A dramatic design for the mixed-use 92 Rivonia has created a sleek yet timeless structure that enhances the use of its angles


This has to be one of the most sought-after addresses in the most sought-after business and financial district in the country – Sandton, the ‘richest square mile in Africa’. When Smartgrowth Investments acquired 92 Rivonia, they had no specific tenants or end users in mind, leaving the field dauntingly open for the architects.

DBM Architects, however, thrives on challenges. In the 16 years since the practice was established, it has created everything from directional head offices for the likes of Auto & General (Dainfern, Johannesburg) and EY (Umhlanga), to state-of-the-art showrooms for Honda (Umhlanga), Scuderia Ferrari (Bryanston) and Mercedes-Benz (Paarl), in addition to a slew of hotels (the Fairways Hotel & Spa in Randburg, Hazyview Resort Hotel), and even places of worship (Rivers Church in Sandton and Fourways’ recently completed CRC Church).

‘For 92 Rivonia, we did numerous design proposals and investigations to find the best solution for the client, the site and the surrounding context,’ says architect and DBM CEO Wynand du Plessis, who led the project.

The outcome was a mixed-use building able to cater for a vast number of tenants and a variety of uses. In the mix were motor showrooms on the lower levels, as well as a motor workshop floor; offices on the upper levels; a conference facility floor; and a top storey for restaurants or recreational facilities, with a roof terrace overlooking the sensational skyline of Sandton.

When it came to design influences, one of the most exciting aspects was the prime location of the site. ‘It’s in walking distance of the Gautrain station and surrounded by other great buildings,’ he says (Sasol, Werksmans Attorneys, the new Advocates’ Chambers, the US Embassy, Webber Wentzel, Discovery). ‘There’s a lot of pedestrian activity on Rivonia Road going to Sandton City shopping centre, and along Pybus Road, coming from Katherine Street. It was important for us to build on this interactivity of the precinct and enhance the experience of not just the users of the building but pedestrians walking by.’

The DBM design response was to create walkways on different levels, wrapping around the building directly next to the showroom glass, as well as further away at street level. ‘These welcome and invite people into – and allow them to interact with – the building and streetscaping to a level of their choosing,’ says Du Plessis. ‘The landscaping played into this, designed so pedestrians walking by and users of the building can enjoy the pause areas and seating spaces.’

The activity on street level in the precinct suggests a strong connection with Sandton City shopping centre, and a firm link has been created from the main entrance of the 92 Rivonia building to Sandton City. This link is also emphasised in the landscaping design by creating a piazza-like space in front of the main entrance, along with a future Uber and taxi lay-by. Different landscaping textures and materials, and the placement and design of planters and street furniture were used to draw attention to the main entrance and enhance the visual and physical link with Sandton City.

Another driving factor behind the design was to maximise the building footprint of the site and incorporate its unique shape into the building design. ‘The site makes a triangular wedge on the corner of Rivonia and Pybus [roads]– this is a very strong, sharp corner pointing at Sandton City, and immediately grabs the attention of pedestrians walking by and motorists driving north on Rivonia Road,’ says Du Plessis.

From the outset, the aesthetic concept for 92 Rivonia was to achieve an iconic and modern yet timeless structure. Out of this, along with the distinctive shape of the site, has emerged a bold, elegant building that stands proud among the other impressive examples of modern architecture in Sandton. When it came to architectural features, the client had ‘very high expectations of quality and excellence’, but that suited Du Plessis and DBM. ‘It’s a welcome driving force that enhances the experience of every user and occupant of the building.’

It is evident in all the design decisions that were made, from the basic concept to the high-end floor, wall and ceiling finishes. All levels were designed with unusually generous floor-to-floor head height. The minimum floor-to-floor heights are 4.5m, he says, and the 10th floor has a height of 7.5m to accommodate conference facilities or penthouse offices. The roof level has a height of 5.5m, with a glass facade extending almost all the way around, embracing the spectacular views of Sandton and the Johannesburg skyline in all directions, and opens on to the landscaped terrace.

