Exploring Standard Bank’s glass-fronted green building

You know you’re the most important person in the building when you’re the only one with a formal office, in an 11-storey, five-star-rated green building.

The innovative environment-friendly new Standard Bank building on Baker Street in Rosebank, Johannesburg, is set for full occupation by 5 000 employees at the end of March. Its 65 000 square metres will have only one individual office, for bank chairman Ben Kruger. The rest of the building is entirely open plan, supplemented with dozens of meeting rooms and quiet nooks where staff can gather to discuss business.

The R2.5-billion building, completed in late 2013, has been given a five-star rating by the Green Building Council of South Africa. The council is an independent, non-profit company formed in 2007 to lead the greening of South Africa’s built environment. Construction experts work with industry bodies, leaders, government departments and professionals to develop green solutions for the property industry. It is one of 92 members of the World Green Building Council.

standard bank green building

The council rates the sustainability of buildings according to four, five and six stars. Four stars are for “best practice”, five for “South African excellence”, and a six-star rating for “world leadership”. Standard Bank had targeted a four-star rating, so were pleased with the five stars the building received, says Rob Gravette, the head of project management at the bank.

Open to the public

Standard Bank has created an attractive public dimension to the place – a green piazza the size of a rugby field open to the people of Rosebank, overlooked by the glass-fronted building. There it has planted 422 trees, all indigenous, as well as flower beds which by next summer will be bursting with blooms. In 2009 the bank cut down a number of established exotic trees on the site, including planes, pin oaks, palms, poplars, jacarandas, and the only indigenous tree, a white stinkwood, which caused a public outcry at the time.

The public can enter the building from the piazza, and grab a meal at the ground floor restaurant. The foyer soars into the sky, with a set of escalators moving quietly up and down, offering views into the striking atrium with its huge hanging Marco Cianfanelli Africa-shaped sculpture, called The Seed, made of plywood stained with different earthy colours.

The bank’s head office remains in the Johannesburg CBD, at the southern end of Simmonds Street, which houses 15 500 employees in 200 000 square metres. The dispersed business units have moved into the Rosebank building, although the eighth floor executive level is still to be occupied. This is where the chairman will find his desk.

Sustainable construction

Construction began in May 2010, and by mid-2013 the first bank employees started moving in. The finishing touches are still being applied, but it seems from the relaxed atmosphere inside that people are happy to be there, especially if they’ve come from the cavernous head office in the CBD.

Massive triple-glazed glass walls go up 11 storeys, an area equivalent to 50 tennis courts, making optimal use of natural light and giving workers stunning views over the green trees and gardens of Rosebank.

The building is in two parts: a nine-storey east wing and 11-storey west wing. And it ticks all the correct green boxes, of course. It has the usual dual-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads and tap aerators. Rainwater is harvested from the roof, reducing potable water demand by 56%. Water flowing into the basement – there are five levels of parking underground – is used for the gardens. There are bicycle lock-up slots for employees who cycle to work, with showers.

An energy-saving gas-powered trigeneration plant, installed at a cost of R40-million, runs the building’s lighting, heating and cooling. “Standard Bank Rosebank’s trigeneration plant is South Africa’s second and, at a production capacity of one megawatt of energy, it will significantly reduce the building’s carbon footprint,” the bank said in a statement. There are also five generators, providing the building with full backup power, if needed.

A cutting-edge digitally addressable lighting system, or Dali, has been installed in 99.26% of the building. This allows light fittings to be programmed according to use: lights automatically dim or switch off if an area is empty or receiving more sunlight. Lights near windows are dimmer than those towards the middle of the office, where less sunlight penetrates. Each light is linked to a computer, which tracks its performance. “Every light has an IP address,” says Gravette.

One of the most impressive features is the windows’ triple-layered glazing, with a shading blind between the layers. The blinds automatically open and close as the outside light changes, taking the glare off surfaces inside the building. More than 65% of the exterior of the building is glass. The system took two and a half years for German experts to develop, says Gravette.

Over 60% of the steel used in the building is recycled, while 50% of the timber has been sourced from Forest Stewardship Council certified suppliers. The council is an international not-for-profit organisation established in 1993 to promote responsible management of the world’s forests.

At least 20% of the bulky materials used in the construction were sourced from within 400 kilometres of Rosebank, reducing carbon emissions in transporting the materials to the site.

And, of course, throughout the building there are recycling bins for office consumables, and others for kitchen and restaurant waste.

A studious atmosphere

The large offices themselves have a studious atmosphere, with stacks of white cabinets at the end of each long desk, labelled with the names of those sitting at the desk. Storerooms for files are discreetly tucked away, while air-con grids push out cool air at spaced intervals along the carpeted floor. Light streams in, wherever you sit.

Each floor is colour coded, with communal work tables, café-style seating, armchairs and high-backed fabric seating, which is almost sound-proof, allowing for confidential discussions and alternative work spaces.

“It’s different, and more relaxing,” says one employee, “I like the view and the office space allows for more interaction. I like to have people close.”

Source: Article by Lucille Davie, Media Club South Africa

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