition to the 2000m2 gym on the eighth floor that staff will have access to.

Constructing a landmark

Incorporating sustainability elements into the construction was a high priority for one of the main contractors, WBHO, which says construction is progressing well. The contractors comprise a 50/50 joint venture between WBHO and Tiber.

Cement used in construction was reduced by 30% through using fly-ash, and recycled and reused steel with high recycled content was bought for the development. Construction waste is continually recycled, and bulk materials are locally sourced, within a 400km radius, and 70% of the waste has been recycled.

By Yolandi Groenewald

See earthworks Issue 32, June-July 2016 for the full feature.