Sanral’s striking new Southern region building in Port Elizabeth is the first 5-Star Green Star SA rated building under the Office certification, in the Eastern Cape and signals the roll-out of a promising stretch of sustainable development for the city.

South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) southern region employees, based in Port Elizabeth, are proud of their new premises – the first commercial office building to be awarded a 5-Star Green Star SA Office Design rating in the Eastern Cape. The project, in the Baywest City precinct, is also targeting a 5-Star Green Star SA As-Built certification.

Sanral is responsible for the management, maintenance and development of South Africa’s national road network. It’s a tough task for a strong team. This is reflected by the use of robust materials. The building design by Activate Architecture is conceptualised as open flexible interior spaces enveloped by a sweeping facade.

“It’s cocooned in insulating materials, which, from the outset, create dramatic energy savings. That accomplishes a key part of the strategy,” explains Edward Brooks, director at Activate Architecture. “Our philosophy is to deal with the envelope first before tackling the rest of the building.”

The facades are double-glazed mostly for acoustic reasons with additional benefits for temperature control. The roof is highly insulated by gravel and expanded polystyrene, with a layer of Isoboard insulation in the basement ceiling which seals the interior of the building from below.

According to the project’s sustainability consultant, Agama Energy director Mike Munnik, evidence suggests good indoor environmental quality improves productivity, reduces absenteeism and is a factor in recruiting new talent. Sanral’s new building “offers a healthy, pleasing working environment thanks to a focus on thermal comfort, good levels of natural daylight, and excellent acoustic treatment,” he says.

Sanral project engineer Marlize Nel-Verwey was involved from the beginning of the project, from identification of the site through to the design and construction phases. She says Sanral’s envisaged outcomes for the building were threefold: “Primarily, we required a building that could be operated cost-effectively and had been optimised in terms of energy efficiency. It was also important for us to create an enabling environment, to motivate staff to perform to the best of their ability. With Sanral’s road network expanding continuously, and the staff complement with it, the building design needed to promote connectivity and a positive team culture.”

Although it is three storeys high, “a connection between departments is maintained through the central atrium. Communication between staff members is further supported with well-placed pause areas and a staff canteen with a warm and friendly atmosphere,” Nel-Verwey says.

The third consideration was for the public image that the building would portray. “The premises needed to be modern, with high-quality finishes reflecting professionalism, yet with a welcoming atmosphere that did not seem extravagant. This was achieved with bamboo finishes and furniture including doors, tables, countertops and dividers, and an inviting colour scheme exhibiting warmth and hospitality.”

“The client stressed the need for a supportive space for staff to optimise productivity and minimise absenteeism. Hence, the building has a kitchen from which staff can buy healthy light lunches and which opens to a comfortable, open-plan cafeteria with sweeping views, a small gym, aftercare space for employees’ little ones, a library with industry related literature and a prayer room,” says Brooks.

The building is a reinforced concrete structure with clean, fluid lines and aesthetic elements that artistically reflect the type of work done by Sanral. This includes a giant aluminium facade portraying the outline of the Port Elizabeth coastline and the region’s road network on the east side and strips that resemble vehicles on highways feature on the west wall.

The design of each facade of the building was considered relative to its orientation, with glazing percentages, sun shading and glare effects examined carefully for all facades.

Activate’s choice of natural, environmentally sound materials define the building’s aesthetic feel both inside and out. These are off-shutter concrete with a high fly-ash content, limestone tiles, glass, thermally treated wood and bamboo. Brooks is particularly pleased with the Rheinzink cladding, a light, weatherproof and fireproof product. It’s light grey colour echoes the client’s asphalt roadworks and will age beautifully, building up a layered patina over time.

Design & technology solutions

Munnik says turning the environmentally sustainable concepts into reality – “fine tuning the architects’ passive design through energy simulation analysis” – was a particularly rewarding aspect of the project. “One of the real benefits of pursuing a Green Star rating is the integrated approach to design challenges, which contributes enormously to a successful outcome.”

Energy efficiency, a reduction in potable water usage and acoustic treatment were the outstanding sustainability tenets of the project. The facility also boasts an 85kW peak roof-mounted solar PV system, which provides 40% of the building’s total energy requirement and a rainwater harvesting system with a 30 000ℓ tank capacity. On the atrium roof, five layers of Isover energylite were used to provide sound absorption for the atrium that insulates against rain and hail noise.

Sound quality was a key requirement from the client. To eradicate outside traffic and machinery noise, and create a quiet and calm space where staff can focus, the team called in the expertise of acoustic engineer Rachel Viljoen from MacHoy. Aside from the 6:12:6mm double glazing (externally for temperature and internally for acoustic optimisation), the building incorporates sound-stop glass, highly insulated drywall partitions between offices, and Ecophon acoustic panels that form a slatted ceiling in the public atrium to absorb low and high resonance sound.

Environmental considerations have been incorporated into the landscaping through irrigation control technologies, such as automated seasonal adjustment, rain bird sensors, soil moisture sensors, drip irrigation and mulching. Plant choices are endemic to the region and are particularly water wise. Inside, nature is given pride of place, with massive Ficus trees soaring high in the voluminous central atrium to enhance the calming atmosphere.

Within a green development

Brooks and Munnik agree sustainable building is gaining ground in Southern Africa, particularly with big corporations and responsible state organisations. “While the capital outlay is 5%-10% greater, one needs to look at the context of electricity scarcity and the energy and water savings that will be made over time,” says Brooks.

Baywest City’s developers, Abacus Asset Management, take their environmental responsibilities seriously. Baywest City MD Gavin Blows emphasises that there is an important balance to be struck between building and conserving the environment. Located directly adjacent to Port Elizabeth’s N2 freeway approach from the west, Baywest is envisaged as a strategic gateway to the coastal city, designed to swell and spread over its 320ha expanse over the coming five years.

Touted as a live-work-play integrated precinct development, Baywest City’s first phase was marked by the completion of the R1.7billion Baywest Mall in 2015, the Eastern Cape’s largest shopping centre. Together with Sanral’s R300million road network upgrade of the area, it was the catalyst for a masterplan that includes 6000 homes, a hotel, sporting facilities, a hospital, schools and parklands – all positioned as eco-friendly.

A year after the opening of Baywest Mall, an independent environmental audit of the site revealed the development has had a positive impact on the sensitive fauna and flora in the area, thanks to careful interventions by the developers to preserve the indigenous species.

Baywest is an attractive location for Sanral. “With our core business being road maintenance and construction, a discipline in which environmental responsibility is key to the sustainability of the industry, Sanral values the importance of being environmentally responsible even in the operation of our buildings,” says Nel-Verwey.


By Mary Jane Botha

See earthworks issue 36 Feb-Mar 2017 for the full feature.