When investment and insurance giant Old Mutual decided to make SA the base for its emerging market operations, even Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel welcomed it and participated in negotiations to establish the conditions needed for its return.
‘The move “back home” of one of our premier financial institutions will help to inject investor confidence in the economy,’ Patel told Fin24.com in January 2018. ‘It’s a well-timed signal that we can grow the economy in the period ahead and unlock the country’s potential of job creation and economic inclusion.’
Old Mutual has arrived back in style, creating a striking new home in the continent’s richest square kilometre – Sandton Central – in a structure that symbolises its brand, its intent and its optimism in an African future.
No 1 Mutual Place looms dramatically as you approach on Rivonia Road, rising from an organically shaped ramp to a public podium planted invitingly with trees and set with a serene water feature, then soaring upwards some 12 storeys in a shimmering glass-sheathed tower.
‘Old Mutual’s brief was to create a 30 000 m2 office building to revitalise their image,’ says Gray Todd, architectural director at LYT Architecture. ‘It needed to be memorable – and our way to do that was to invite the public to use the space, to interact with the building and, in turn, with the company.’
Informed by international research into how the best modern cities have been shaped to be responsive to peoples’ lifestyle, he says that ‘this future-focused micro-city offers a unique inclusive design that welcomes in the public to enjoy and interact in areas typically reserved exclusively for the occupants of the buildings’.
Old Mutual has been very brave in this, says Todd. ‘The South African mentality is to build a laager around oneself and close off the public, not ask them in to take pleasure in the building and precinct. No 1 Mutual Place is phase one of a five-part development of a 120 000 m2 multi-storey mixed-use office, hotel, retail and public precinct, and Old Mutual is boldly putting in a stake and saying: “This is the sort of environment we need, we can start getting people to walk on the street again like they do overseas, where other CBDs work this way.”
‘Not even Sandton Square manages it the way this development does – it may provide some public space, but not right on the street edge.’
This has brought its challenges, including the obvious one of security. ‘The solution lay largely in raising the podium off the pavement edge, making it possible to monitor who comes and goes through the one entrance [two more are to come]. But the podium does much more – it sets the tone for a relaxed and enjoyable interactive experience, with retail space and a small amphitheatre, and future proofing for a variety of uses and functions. The aim was to provide opportunity for flexibility.’
No 1 Mutual Place has three components. A smaller ‘podium building’ occupies the north side of the structure and addresses the podium. ‘It has smaller geometry and more intricate textures, and was designed to be experienced from close and interacted with,’ says Todd. It houses retail space and a 200-seat auditorium on the ground floor with offices, training rooms and a staff roof garden.
The tower block, shaped like an L, hugs the podium building and provides a buffer from the city noise and bustle, for the podium. ‘It’s been designed with larger and bolder geometry, meant to be seen from a distance and experienced from afar,’ he adds. The space between the buildings forms the third component, which houses the main arrival experience, socialising, circulation and pause areas.
‘We worked closely on this with DSGN interior design and space planners,’ says Todd. ‘No 1 Mutual Place is not only Old Mutual’s emerging markets headquarters but home to all the Old Mutual business units, which are being brought together for the first time. This makes it important for employees to come together and for synergies to be capitalised on – a driving design principle of the internal architecture was to enable opportunity for chance meetings, integration and collaboration.’
The airy, open-plan pause areas epitomise this. There is one pause area per floor, specifically designed to optimise sight and direct lines of communication between the floors. ‘Each has different offerings and seating arrangements, with the brief calling for informal meetings options and alternate workstation arrangements,’ says Todd. ‘The vertical circulation has been integrated into the design with the vision lifts and the main stairs opening onto the pause areas. This further enhances the opportunity for chance meetings and inter-department communication.’
A key part of creating a comfortable and productive work environment was also making it environmentally friendly – a stipulation from Old Mutual and a basic premise of all designs by the multi-award-winning LYT Architecture, which has been working in SA and across the continent for more than 50 years.
‘We oriented the building to maximise natural light and minimise excessive heat gain,’ says Todd. ‘It’s the first time the glass used in the facade has been used in South Africa. There are amazing views of Joburg from even a few storeys up, and the glass – thermoshield SunGuard SNX 50/23 – was chosen to maximise them while preventing the building getting too hot and over-relying on air conditioning.’
Semi-transparent Warema blinds were also installed – polyester with a PVC finish and aluminium vapour coating – to provide glare control and summer heat protection with minimal effect on the view. Lights throughout are LED and those near the facade have dimmers that respond automatically as daylight fades or brightens, while those closer to the centre of the building switch off when spaces are not occupied.
‘Thermal comfort wasn’t the only consideration,’ says Alison Groves of WSP Africa, the project’s green consultant. ‘Because open plan was essential to the interconnected ethos of No 1 Mutual Place, acoustic comfort has been ensured with high-quality ceilings by Ecophon that have the highest specs for noise reduction. And carpets and other furnishings have been chosen to assist in muting sounds.’
The carpets were sourced locally from Belgotex, ‘for their quality and commitment to green compliance’, she says, except for those in the meeting rooms. Those are imports by Shaw, which promotes carpet recycling. Office chairs from Diffrient World Chairs were manufactured abroad but assembled locally – they use recycled content and are recyclable, ‘as well as being ergonomically designed for back support and comfort’.
Water efficiency at the precinct is high, says Groves. ‘Rainwater is fed into huge underground tanks for flushing toilets and for irrigation of the indigenous roof gardens and other plantings, and stormwater flow is controlled to prevent flooding and erosion, which could compromise the water system and city infrastructure.’
It’s essential to monitor and manage a green building, and No 1 Mutual Place monitors electricity and water use electronically and creates reports so problems can be detected early.
‘There are plans for a screen to be installed in the atrium area so everyone can see how the building is performing,’ says Groves. ‘It’ll be a great way to draw attention to these issues – when you can actually see electricity or water use going up, you’re more likely to turn off lights and taps, not only at work but at home and elsewhere.’
No 1 Mutual Place stands for far more than a new corporate head office, according to Vuyo Lee, chief marketing officer at Old Mutual.
‘Old Mutual Limited is the new holding company that serves our customers in South Africa, the rest of Africa and in a select few emerging markets. Our primary listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in June last year underscores that we’re now firmly anchored in Africa, together with our ambition to become a pan-African financial services leader. Our new head office in Sandton demonstrates our commitment to this continent.
‘The modern design also needed to reflect the importance of collaboration and our customer-centric culture,’ she says. ‘And yes, our employees love the vibrancy, too, in line with our refreshed brand.’