In the heart of Sandton’s commercial district, 4 Stan Road is an office development that places emphasis on contributing to the well-being of its tenants through inventive design and features


MDS Architecture, a practice that’s been in existence for 60 years, first moved into its own specially designed premises at 4 Stan Road, Sandown, in 1991. But some 25 years later, the two-wing, single-storey building was being dwarfed by towering residential and office developments on all sides.

‘It’s not too nice being in a canyon,’ says Pierre Lahaye, MDS partner and a co-owner of the building (through Sharmane Investments). ‘We were in constant shadow, and it’s human nature to not want people looking down on you… You feel watched. We had also outgrown the space. We were the last single-storey building in Sandton.’

MDS Architecture could have moved elsewhere but the firm opted to stay and redevelop, designing a new building that would appeal to fellow professionals, including long-time office neighbours quantity surveyors Brian Heineberg & Associates.

‘Sustainability is something close to all our hearts,’ says Lahaye, who likes to cycle to work and do whatever else he can ‘to help make this world we live in a better place for our children’. With this in mind, sustainable development specialist Solid Green Consulting was brought on board from the outset.

‘It’s wonderful to be involved in projects from the ground up,’ says Dashiell Coville, who holds a civil engineering masters degree and has been a consultant with Solid Green for six years, where he has developed a passion for environmental issues.

‘We help clients make decisions on environmental initiatives, including energy and water efficiency, indoor environment quality and resource conservation, guided by the Green Star rating system,’ he says. ‘What was great about this project was having a client who was heavily involved from a green perspective, so the whole development team was pulled along that route.’

The results speak for themselves. The original single-storey building has been demolished, and in its place stands a five-tier car park (essential now that town planning requirements dictate no off-street parking). However, this is like few other car parks, forming a ‘podium’ topped by a sprawling, tree-lined timber deck. Above this rise four elegant storeys of glass-fronted offices, set back from the boundary line for a sense of space, and overlooking the deck, the myriad roofs of Bryanston and the distant Magaliesberg.

The western facade on Stan Road has been treated like a solid face, with striking giant fins of white porcelain creating sculptural features separated by slivers of dark glazed glass. These slivers offer tantalising smaller glimpses of the view, while providing a sense of privacy. Moreto the green point, this decision cuts glare and helps prevent the build-up of heat typical of west-facing facades, says Coville.

The northern facade, on the other hand, is all glass, opening the offices and a full 80% of the usable floor area to that view. Here, shade screens have been installed to assist the carefully chosen darker glazing – again, to balance heat build-up, glare and aesthetic, he says. But perhaps the most appealing of the many green features for visitors and people passing by is the cladding of the parking podium.

In a stroke of quiet genius that combines whimsy, nostalgia and a sense of heritage with the recycling trend, the security grilles of the original single-storey building have been fitted with plant holders and repurposed to create verdant, growing green walls.

‘They act as green lungs, but aesthetically they also soften the angled forms of the building,’ says Lahaye. And they cost very little. ‘With green developments, like any other, it’s about finding a balance between creating an environmentally sustainable building while not exceeding the value that allows for a reasonable return. It comes down to developing the right interventions, and that’s where guidance from specialist consultants comes in.’

Bertha Wium Landscape Development was tasked to design, install and maintain the landscaping. Each section required unique interventions, to deal with the varying conditions in each specific area.

‘The above-ground parking is screened by star jasmine trailing onto mentis grating, achieving a living green wall wrapped around the northern and western facade,’ says the firm’s owner, Bertha Wium.

‘The use of large leopard trees planted in a formal grid assists with passive cooling of the entrance glass foyer facade, with linear planting lines of sweet viburnum sculpted to angular hedges following the strong architectural building angle along the street facade.’

The roof garden was designed as a sanctuary space, where users can enjoy the Sandton skyline while feeling enclosed and screened off from the adjacent high-rise buildings.

Interiors are airy and cool, the result of generous proportions, all that shading and glazing, and controlled air flow, says Coville. And again it is a question of balance. ‘It’s about finding the right type of glass facade treatment to achieve adequate views and sufficient natural light, and limit solar heat gain.’

The sense of lightness and space is enhanced by an open-plan layout, sleek finishes (ceramic floor tiles and exposed concrete) and cool, neutral colours, warmed with timber touches and features such as the long wooden table in the kitchen/cafeteria, which acts as a natural social hub and informal meeting area.

Only in what Coville and Lahaye describe as an ‘internal pause area’ do colour and a degree of comfortable clutter erupt – with books spilling from shelves lining the walls, a large-screen TV and brightly coloured bean bags.

The warm atmosphere this creates is part of an informal overall ‘green sensibility’ that understands human happiness is essential to health and an aesthetic of well-being, according to Lahaye.

Feeding into this, office workers are encouraged to relax on the sun deck, and even do tai chi classes there, provided in-house. And – perhaps closest of all to Lahaye’s heart – they are encouraged to cycle to work, and use the provided cycle lockers and showers (with limited-flow shower heads, of course).

Materials have been chosen to ensure environmental and personal health. For instance, all paints, carpets, tile adhesives and sealants are within Green Star volatile organic compound limits, reducing the effects of sick-building syndrome.

Energy-efficient lighting is used throughout the building and a decentralised variable air volume system was chosen for air conditioning and ventilation, with two air-cooled chilled water plants on the roof. Sustainable and flexible, the system provides the indoor air quality and comfort required to comply with the building’s two Green Star ratings (the Green Building Council of South Africa awarded the development 4-star ratings in the design and as built categories). The project also won the ‘best quality’ category at the Green Star SA Leadership awards, which recognise market leaders on transformation of the SA property market.

‘Sustainability is not just about encouraging a move away from carbon emissions, but about a move towards fitness and well-being for both people and planet,’ says Lahaye.

MDS Architecture and the other tenants took occupation of the new development 18 months ago, and Lahaye can already feel a difference. ‘I live 7 km away, and driving in by car can take half an hour; riding my bike takes just 15 minutes.

‘We all spend a third of our day at work, so it’s very important to feel good there. I guess at MDS we’ve shaped this whole project with ourselves in mind. It’s good to be able to shape your own destiny. And why not make it as green and sustainable as possible?’

Sharmane Investments
[email protected]

Tiber Bonvec

Solid Green Consulting

L&S Consulting Engineers

MDS Architecture

Brian Heineberg & Associates

Spoormaker & Partners

Bertha Wium Landscape Development

CKR Consulting Engineers

By Glynis Horning
Images: Mike Pawley

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