Architectural time-piece: first SA Green Star office-refurbishment certification

Posted On Monday, 25 June 2012 17:21 Published by
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The Millennia Park office building has achieved a 5 Star Green Star SA Office v1 ‘Design’ certification from the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) – the first time that a refurbished building in South Africa has received this accolade. The building - the new head office for investment giant Remgro, which sought a new location for its increased staff complement following a merge with Venfin, in 2009 - now houses about 120 staff members, who moved into the building in early May, after the refurbishment was completed in April

Situated in the historical heart of Stellenbosch, the 29-year old building - previously occupied by Gilbey Distillers and Vintners, the Peace Parks Foundation and the World Wide Fund for Nature - was considered an architectural time-piece in the town, and as such it was decided to refurbish the building rather than demolish it. More than 96% of the original structure was retained.

Achieving a Green Star SA rating on a refurbished building, poses an entirely different set of challenges when compared with the construction of a new building, which can be designed green from the start.

Despite these challenges, and committed to environmentally sensitive development, Remgro instructed TV3 Architects, Project Management firm Bornman and Associates, and Quantity Surveyor De Leeuw Stellenbosch, to compile a professional team capable of completing this green refurbishment on time and within budget. Additional consultants such as landscape architects, freshwater ecologists, environmental consultants, geo-hydrological consultants, acoustic consultants and an independent commissioning agent were brought on board.

“With a refurbishment project, you have to take what you have got and work with it, you can’t change the orientation of the building for example. This forces you to be more creative, and overcome inherent challenges,” explains Bornman & Associates director Chris Bornman.

“Without Green Star SA, one would consider demolishing the existing building, digging a basement for parking, and maximising the bulk and coverage to ensure maximum use of the site to ensure an acceptable yield for the developer. Dealing with all the important Green Star SA initiatives, one’s perception towards a refurbishment is very different to what would normally be planned, and this perception will likely be changed forever,” explains TV3 Architects director Edwin Swanepoel.

Limits of refurbishment encourage smart solutions
For example, the existing building had a low floor to ceiling height, and the project team had to design around that. Ceiling space of 260mm was left in the redesign, and all the services needed to fit in that space. This aided the decision to use a chilled beam air conditioning system, rather than conventional air conditioning.

The chilled beam system takes up less space, has lower operating costs, is quieter, and significantly more energy efficient for heating and cooling. It is one of the first commercial applications of this technology in South Africa.

Compared with the original building, the refurbished building will consume about 30% less electricity because of interventions including efficient lighting, solar water heating, and most importantly, the use of the chilled beam air conditioning system.

Because of the architectural significance of the building in the town, the Planning Advice Committee of the Stellenbosch Municipality stated that the height of the building could not be increased by much, thus a mezzanine floor was introduced inside the existing roof space, allowing for storage space and possible future growth.

This also allowed the project team to include a central atrium as well as three side atriums, which allow more natural light into the darker core of the building.

The old steel roof structure was reused in the manufacturing of the new undercover parking structures. About 70% of all steel on site came from the original building.

Over 80% of waste generated during the project was diverted from landfill, and much of it was re-used in the refurbishment process. Crushed stone and concrete from the demolished components of the existing building were re-used to raise the level of the parking area above the 50-year flood line.

In some cases, materials were donated to community clubs and churches, for example, the Kikuyu grass, which was removed, was donated to the local municipality for sports fields.

While many materials associated with the project were re-used or recycled, certain new products were sourced, and finding suitable, verified green products was cited as a challenge for the project team. This is expected to change over time as the South African market matures and green building becomes more commonplace in the industry.

The refurbished building is also expected to realise water savings of about 79% when compared with the original building. This is owing to the introduction of greywater harvesting, rainwater harvesting, and the use of waterless urinals. The new landscaping at the office park also reduces the water consumption attributable to irrigation by about 50%.

The parking area also makes use of permeable paving, which allows rainwater to directly permeate into the ground through the gaps between pavers, and also filters the water by means of a stone and geo-film layer under the paving. This manages run-off from paved surfaces and combats erosion.

The jewel in the crown of this project, has been the improvement of biodiversity on the site. The ecological diversity of the site has been improved by 420% - thanks largely to the rehabilitation of the existing man-made wetland, which had fallen to disrepair, and the introduction of more indigenous and water-wise plants in the landscaping. An innovation point under the Green Star SA was also awarded to the project for Remgro’s ongoing participation in cleaning up rivers in the surrounding area.

Striving for Green Star SA
Remgro was motivated to strive for a Green Star SA rating because operating costs over the long-term would be reduced, and because it would ultimately add value to the asset, but mainly, because at the very top management level, it was felt that it was the right thing to do environmentally.

Bornman & Associates Green Building Consultant Richard Duckitt notes that Millennia Park is registered for a Green Star SA Office ‘As-Built’ rating from the GBCSA. “The building must work as close to the design as possible. An As-Built rating will be pursued, to prove that it can be done.”

Green building requires very different practices on site, and this project went a far way to educate new teams of contractors, sub-contractors, and even materials suppliers on greener practices, which will hopefully be carried forward onto other projects.

“Achieving a rating from the GBCSA, which is an internationally recognized institution, is a true reflection of the extent to which a client and it’s team went to create an environmentally responsible product,” notes Swanepoel, adding that the verification and certification process distinguishes this building from others that may simply make unsubstantiated green claims.

“It is a very exciting time to be involved in green building projects. Green Star SA is driving change in the industry and the way it operates, and it is about time,” says Bornman.

The project team agrees that targeting a Green Star SA rating requires more work, as it is a stringent auditing process requiring necessary documentation, but this improves with experience.

“We cannot design in silos anymore. The nature of this project encouraged collaboration. A coordinated team approach may take longer, but it is worth it,” emphasises Duckitt.

Last modified on Monday, 25 June 2012 17:40

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