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The Ridge: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Cape Town’s newest 6-star Green Star Design awarded commercial building, the Ridge in the V&A Waterfront, has opened and its tenant, Deloitte South Africa, is trading from inside its unique spaces.

The Ridge deploys some of the most advanced sustainable building technology available globally, as well as original blue-sky thinking. It was born from the V&A Waterfront’s vision to set new standards for the future of commercial office buildings. The final design was the result of the creative inputs of the project’s multi-disciplinary design team, which worked closely together.

Over the past decade, the Waterfront has blazed a trail of sustainable development, rewarded with Green Star accreditations by the Green Building Council of South Africa. Individual buildings include the Allan Gray building at No.1 Silo, the Watershed and No.5 Silo, all 6-Star Green Star buildings plus a number of other firsts that include the former Grain Silo which became Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) and the boutique Silo Hotel, as well as No.6  Silo incorporating the Radisson Red (the first 5-star Green Star hotel).

David Green, the CEO of the V&A Waterfront, explains that this project showcases the capabilities of the Waterfront as a developer in providing custom-designed office or mixed-use accommodation to the highest standard in line with the needs of the customer.

”The Ridge and our other developments provide a working example as to how it can be done for companies that are looking to the future of their businesses in a sustainable way with a focus on both environmental performance and the greatest asset a company has: its people.”

“This development represents the confidence that our company and its shareholders have in the future of Cape Town as a destination and our confidence in South Africa itself,” he says.

Vusi Nondo, the executive manager for development at the V&A Waterfront explains that the Ridge has been an important milestone for the Waterfront in its rollout of bespoke office space, mixed-use and retail offerings.

“It has been said that working from an office post-Covid-19 will never be the same again – worldwide. Of course, that’s true, but long prior to the pandemic, the Waterfront development team identified a healthy office space that looks after the wellness of employees as being of paramount importance to any business.

“Armed with a development approach we consider as ‘Our Normal’, we’ve implemented people-centred innovations in all our bespoke developments. These promote a healthy work environment, help in combating sick building syndrome and low-carbon modes of transport. These include pedestrian footpaths, bicycle routes/parks, outdoor greened relaxation areas, and even food gardens,” he adds.

The Waterfront’s development director and project leader for the Ridge, Mark Noble, explains why the office work experience is exceptional and how the Ridge’s bespoke features set it apart from other commercial buildings.

“We designed the Ridge to be a world-class living, breathing building by incorporating a number of standout features, some of which are firsts for South Africa:

Air quality. The building operates on a mixed-mode interior climate control system, which includes the following features:

“Natural ventilation, which significantly raises the indoor air quality and is controlled by the occupants. This means that office workers may open the windows to let in fresh air for up to 80% of the year-round.

“An impressive atrium runs from ground to the third level of the building. Referred to as the ‘central street’, it helps to pull air through the building, in through the windows and out through the roof lights, while also bringing many other benefits to workers and visitors inside the building.”

Actuated windows in the special roof lights, through which warm air flows upwards out of the ‘central street’ (atrium).

Minimal HVAC (air conditioning) usage. The building incorporates passive (non-energy consuming) temperature control mechanisms several of which are unique. “A virtual sum of parts that leads to a greater whole,” attests Noble.

The zigzag-shaped engineered timber façade ingeniously orientates the glass windows towards the north or south, which prevents lower angle sun from the east or west from entering the office spaces. This provides natural daylight while reducing glare and patches of hot sunlight. “This has a major impact in promoting both fresh air quality and the saving of energy,” Noble explains.

Thermally Activated Building System Technology (TABS). “TABS is installed into the soffits (ceilings) above the working areas of the building and this cools the concrete structure by means of water circulating from the chiller and heat pumps on the roof. The cooler soffit hence cools the air below, which circulates around the workspace. TABS is another important contributor to the mixed-mode climate control system at work inside the building,” he adds.

Thermally Activated Building System Technology (TABS)
Level 3 under construction. The installation of the TABS matrix of pipes into the floor slab.

All these measures mean that people inside the building will experience steady indoor ambient temperatures that respond slowly to outdoor temperature variations. The mixed-mode system design aims for the building’s conventional air conditioning system to be active for only 20% of the year. This is in line with international standards such as WELL™, in promoting occupant productivity and thermal comfort.

