A landmark head office and warehouse for Ascendis Medical was designed by Architects Of Justice (AOJ) on a prime corner of the Orpen Group’s Boundary Park Industrial Park development in Northriding, Johannesburg. Ascendis has consolidated three facilities into one to optimise operations and improve business efficiencies; the result is three floors of P-Grade equivalent offices totalling 6 500 m².
In the design of the building, the office footprint was shaped around an irregular open courtyard to increase the perimeter façade. This maximises the building’s presence from the adjacent street intersection, increases the amount of natural daylight entering the building and enhances the external views from within the building. The highly intricate and impressive glass corner entrance is the most striking architectural element of the building; shaped to improve passive solar control of the triple volume entrance foyer.
“The design of lighting for projects we are involved in always comes as an internal consideration for lighting to enhance the user experience of the building and reduce operating costs,” explains Mike Rassmann from AOJ. “It was no different on this project where natural lighting has been maximised as a primary consideration, providing the greatest occupant satisfaction and operational cost reduction.”
The lighting was designed in accordance with SANS requirements for offices with levels of around 500 lux for general areas and 300-500 lux for computer work-stations. Particular attention was paid to selecting light fittings that provided diffused lighting, allowing for the light to be evenly distributed and preventing shadows. “Diffused lighting is also easier on the eyes when working for an extended period of time,” notes Rassman.
In addition to this, the choice of light fittings throughout the building complements the language of the ceilings, which gives users direct feedback as to what space they are in – meeting rooms, executive offices, regular offices, circulation spaces or break-away spaces – all of which have a unique design associated with them. The main reception, executive areas and meeting rooms share a language of recessed elliptical flush plastered bulkhead ceilings with recessed LED downlights and LED strip lighting, while passages have long rectangular surface mounted LED lighting, guiding the direction of travel. Regular office areas are lit with more conventional 1200 x 600mm LED ceiling lighting panels. Elsewhere, dedicated task lighting above workbenches in the workshop areas is provided as the work being done in there is with small components for surgical equipment.
A challenge the architects encountered was finding fittings that would be around for a while. “Unfortunately, the fittings available today generally do not have lamps that get replaced, which means the entire lighting unit needs to be replaced when a light no longer works,” says Rassmann. “Much of what is on the market arrives in South Africa in a limited quantity which means that finding a matching replacement – even in as little as a year – can often prove to be difficult. Using established and reliable lighting suppliers can mitigate this problem to some extent,” he says.
When entering the building, you transition from the outside to the interior through a triangular plaza where, if you look up, you can see a reflection of yourself as a result of a tilt in the glass façade. There is a sense of grandeur as you pass through the 3m high entrance portal and into the immense triple volume of the reception space. “As you stand there and you look up, you get a sense of the size of the building,” says Alessio Lacovig of AOJ.
A timber clad feature wall, with acoustic panelling that helps disperse the noise in the space, adds a different texture and a sense of warmth to contrast with the ‘high tech’ nature of the interiors.
In line with Ascendis’ brand and business, the interior can be described as clean and minimalist. The architects used white as a base colour to work from, and along with muted grey tones, the rest of the colour palette, chiefly blue, red and green, is pulled from the Ascendis logo to reinforce brand identity within the interiors.
“Ascendis recognised the trend to work from home – even prior to COVID-19 – thus for many of the departments, hot desking is included,” explains Rassmann. “There are also breakaway meeting pods, essentially less formal versions of meeting spaces, so the offices have built in flexibility and people don't have to work at the same desk every day; they can work from home if they want to, and if they need to be in the office, they can come in and sit anywhere. From early we wanted open spaces that could be adapted as needed.”
The courtyard was an integral part of AOJ’s design from the outset. “A courtyard in an office building gives you the ability to have a wider office floorplate, because you can have natural light entering the workspace from two sides,” Lacovig points out. “While the courtyard does create a social space, it also makes the building energy efficient and more comfortable for users,” he says.
The courtyard is directly linked to the main foyer reception of the building on one side and the staff canteen on the other. The proximity allows this social space to be used for informal meetings between staff and visitors alike. A covered glass structure creates a walkway that ensures moving to the canteen from the reception is comfortable even in bad weather and also provides sheltered seating space. Large north facing stacking doors can be used to open the canteen space onto the courtyard on more temperate days, and makes this space appropriate for larger gatherings.
The third floor consists of additional office space for growth and a 100-seater auditorium with meeting rooms as part of a training centre, allowing the company to expand without relocating. On the west corner of the same floor, a bar and outdoor terrace offers a place for staff and visitors to socialise while taking in the surrounding views and setting sun.
The importance of light
“So much of our world is perceived through our eyes, which makes them our primary contact point with our surroundings,” says Rassmann. “Good quality of light, coupled with a reduction of glare within any space, has a huge impact on user experience and can go a long way to improving productivity and user comfort, and decreasing fatigue during the workday.”
Reflecting on the project, although AOJ would have liked to incorporate the use of sensor switches mounted in the ceiling in the different office areas, sensor switches were ruled out fairly early on by the developer.
“In past experiences, they have not functioned as expected or promised. Unfortunately, as much as we are advocates of sensor-based switching, we too have had similar experiences where the switches do not function as promised by the manufacturers. Our hope is that sometime in the future these switches will become better overall, or that we will find a switch which already functions 100% the way we need it to, and we can start specifying it on all of our office projects,” says Rassmann.
AOJ, which was responsible for the architectural and the interior design of the building, has – through marrying elements of the exterior with the interior – created a building which speaks the same design language inside and out.
Engineers: Delusch Consulting Engineers
Lighting installation: Orpen Group
Lighting supplier: Regent Lighting Solutions
Developers, Contractors, Quantity Surveyors: Orpen Group