WITH environmentally friendly elements that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, recycling, insulating, conserving water and energy, improving indoor air quality and promoting ecological sustainability, the Absa Towers West maximises architectural efficiency.
The ultramodern office park at 15 Troye Street won a Halala Joburg Award in the category Sustaining Joburg earlier this year, which recognises heritage as well as innovative approaches to sustain biodiversity and the maintenance of clean and green public spaces. Its sub theme is “Green buildings, green city”.
The award recognised Absa Towers West for managing public space well and for meeting five-star ratings by the South African Green Building Council.
This year, the Johannesburg Development Agency, which holds the awards, received 33 nominations for the awards but only 18 were shortlisted for the seven categories, which are: Living Joburg, Working and Buying Joburg, Relaxing and Playing Joburg, Sustaining Joburg, Conserving Joburg, Caring Joburg and Believing Joburg.
Criteria for the awards ranged from innovative investment to social sustainability, and entrepreneurial eateries to self-guided techno tourism, the agency said. The variety and scale of nominations reflect the vibrancy and diversity that the Johannesburg inner city has to offer. Nominations closed in April and adjudication was done a month later. Winners were announced at a gala evening at the Bus Factory in Newtown on 22 June.
Sipho Mokhoatlheng, the spokesperson for the bank, says Absa Towers West is a symbol of the bank’s commitment to the City’s efforts to rejuvenate Joburg’s inner city. “ATW is the most eco-friendly building situated in Joburg CBD. It helps Absa to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions in the city, thus reducing environmental impact.”
The climate sensitive building incorporates workplace ergonomics with environmental sustainability and is designed to protect occupant health, improve employee productivity, conserve energy, water and other resources more efficiently, and reduce the overall impact on the environment.
Absa Towers West, the headquarters of Absa Bank, sets the benchmark for environmentally friendly buildings in the inner city. It is part of Absa Campus, which spans some 96 000m² with over 3 000 staff. In designing the building, architects retained existing landscaping and natural features and aesthetics.
The entire structure of the building is constructed of glass panels, allowing natural light to stream in, warming up the concrete floors and thick walls, which act as thermal mass for storing the heat. Besides providing heat during winter, the building is a little cooler in sunny seasons. It is properly ventilated and insulated and its skin is made up of various materials that reflect, absorb, store, transmit or resist heat.
In its energy centre, the building has a gas turbine, which uses fuel from Egoli Gas to power up the entire campus – without using City Power’s grid. This decreases the bank’s carbon footprint by an estimated 19 000 tons a year, says Ken Gafner, an engineer in charge of the centre.
“With the addition of the new Absa West Towers building, the annual electricity consumption would have risen from 63 million kwh to 81 million by the end of 2010. The benefit of the energy centre serving the complete campus was recognised by Absa at the beginning,” Gafner explains.
The building also has the largest grey water system in South Africa, which helps cut water consumption by recycling 43 000 litres of water a day. A dual plumbing design uses recycled water from the fitness centre for flushing toilets and a grey water system that recovers rainwater for site irrigation.
It minimises wastewater by using ultra low-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads and other water conserving fixtures.
Absa Towers West has a gym, a restaurant and pause areas on all floors, with refreshment counters. Mokhoatlheng says the custom-built office space and boardrooms use state-of-the-art technology including video conferencing facilities. These features promote a new way of working, encouraging collaboration and teamwork among colleagues.
There is a solid waste management programme that cuts waste generation, using demarcated recycling bins. It uses light emitting diodes (LEDs) with motion sensors and daylight dimmers, for chemical-free lighting which uses 80 percent less energy than standard incandescent light bulbs.
An avenue of trees underlines architecture in the concourse, a centrepiece for the first floor. The trees have low water and pesticide needs and generate minimum plant trimmings. Compost and mulch enriches the soil, saving water and time.
Next to this is the Absa Money Museum, the only money and banking museum in the country. It serves not only as a custodian of South Africa’s banking history, but also reflects economic, political and social changes in the currencies.
A variety of green building materials and products were used in construction, leading to energy conservation, improved occupant health and productivity, lower costs associated with changing space configurations, and greater design flexibility.
Using green building materials and products helps conserve declining non-renewable resources. Green buildings use materials that can be easily dismantled and reused or recycled; they also help reduce the environmental impact associated with extraction, transport and disposal of non-renewable resources.
Gafner says Absa Towers West is cognisant of nature, the health of people working in the building, and less need for artificial heating and cooling. This, he says, saves on a lot of costs, funds for which can be used for other essentials.
Green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment. Absa Towers West’s improved air quality reduces cases of respiratory and associated illnesses, and benefits power suppliers through reduced peak electricity demand.
Mokhoatlheng believes the building can alter mindsets and perceptions about working spaces and the Johannesburg inner city in general, given its futuristic design. “The working space is designed in such a manner that it encourages our people to share, collaborate and learn from each other so that we can deliver exceptional customer experience,” he says.
The investment in the building, he adds, is a demonstration of Absa’s commitment to the city of Johannesburg and its renewal. “We have confidence in the Joburg CBD and are unswerving in our support to rejuvenate the city and would encourage other corporate citizens in the city to play their part.”
In the recent past, the Johannesburg city centre has had to come to terms with urban deterioration, the flight to the suburbs of business, and a rapid influx of migrants and vagrants and who either occupy abandoned and derelict tenements or vandalise them. Through its Halala Joburg Awards, the Johannesburg Development Agency recognises the urban renewal efforts of developers, investors, communities and individuals in putting money towards the rejuvenation of the inner city to restore it to its former gloss.
Speaking at the ceremony in June, Thanduxolo Mendrew, the acting chief executive officer of the agency, explained the drive behind the awards. He said they were meant to recognise projects that injected momentum into the City’s regeneration efforts. “We honour people who strive to improve the quality of life in the inner city of Johannesburg.”
Halala Joburg Awards are held annually and are organised by the JDA, the municipal-owned entity tasked with bringing about economic growth through the development and promotion of efficient business environments in the city.