Creating an environment for happy staff is an important part of sustainability. It  underscores the need to focus on office interiors as a key point along the green building journey. earthworks and our partners have taken a giant step forward at our new offices at Cape Town’s Woodstock Exchange.

Building blocks

After four years of building the team that produces earthworks, Young Africa Publishing (YAP) was ready to give them more – an office that underscores the sustainability values the magazine advocates.

“The main reason for this project was staff welfare and comfort,” says YAP managing director Eugene Hugo. We needed to accommodate growth, which provided a good opportunity ‘to walk our talk’. I believe everyone working here is doing what he or she can to lessen the impact on the planet. This office will make it easier for them to do so and motivate them to do even more,” he adds.

“The timing worked well, so we could apply as a Green Star SA Interiors pilot.”

The project team is aiming for a 4 Star rating, says Colin Myers, accredited professional (AP) with Collaboration, which handled interior architecture and design as well as acted as principal agents.

Collaboration has been involved in No.1 Silo and the Green Building Council of SA’s (GBCSA) office refurbishment, among other green projects. “We are experiencing a considerable change in our client’s awareness and understanding of the value of green interiors, and the level of interest is definitely gaining momentum, says design director Geoffrey Bennett.”

“Suppliers are beginning to provide the level of information regarding products being specified, which makes the certification process easier, while fit-out contractors are adapting their process in order to comply with Green Star SA requirements.”

Hugo agrees: “There are more considerations compared to a standard office refit, and it takes careful planning around material selection. Suppliers have been more than willing to be part of a green project.”

A good spread

“Every single project is different and there’s no one right or wrong. It’s a mix and match of tools and options,” says senior designer Toni Harrington-Johnson from Collaboration. In this instance, the key focus areas are location, reuse, energy and following a sensible, functional approach.

Reuse features at various levels, including the building itself. Woodstock Exchange is a well-known example of urban regeneration. It is central, close to public transport, and amenities are nearby. Even recycling facilities are in-house.

On a materials level, there was very little waste. The existing glass was used to create the meeting room, while other glass panels were reused to form two small offices.

Some lights and a number of light fittings were retained, along with the kitchen carcass and sink; the plumber whisked off the Oregon pine cupboard doors to fit in his newly refurbished kitchen at home. A local carpenter manufactured the boardroom table from reclaimed White Oak roof trusses. The existing office chairs and some storage units are still serviceable and are paired with new desks from C.O. Designs and Entrawood. Canvases of magazine covers commissioned for a convention stand brighten the breakout space.

New materials were carefully chosen, such as Avance carpeting that contains recycled drinks bottles, low VOC products from Prominent Paints and additional kitchen units fitted with bamboo countertops.

Energy matters

In terms of energy generation, 14 x 250Wp Yingli Solar panels with a combined maximum output of 3.5kW are linked in series. They run through a SMA invertor (3.6kW) into the main distribution board to offset electricity use.

“At a conservative estimate, this should take care of 23-25% of daily consumption,” says Soventix project manager Kyle Bohnsack. A live feed of energy generation is publicly displayed, while output can be monitored via My Sunny Portal.

Sutherland Engineers designed an HVAC system with Daikin units that incorporate compressors with variable speed, which have been proven to save up to 30% on energy costs. The R410 refrigerant used has zero ozone depleting potential. Space heating is provided through Daikin heat pumps.

All of the Miele kitchen appliances are energy efficient.

LEDs and fluorescents increased lux for task areas while the meeting and focus rooms have occupancy sensors. Six reused luminaires were fitted with energy efficient bulbs from Eurolux.

Office comforts

Overall, a sensible approach added to a pared-down yet functional space and design. It’s a case of less is more, with dematerialisation evident in the use of Ideapaint, which transforms walls into whiteboards.

The meeting room doubles up as a lunch or breakout space. The positioning of the meeting room and offices turns them into a buffer between the hotter northern, road-facing production area and the sales floor in the south, which generates additional noise.

These factors feed into the all-important indoor environmental quality (IEQ) category, which brings the focus back to the occupants.

“When I first heard this was a green project, I thought of how it would save energy. What impressed me about IEQ is that it is about human comfort factors. Even though that doesn’t seem to be directly linked to environmental sustainability, it’s about human sustainability,” remarks Myers.

Glare and heat gain was reduced though rigging the solar panels as an awning on the northern facade, and by the installation of new windows fitted with Fadeban Light B52 performance glass. Luxaflex blinds motorised by Somfy on the northern and eastern facades further control glare without sacrificing daylight or views, and early energy modelling reports by Greenbuild Consultants indicate full points for daylight.

Acoustics are improved by a suspended ceiling with Saint Gobain panels above the sales floor and Mitesco acoustic panelling above the production team.

The indoor plants, by Bidvest Execuflora, make an additional contribution to IEQ.

The future for interiors

YAP is hoping to amend the lease with a greening clause that requires metering of water and energy usage, and an annual review to consider possible improvements.

“I think it is wonderful to be sensitive to the environment, and everyone needs to be mindful of this in everything they do. I hope this sets the trend for many other properties to follow,” says landlord Barry Harlen.

Bennett muses: “I think in the near future tenants will only occupy buildings with a Green Star SA rating and this is going to drive landlords to adapt their buildings.”

In terms of the rating tool, Harrington-Johnson is pragmatic: “Green rating has posed the checkpoints along the way. A good designer should meet them, but now you know that you are achieving them. It’s not like you can check every box; you need to decide what’s important as a choice that gains one point in one category might cost in another.

“From the start YAP wanted a green office: that’s a different way of working than when you have to persuade a client. These projects are the ones that are creating the local database for the GBCSA on what works and what doesn’t work.”

Any green project though, is entirely dependent on users for ultimate success. At YAP, “we’ve spoken about behaviour, such as using low energy appliances, only using air conditioning and lighting when necessary, recycling etc. Already, I can see the office being used in the way that it was designed,” confirms Hugo.

With staff productivity touted as another major benefit of green refits, the move bodes well for the publisher.

Nutshell

Located in Woodstock Exchange, Cape Town, the new Young Africa Publishing office was opened in October 2014 after three months under construction.

Sustainability features

  • Re-used urban site
  • Close to public transport and amenities
  • PV panels double as shading device
  • Performance glazing on northern facade
  • Extensive re-use of materials
  • Low VOC paint and carpets
  • Motorised blinds enhance lighting and shading
  • Energy efficient lighting and occupancy sensors
  • Energy efficient HVAC system
  • Acoustic panels and suspended ceiling improve IEQ
  • Indoor plants, including mini-living wall
  • Energy efficient kitchen appliances

Young Africa Publishing www.youngafrica.co.za

The full feature appears in the December – January 2014/15.