‘With the sidewalk being a busy pedestrian zone, the client veered away from too much soft landscaping,’ says landscape architect Karen Marais of the Ochre Office. ‘The brief was instead to design a bold, low-maintenance and pedestrian-friendly edge to surround the building. We planted fever trees along the Rivonia side to soften the facade, and focused on setting out strong paving patterns and planters that would respond to both the building and the street. Small rest zones were created between the tree spacings, brought to life with custom cantilevering concrete benches with an elegant detail in the same language as the adjacent tree grilles.’

For the visitor, the relaxing landscape experience will appeal as much as 92 Rivonia’s more dramatic features, such as the soaring atrium and striking two-tone glass facade. The atrium, along with the showrooms on either side of it and three levels of escalators, creates a majestic space with its columns, various natural tones of gleaming marble and imported Italian tiles, and a warm touch of timber. In addition, the facade that wraps around the entire development is a striking system of double-glazed energy-performance glass.

Different types of glass were selected to optimise the light quality and noise-reduction levels. ‘The glazing on the lower levels is a top-quality energy-efficient clear glass with good visibility for the showrooms,’ says Du Plessis. ‘The glazing on the upper levels is high-performance glass with lower visible light transmission to create the greater privacy required for office spaces. And the light and dark glass palette was used to create playful extrusions on the building facade; its unique shapes neatly framed with concrete edges.’

For the creation of these striking ‘brow’ features, which had to be seamlessly integrated, form work solutions provider Peri South Africa used an interactive 3D model to enable the main contractor, WBHO, to visualise and come to grips with them. ‘The main challenges were varied floor heights and a facade that integrated steel, glass, aluminium and concrete elements,’ says Sebastian Burwitz, lead engineer: key and strategic projects at Peri.

‘The 1.8m-wide and 300 mm-deep “feature brow” along Pybus Road was a suspended off-slab edge with a 33-degree column-line angle. It extends from the second to the sixth floors, returning at the sixth to the ninth floors.

For the tenants, perhaps 92 Rivonia’s key feature is the parking structure that extends to the top of the building, allowing them to park next to their offices. ‘The structure was framed with a perforated steel screen designed to pick up the facade lines, soften the hard concrete structure and tie it in aesthetically with the rest of the building,’ says Du Plessis.

The 92 Rivonia team not only accomplished all this, achieving a remarkable building, but did so in such a way that has earned it a 4-star Green Star SA rating from the GBCSA for its design. ‘The requirement for a Green Star certification came in quite late in the design process,’ says Marloes Reinink, director of Solid Green Consulting, sustainable building consultants for the project.

‘At the time that we did the first Green Star workshop, construction had already started. Nevertheless, due to its favourable location with access to public transport – four out of five green points, as private car use can be minimised – and with the building being on a previously developed site as opposed to involving a greenfield site being cleared for development, we managed with the team to achieve a comfortable 4-star Green Star SA Office v1.1 Design certification.’

The team had previous experience in Green Star projects, so features such as efficiency of the lighting were included from the get-go. ‘A lighting power density of 1.5W/m²/100 Lux is a very good achievement, responsible for four out of four points for lighting efficiency,’ says Reinink. ‘And additional optimisation of the lighting includes light sensors and small switching zones.’

Some easy wins in Green Star, such as waste management and an environmental management plan, were lost due to the timeline – ‘these plans must be in place before construction starts’. But the project team was motivated to make things happen, and although construction had begun, designs were still reasonably flexible to accommodate changes. ‘So for instance, we managed to include cyclist facilities, including showers and changing rooms. And we re-looked at the external lighting to ensure [it] met the light pollution criteria. It all came together in the end.’

Another architectural star to stud the Sandton skyline has been born.

Smartgrowth Investments

DBM Architects


L&S Consulting


L&S Consulting
Rawlins Wales & Partners Engineers
C3 Climate Control Consulting Engineers
The Ochre Office
Sutherland Engineers
FACADE Contractor
Façade Solutions
Solid Green Consulting
The Institution of Fire Engineers SA


By Glynis Horning
Images: Studio88, Mike Schmucker

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