Monument to innovation

Six-star solutions: The Vodafone group’s research hub is a sterling example of a highly efficient green building.

Six-star solutions: The Vodafone group’s research hub is a sterling example of a highly efficient green building.

Innovations in renewables award Winner: GLH and Associates Architects

The centre is completely energy and carbon positive and is the first commercial building in South Africa to generate more than 100% of its energy from photovoltaic solar panels.

Naina Jivan, a partner in the firm, said this was the “first carbon-neutral office building with an architectural expression responsive to the South African context”. It will soon be open to the public as a showcase of sustainable functionality.

It also received an unprecedented six-star green rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa, achieving 86 points, whereas the threshold is usually 75.

The centre serves as the Vodafone group’s research hub. Technical experts work from the building, connecting to sites around the world and researching cutting-edge sustainable solutions for the telecommunications industry.
It is also a centre for learning that is open to educational groups and professionals in the industry to view some of the innovations in renewables used on site. Ongoing monitoring of the systems enables professionals to compile case studies for replication.

Electrical engineer Vasili Kourelos said the centre was powered by the sun in a battery-free setup. All its energy is generated by photovoltaic panels with no batteries that produce 230kWh a day. Only 70kWh is used for the operation of the building and the rest is supplied to fuel the neighbouring Vodacom main campus.

Jivan said various other design strategies were used to minimise energy usage in the centre. Natural daylight has been maximised and active heating and cooling is created through via a solar absorption chiller, which uses a dry cooler for heat rejection.

Gabion walls below the suspended slab allow an even distribution of air through the building and an absorption chiller provides chilled or warm water that is pumped through the office space.

By building on an old parking lot and reusing many of the materials on site, the architects ensured that the building had “a low embodied carbon content”, Jivan said.

“The structure reused materials in the earthworks and foundation and used excavation materials to shape the landscape. All kerbs and bollards from the original parking area were reused.”

Another green plus is that the construction can be disassembled at the end of its useful life. The design is rooted in a series of modules from the foundation to the roof and each element can be unbolted and disassembled for recycling.

“The design and construction methodology aimed to do least environmental harm and they provided labour opportunities that enhanced job skills in that the construction process required several labour-intensive activities, but also provided an opportunity to upskill workers.”

GLH, or Grosskopff Lombart Huyberechts & Associates Architects, is a Johannesburg-based firm that was established in 1945 and now focuses on sustainability in the built environment.

“The government is beginning to enforce energy saving through the launch of the new national building regulations,” Jivan said.

“We have found that most of our corporate clients are aware of and understand the necessity to reduce their carbon footprint by creating buildings that are environmentally sensitive and also promote their brand as sustainable.”

The Greening judges singled out the Vodafone centre and its designers for setting a new bar in renewable resource innovation. The entry ­demonstrated a reduction in environmental damage, increased access to low-impact technologies and proven economic savings because of ecofriendly innovations, they said.

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