A GLASS masterpiece has risen from a dusty, disused old parking lot in the inner city to become the head office of Zurich Re, the insurance company – and it has won a prestigious Halala Joburg Award.

Old and new rub shoulders in Ferreirasdorp, visible from the M1 South highwayOld and new rub shoulders in Ferreirasdorp, visible from the M1 South highway
The building, on the corner of Marshall and Miriam Makeba streets in Ferreirasdorp, is the first new office structure to be built in the inner city in at least 15 years. It was designed and built by the Johannesburg Land Company (JLC).

It is emerging as one of the city’s most remarkable buildings, recognisable especially from the M1 and M2 highways. It catalyses development in an area set to become part of a vibrant business precinct, according to the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA).

This six-storey office building, with 12 600m2 of office accommodation and 300 parking bays, was designed to resemble a ship’s prow core. The western facade is separated from the main office block by a large, multi-volume atrium that is encased in glass curtain walling, and is accessible to tenants from different floors via bridges and stairways situated in a “skin” of sandstone.

“There is a distinct lack of large structural members in the space that enhances the simplicity. The theme of light and wide open space recurs throughout the building, allowing for a brighter and less constricted office atmosphere. All workstations benefit from a view to the outside world and natural light bathes the areas thanks to calculated window positioning and design,” says the JDA.

The JDA, which heads up the Halala Joburg Awards, is the City-owned entity responsible for stimulating and supporting area-based economic development initiatives through its support of the Growth and Development Strategy.

Individuals and projects that uplift and regenerate the inner city are recognised in the Halala Joburg Awards. They also highlight and encourage things such as extraordinary effort, exceptional hard work that breaks new ground, advancing sustainable economic growth and improving the quality of life for residents, as well as those projects that foster originality.

Also recognised in the awards are pioneering programmes and innovative projects; those that encourage participation, commitment and dedication.

Glass and stone define the buildingGlass and stone define the building
The Zurich Re building won the award in the Working and Buying Joburg category for its major contribution to the development of the inner city.

It was conceived and developed as the first office block in a proposed landscaped office park, another first for the inner city, in which Zurich heralds the regeneration shift into an area previously known only for urban decay.

The building was designed by the JLC and a team of architects, lead by TPS.P Architects, directors Guy Steenkamp, Clive Jeary and project architect Gray Todd. The JLC defined the design as “unreservedly modern”, which resonates with Joburg’s rich history and “is at home among the older buildings in the area”.

“The design challenge was to evolve an aesthetic both fresh and exciting, but which would also acknowledge its unique location on the western edge of the city, immediately adjacent to the Johannesburg magistrates’ courts.”

The interior of the building has an open and airy atrium that allows light to pour in from the floor-to-ceiling glass curtain. It is a meeting place for various entranceways leading from the basement and executive parking bays.

Linking this space to the other office areas are three glass vision lifts as well as a single hanging staircase.

To keep the atrium as uncomplicated as possible, the architects focused on the larger elements in the space and used the forms of a fireman’s lift lobby and connecting bridges to guide people through.

Resembling a ship’s bow, the Zurich building departs front the staid architecture of the Magistrate’s Court neighbouring itResembling a ship’s bow, the Zurich building departs front the staid architecture of the Magistrate’s Court neighbouring it
Its core is distinctive in shape and the interior is simplistic. The upper two floors are structurally designed, with the executive offices on the fifth floor. They have dynamic finishes, more open spaces and are set around a circular focal area planted up with olive trees. The executive boardroom has a large balcony.

On the sixth floor, the strong shape of the core comes through by way of the large balcony, which commands spectacular views of Johannesburg. This is the entertainment area; it has a bar area, two dining rooms, a kitchen and bathrooms.

From the outside, this floor comprises wider glass panes with less solid material, giving a gentle appearance, sitting on top of the core structure. It connects the dynamic shape of the core back to the rest of the building through a series of beams and spaces over the glass curtain walls and the atrium.

In the planning stages, the JLC brought in environmentally sustainable aspects. The main green design principle was to optimise thermal efficiency in order to gain the most out of the natural surroundings from the windows.

These windows are strategically designed around the structure to control the amount of natural light and heat coming into the building by means of designing smaller, punched windows from the western and northern facades, receiving a large portion of direct light, which creates recessed windows on the eastern facade.

All windows use a blue-green Eclipse Advantage Performance Glass, which is double glazed, cuts glare and minimises heat gained and lost.

All plants are indigenous and attract insects and birds back into the area. The garden is in the beginning phases of its landscaping plan and is an important aspect of the precinct plan as a whole. The end result will be a large garden within the inner city.

Zurich is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and is controlled from Switzerland. It is the only tenant in the building. The company was convinced to stay in the inner city through the vision presented by JLC coupled with the astonishing design of the building.

The JLC operates under the management and leadership of John Dewar and Roger Koevert. It is a major contributor to the development of the precinct and regeneration of the inner city.

“The Halala Joburg Awards … recognise them as visionary and committed developers who have shifted the shape of the area, taking it into the 21st century,” says the JDA.

Story: City of Johannesburg