ERGONOMIC ORIGAMI

Creating an elegant, comfortable and efficient corporate workspace is possible, as BCX’s new Gauteng headquarters shows

ERGONOMIC ORIGAMI

The distinctive white structure dominates the area on the corner of John Vorster Drive and Lenchen Avenue in Centurion. Its combination of blocky and soaring shapes is somewhat arresting, giving an impression that is both imposing and elegant. This is the new Gauteng headquarters of SA ICT company, BCX.

For this project, architecture firm SVA International was tasked with creating an iconic, contemporary corporate environment, representing all of BCX’s Gauteng operations. The complex structure would need to include offices; client engagement, function and showroom areas; extensive warehouse space; and ample parking. And it would need to be welcoming and accessible to the public. All this while setting the tone for a brand-new development zone in the Centurion CBD.

It is a pioneering building, the first to be constructed in the prominent area of vacant land between Centurion Mall and John Vorster Drive, part of a larger development masterplan that will transform this part of the city.

Intriguingly, the design combines different elements: on a raised podium, two rectilinear, reinforced-concrete, five-storey office buildings are linked by a social ‘high street’ and multi-volume atrium, encouraging interaction between clients, staff and visitors. These pleasantly interactive areas contain the entrances and reception areas, vertical circulation, coffee shops, meeting spaces, pause areas and other amenities. Outdoor areas allow for breakaway spaces and relaxed social functions. Two semi-basement parking levels lie below.

The result is a complex, multi-level set of organically linked spaces. This interesting geometry is facilitated by the ‘folded’ structure of the atrium facade: large, multi-level, glazed facades enclosing the atrium areas on each side of the building.

‘The concept was for a folded architecture that would envelop the central atrium space, providing shading and signage opportunities to certain facades while allowing light and visual links through other facades,’ says SVA International associate executive Taryn Landman. Ingeniously, the glass facades let in natural light from the south, while screening the glare from other angles.

That these folded forms are reminiscent of an origami paper sculpture is no accident. ‘The inspiration was origami and the initial concept explorations were done using paper and card,’ says Landman. The result is an exciting contrast between the blockier solidity of the white office blocks and the swooping, almost ethereal structure of the atrium at the lower end, which forms the visitor entrance. This soaring space is the real show-stopper feature of the building.

It was a challenge both architecturally and structurally, explains Landman. ‘We wanted to create pause areas with different floorplate configurations that seemed to hover in the multi-volume atrium.’ This meant as few columns as possible, keeping the roof span column-free, and creating an elegant void between the adjacent office buildings and the white folded walls. The large-span roof is supported with structural steel lattice trusses, girders and lattice columns, clad with smooth aluminium panels that provide a crisp and unified finish, she adds.

‘The varying geometries of the slabs and relationship to the adjacent buildings; supporting the escalator bank, staircase and pause area slabs; as well as the structural support of the curtain walls was a delicate balance between the structural requirements and architectural vision,’ she says.

The cladding on the basement facades posed a further challenge: it was necessary to provide natural ventilation, while still visually concealing the parking levels and creating a solid-looking plinth for the building as a whole. This was achieved with Novelis cladding panels, coloured to complement the aluminium cladding elsewhere on the building.

The site was not unchallenging, due to the tricky dolomitic geology of the Centurion area. For one, there were two large sink-hole areas on the site, which determined to a large extent the shape and position of the building. This meant the building needed to be located towards the back of the site, ‘wrapping’ itself around these perilous zones. Visitor and staff parking areas were fitted into separate pockets, which in turn affected the placement of entrances.


A specialist foundation design was also required to support the building, involving high-energy impact compaction, an additional 1.5m-deep soil mattress of gravel under the foundation and a reinforced-concrete raft structure.

Both the client and the architects were committed to environmental sustainability from the start. ‘SVA International is committed to sustain-able design and construction. We aim to design low-impact buildings and spaces that provide efficient and comfortable surrounds, reduced energy costs, and increased health and ecological benefits. Our staff includes several green building-accredited professionals who lead the design and construction process,’ says Landman.

Green building consultant WSP was brought on board to provide sustainability expertise. The BCX project was an excellent opportunity for an environmentally sound development. Before construction began, the site consisted of a largely unoccupied greenfield plot. Thus, the construction did not impact an area of great ecological value. Indeed, by adding to densification in the CBD, planning experts agree that such development actively contributes to reducing urban sprawl, benefiting the broader environment as well as the immediate urban ecosystem.

What’s more, the building is ideally located within walking distance of several public amenities, including Centurion Mall and several forms of efficient public transport: the Centurion Gautrain station is nearby, for example. This makes access easy and efficient, reducing unnecessary travel with its associated pollution and energy use.

The building is also markedly water- and energy-efficient. The landscaping irrigation system is highly water conscious – moisture sensors ensure that no excess water is used. Potable water used for irrigation purposes is drastically reduced, and water-wise indigenous trees, shrubs and groundcover are used throughout. The air-cooled chillers on the roof use no water.

Another major environmental benefit of the building lies in its super-efficient HVAC design. ‘The building’s orientation and architectural positioning of mechanical plant rooms enabled the HVAC design and thermal zoning to be almost ideal – more so than most office buildings,’ says Deo du Plessis of Spoormaker & Partners, the mechanical engineers on the project. ‘This, in conjunction with the type of mechanical system chosen and good architectural thermal design, enable good thermal comfort and low energy usage throughout the year.’

All key services – HVAC systems, water meters, energy meters, lifts, escalators, heat pumps, fire systems and sump pumps – are separately monitored and controlled by the central building management system. This allows for real-time reporting of faulty systems and rapid response.

The building’s air quality is particularly good. It’s controlled by energy-efficient systems – a variable air-volume system supplies conditioned air from units on the facades. When outside conditions allow, fresh air is drawn at high volumes from the facade plant rooms. The COlevels are monitored in the office areas, while the basement ventilation system controls carbon monoxide levels. Tenant server and data areas are served by air-conditioning systems linked to the central chilled-water system.

The result of these innovations is a coveted 4-star Green Star Office Design v1.1 certification from the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), achieved in March 2017. Du Plessis points out that these efficient mechanical systems are a major contribution to the building’s enviable Green Star rating. ‘Many of the Green Star points targeted and achieved rely on the mechanical systems since they are the primary energy user on most commercial buildings.’

A combination of smart engineering, conscientiously energy-efficient systems and ambitious aesthetic vision has resulted in a landmark building that fills a void in the Centurion CBD. Hopefully, says Landman, ‘some of the materials and language can be used as context when future architects design the adjacent buildings’.

CLIENT
BCX
www.bcx.co.za

LIFT SPECIALIST
Proj-i-Tech
www.proj-i-tech.co.za

FIRE ENGINEER
Ingplan Consulting Engineers
www.ingplan.co.za

ARCHITECT
SVA International
www.svarchitects.com

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT
Uys & White
www.luw.co.za

SUSTAINABLE BUILDING CONSULTANT
WSP
www.wsp.com

ELECTRICAL ENGINEERS
Quad Africa
www.quadafrica.co.za
Moditi Consulting Engineers
www.moditi.co.za

MAIN CONTRACTORS
Murray & Roberts
www.murrob.com
Fikile Construction
www.fikile.co.za

QUANTITY SURVEYORS
Del Quantity Surveyors
www.delqs.co.za
PMPlus
www.pmplus.co.za

MECHANICAL ENGINEER
Spoormaker & Partners
Dientsenere Tsa Meago
www.spoormaker.co.za

WET SERVICES
GIBB Engineering
www.gibb.co.za

Civil & STRUCTURAL eNGINEERs
Bigen Africa Services
www.bigengroup.com
PDS Civil Engineers
www.pdscivil.co.za

PROJECT MANAGER
JSA & Associates
www.jsaglobal.co.za

By Henrietta Rose-Innes
Images: Graham De Lacy

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