Black brick, off-shutter concrete and glass at 33 & 39 Commerce Crescent

Paragon Architects has established a long-standing relationship with developer Alchemy Properties. Seven buildings along Commerce Crescent in Kramerville Design District in Johannesburg. With a successful renovation project at 37 & 35 Commerce Crescent; