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Timber façade rises from sustainability ethos

Driving down Dock Road in the direction of the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront nearing the One and Only hotel to the right, one cannot help notice the impressive and completely unique engineered timber pleated façade warmly cladding the Waterfront’s newest building which is currently under construction on the left. 

Incorporating cross-laminated timber (CLT), and various energy-efficient building design elements, the Ridge’s new façade speaks to the sustainability ethos of the V&A Waterfront’s development vision. It may well become one of Cape Town’s most sustainable buildings.

In a nutshell, the new timber façade plays a very important part in a range of measures facilitating natural indoor temperature control and fresh air inside the building instead of conventional air conditioning (HVAC) for most days of the year. This yields not only savings in operating costs for heating and cooling, but also greatly benefits the health, productivity, and well-being of building users.

“Of great importance to the Waterfront’s Our Normal approach of using sustainable construction methods, the use of CLT in place of brick and concrete and saving the use of additional aluminium and glass on the façade has greatly reduced the Ridge’s carbon footprint.

“Structurally graded engineered timber as used in the production of our CLT come from sustainable plantations, mainly located within the Western Cape. In addition to the material being a net sequestrator of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, timber sourced within the province minimises the transport carbon emission contribution also”, explains the Development Director at the V&A Waterfront, Mark Noble. For further information, refer to the V&A Waterfront Technical Fact Sheet.

Sean Mahoney

Lead architect on the Ridge project, Sean Mahoney of Studio MAS Architecture and Urban Design, comments that timber is the most natural choice of walling material for a sustainability building such as the Ridge and utilises biophilic principles.  These strive to connect the occupants of a building with their natural environment, thereby achieving health, environmental, and economic benefits for building occupants.

“One of the key challenges was: ‘On a good day, can you open a window?’. Designing a suitable response to this and setting the building apart from the sealed glassed-in prevailing corporate standard, took our team on a 3-year path defining the Waterfront’s new normal standard. It’s something fresh and unique”

Sean Mahoney

Tessa Brunette, lead engineering and façade consultant at Arup agrees: “The use of CLT is a large contributor to the green credentials of this building. The design reduces the amount of sunlight entering the building, meaning that the internal spaces can largely rely on natural ventilation and not air conditioning to remain comfortable.

Tessa Brunette

In addition to an exterior timber ‘skin’, the interior walls where the façade has been applied will also be exposed CLT, giving the interior of the building a warm feel.

Mark Noble

Mark Noble adds: “Increasingly, the negative effects of building in a sealed-in office space are becoming known worldwide. One of the more serious results of the way that humankind has built in the past is sick building syndrome (SBS.) SBS explains the onset of various illnesses among workers, absenteeism and poor morale among staff leading to a loss in productivity.  The Ridge strives to counteract this.

“This is part of the Waterfront’s Our Normal ethos, and it also meets the sustainability approach of our client, Deloitte”.

Why the zig-zag shape?

Mahoney says that a major design element hinged on the building having an operable façade. Hence, the unique pleated (zig-zag) façade consists of cross-laminated timber panels on one facet with high-performance glass set into aluminum on the other side. Most of the glazed units contain custom-designed opening windows.