Development Manager for V&A Waterfront, Kirsten Goosen, comments on the other features that add to the total experience of the building as an occupant:

“People connectivity is enhanced by the central street (atrium).  Apart from the areas where rational fire or acoustic design required the atrium to be enclosed in a few places, it mainly allows the free movement of building occupants on each level. Hence, informal connections can occur among building occupants and their visitors.

“Lighting includes the impressive roof lights above the atrium which allow optimal levels of natural light. This adds to conventional lighting on each floor. Low-energy LED lighting is suspended between acoustic panels to provide a stimulating work environment while the panels provide appropriate levels of sound absorption for work.”  

Roof lights (skylights) at top of the atrium introduce considerable natural light into the building and acts as the “chimney” for air moving out of the building.

World-class interior fit-out and a focus on the occupant

Since practical completion of the building late in 2020, the Deloitte-appointed interior design firm, Paragon Interface was on site, transforming the building’s extraordinary spaces by means of a world-class interior fit-out. Workplace strategist and Paragon Interface Director, Claire D’Adorante, comments that the client’s requirement was for a work environment that emulates the very high standard set by its global client.

“This means that the brief was distilled down to facilitating the way of working within the company to be in line with that of the global Deloitte brand, its corporate identity and also utilising brand intrinsic such as the use of colour. The work areas, desk sharing and layout are customisable to agile working,” D’Adorante outlines.

The first level is colour-coded Teal. Numerous informal breakaway areas exist through the Ridge, where teams working on agile projects can gather.

“Collaborative work opportunities and spaces exist throughout the building, which also has an ‘activated’ atrium edge. In addition, the interior features an active working corridor and workspace. Pause or meditation spaces are balanced with social and entertainment areas, with modern facilities available for use by the office staff”.

INTERVIEWS WITH THE LEADING TEAM MEMBERS

Mark Noble, Development Director, V&A Waterfront

“The façade on the top two floors of the building is constructed from locally sourced cross-laminated mass timber together with the more standard glass and aluminium panels in a unitised system. This is a very significant feature.

“Using timber as both the structural façade element as well as the internal and external finish, we believe is a genuine first for South Africa and one that has contributed significantly both to the overall architecture as well as reducing the overall carbon footprint of the building by 60 tonnes CO2 (equivalent) from the atmosphere.”

The Ridge also forms the hub of a broader mixed-use district of the Waterfront, called the Portswood District. “We have a number of heritage houses that were restored at the same time as the Ridge was under construction. These form part of the new district which will focus heavily on non-motorised mobility. While the district is envisaged as a commercial node, we are constructing public footpaths and a bicycle route will navigate the area.”

“The area will offer shady retreats, a Petersham Nurseries style cafe made solely from waste material from the V&A including a feature glass bottle wall (designed by PE based architect Kevin Kimwelle), a vegetable garden and the security of being within the Waterfront. We see this new district as a kind of secret garden with a high density of green open spaces and trees creating an environment that is truly unique in an inner-city location.

“With the opening of the Ridge at the Portswood District, it is now possible to navigate from this new commercial district, via the Watershed and beyond to our established retail and mixed-use property assets, including Victoria Wharf, the Clock Tower district, the Silo district or even Granger Bay,” Nobel says.

Wayne Megaw, Operations Leader, Deloitte Africa

“Our impact on the environment was a key consideration throughout the building project and therefore the 6 Star rating is an incredible achievement. Achieving certification means that we have succeeded, through collaboration with the development team, in building a high-performing, productive workplace that is healthier for our people and the environment.

“The interior design further ensures that the office becomes a place to work more dynamically through offering the right kind of working space available at the right time. The Ridge offers a range of different working activities and styles with spaces that can fuel creativity and will ultimately generate more collaborations across our multiple business units. There are no private offices for any staff with hot-desking being embraced to support openness, chance interactions, teamwork and increased collaboration. The office promises improved efficiency, integration and sustainability which is good for our business, our people, our clients and the environment, as well as our long-term capacity needs,” he comments.

