Unilever’s new, streamlined savoury dry food plant exists alongside a natural wetland, in a four-year-old industrial estate.

The R 670 million factory and distribution centre named Indonsa – Zulu for “morning star” – was officially opened in December 2011. At the launch, Trade and Industry Minister Dr Rob Davies referred to it as “the first green manufacturing plant for SA, reducing its carbon footprint”.

The brief for the design team headed by principle architects Nicholas Proome and George Elphick, was to create “a landmark, global flagship and state-of-the-art production facility”. Project architect Anand Govender adds: “The client wanted us to create a sustainable, energy-efficient, green building; a world class, iconic building.”

The Indonsa development on almost 80 000 m2 of land comprises the plant, with a floor area of 22 000 m2, and an office building of some 4 500 m2. The two linked buildings have a combined floor area of 34 000 m2.

The design languages of both buildings speak to one another. Recyclable aluminium sheeting, sourced locally from Hullett Aluminium, are bordered by an elegant glass-reinforced plastic fascia, which together flow over the roof and down the sides of the building, speaking of conveyor belt-like movement. Gracefully-curved concrete shelves along the sides of the office building melt into polished concrete paths flowing around the front of the building.

No glass is allowed inside the plant for safety reasons, and since it manufactures food products, there are stringent hygiene requirements forbidding materials such as wood in the interior. Air and light enter the factory through perforated aluminium screens that maximise light intake.

Consolidating the two existing plants into one single plant allows Unilever to more than double the production volume, while maintaining the existing carbon footprint due to a reduction in energy consumption of more than 60 per cent. While 65 000 tons of product can be produced annually, the building can be expanded to allow a 100 000 ton production limit a year.

Energy efficient lighting is through LEDs and compact fluorescents and energy savings are also realised by the lack of geysers. Mechanical engineer Noel Smith adds that the design of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system was based on a high-efficiency sustainable design, with an air-cooled water plant chosen over water-cooled chillers.

From a sustainability point of view, one of the most outstanding features is the R 35 million water-neutral plant. The massive roof space, totalling about 22 000 m2, is used to harvest rainwater, which is stored in a 1.5 million litre underground water recovery tank. When full, the plant can operate for a month without municipal water.

The site’s existing wetland was accommodated into the design. In addition, the landscaping on site makes use of only indigenous plants, which will rarely need additional watering.

All solid waste from the plant is separated on site and sent off for recycling. Organic product waste is directed to those needy communities in the area that have compost heaps and gardens.

Structural engineer Ian van Rooyen points out that the Indonsa site first had to be “engineered to above the 100-year flood line”, as it exists on reclaimed land. This necessitated the building being supported by about 700 piles to prevent any possibility of settlement, “due to stringent lack of movement criteria”.

Read the full feature in April-May 2012. Images: Kim Thunder (www.kimthunder.com)