Tessa Brunette, Lead Engineering and Façade Consultant, Arup

“Together with the buildings’ intrinsic thermal mass, the façade is the most important ‘machine’ (controlling indoor environment) in the building. We reached our design response using first principles, in close collaboration with studioMAS, the architects.

“These design responses were then tested and refined by using advanced computer modelling method, which included the testing of different glazing types, orientations and shading types. Thus we identified the optimum combination of orientation vs. shading vs. glazing type.

“Through an iterative process with many stages of analysis, modelling and interpretation initial modelling, the various options were refined to assess which combinations worked best in conjunction with the architecture and budget.

The Ridge’s timber façade (right).

“Modelling confirmed that the zigzag (pleated) façade that we adopted for building levels 2 and 3 performs as well as a straight deeply shaded façade, and allows for more glazing without external shading devices that could obstruct views to the outside and reduce the amount of internal natural light.

“So the design significantly reduces the amount of direct sunlight entering the building, which in turn means that the internal spaces can largely rely on our mixed-mode system and not need air conditioning to remain comfortable,” Brunette says.

The building is designed to be as comfortable as possible without needing air conditioning to heat or cool. Occupants can control their personal comfort by adding or removing outer layers of clothing. If that is not enough, the controls can be adjusted to suit what the user prefers.

TABS (thermally activated building system technology) operates continuously throughout warmer months, cooling the internal environment using chilled water circulating through the floor slabs. This complements the operation of the natural ventilation system and HVAC, meaning that the building’s possible use of fresh air ventilation rises from 60% to 80% of the year.

It is all done on a controlled basis: “Traffic” Lights installed around the building perimeter indicate to the occupants when they should open and close the windows, based on outside conditions.

‘Traffic’ lights indicate whether the window may be opened. Note also the exposed concrete soffit utilised by the TABS.

When the windows are open, the active ventilation system is switched off. When the weather outside is not suitable for natural ventilation, the building management system (BMS) activates HVAC (air conditioning), provided that the windows have been manually closed.

Air from the HVAC system, when switched on by the BMS, enters the office spaces via a low energy usage displacement ventilation system via air grilles that are located in the floor.

Displacement ventilation system – note the grilles in the floor.

Special custom-designed acoustic panels are suspended underneath the exposed slabs to provide appropriate levels of sound absorption for a comfortable work environment, whilst leaving sufficient exposed thermal mass for the TABS to provide benefit to the occupants.

Sean Mahoney, Project Lead Architect, Studio MAS

“Our role as architect is to combine the logic and practicalities of engineering with the creative arts. I think of the climate control systems in use at the Ridge as the (Toyota) Prius of the built environment – a veritable hybrid,” Mahoney says in a moment of levity.

“This was a collaborative process with Arup best illustrated on the Ridge by the zigzag timber façade and the ‘central street’ with its roof light drums. Both these design elements have a strong engineering and design rationale backing them up, but at the same time, we have managed to create beauty and joy out of them. They are key to the building’s identity and aesthetic and create memorable experiences. These include natural light, natural timber in the case of façade, wonderful views out of the windows, connection with the outdoors and identity,” he says.

This is the northern corner of the building. Note how the function of the sawtooth CLT façade corrects the north-south line, meaning that the sun in the east strikes the CLT panel and can’t directly enter the building.

“Timelessness in architecture is something that many designers strive for. The timber façade itself will evolve and keep functioning over the years, changing colour as it weathers, developing a patina, and making the building stand out as unique.”

Double-volume entrance lobby. Note the origami-style ceiling. Heritage houses in the background.

The origami concept also plays out in an extraordinary-looking ceiling feature outside the entrance lobby for the building which incorporates a continuum of inverted pyramid shapes.

Origami-style ceiling feature seen from staff recreation space on the first floor.

Mahoney comments: “It’s all about the forgotten elevation and view. This is a double-volume scaled space, and the soffit is very visible.

“It’s also inspired by the Baxter theatre, which I absolutely love, even though the design is very different. It’s about having a powerful aesthetic for the ceiling view. The geometry of the upside-down pyramids is derived by folding the two pleated façades on the corner by 90 degrees, so that you in effect have a pleated soffit, and then ramming the pleated façades into each other. The troughs and valleys of the pleats combine to create pyramid forms. LED strip lights are then run along the diagonal valleys that occur,” he adds.

Interior fit-out by the tenant, Deloitte – as per Claire D’Adorante, Director of Paragon Interface

The ground floor accommodates the more public functions such as a Deloitte reception, client-facing meeting rooms, a staff restaurant and a Vida e Caffé that can service both Deloitte employees and the public realm through a hatch inserted into the covered entrance façade.

“To facilitate and encourage active movement for both employees and visitors, the Ridge has a light-filled internal atrium conceptualised as a street that runs through its centre. The workspace planning focuses on activating this street edge through the deliberate positioning of agile workspaces around the atrium to create a bustling working corridor.

“This includes a balance of collaborative workspace such as touch-down points, casual lounge spaces, focus rooms and pods. Social relaxation areas are positioned in the vertical circulation core. Lifts and a sculptural steel staircase allow employees to easily connect with each other between floors,” explains D’Adorante.

The ground floor experience is completed by Deloitte’s ‘Xcelerator’, an immersive environment where clients can experience the potential of digital transformations in an innovative environment that enables the creative development of customised digital solutions.

New ways of working such as desk-sharing practices are also being successfully implemented here, aligned with Deloitte’s global workspace practices. “From the beginning the Ridge was always going to be unique, and the interior really needed to respond to that brief. At the same time, it aligns the threads of Deloitte’s branding philosophy and the workplace strategies,” she concludes.

The usage of the tenant corporate colours permeate the building creatively and are also used in a practical way for example, in navigation around the 8 500m2 building – each floor is uniquely colour-coded.

Each floor is colour-coded with Deloitte corporate colours.

The Green Building Council of South Africa

Lisa Reynolds, CEO of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), commends the V&A Waterfront and the entire professional team on another iconic 6-Star Green Star certified building within the Waterfront precinct. “The Ridge represents the V&A’s commitments to world-class sustainability leadership as well as showcasing local built environment professional talent capable of delivering innovative sustainable design,” says Reynolds. “Green buildings like the Ridge help to inspire a built environment in which both people and planet thrive,” she adds.

Georgina Smit, Head of Technical at the GBCSA explains that a 6-Star Green Star Design rating at the project design stage represents an intent to achieve a sustainability performance level that equates to world leadership, exceeding South African excellence (5-Star) and industry best practice (4-Star).

“Six-star ratings are unusual in South Africa and is not an easy achievement for a design rating. Only nine other offices have achieved this accolade to date, either through our Design or As-Built rating, or both, since 2010. It involves a committed client, a dedicated professional team and an integrated design approach by all,” she says.

More on green buildings in our latest issue of +Impact

Technical facts

Power
  • The building has a specific energy strategy which includes:
  • Passive energy-efficient features are incorporated, as mentioned above, to reduce base energy load.
  • Active energy-efficient designs include low-energy lighting systems.
  • A solar array on the roof harvests additional power when the sun is shining.
  • Ultimately, in the case of a grid failure, vital systems in the building are kept going by means of a standby generator.
Water resources
  • The building employs the normal low water flow devices in sympathy with Cape Town’s growing status as an arid city.
  • Grey water and rainwater harvested from the roof is collected and reused for toilet flushing and irrigation.
Dematerialisation and recycling

The focus given by designers to dematerialisation, re-use and recycling is well documented, including the South African first-ever usage of ecobricks encapsulated within certain non-load bearing structural elements of the building.

Greening the interior

Within the Ridge, the natural environment is king. Green plants and a planted balcony for occupants are features of the design philosophy that incorporates greenery.

Photography by ©Gareth Griffiths Imaging and Sarah da Pina

Professional Team: The Ridge

ProfessionalsCompany
LandlordV&A Waterfront
TenantDeloitte
ArchitectsStudioMAS
Engineering team (comprehensive service)Arup
Project managersMace
Quantity surveyorsSmith & Co
Interior architectsParagon Interface
Main contractorGVK Siya Zama
Geo-tech engineersCore Geotech
Landscape architectsPlanning Partners
AcousticsSRL
EcobricksV&A Waterfront

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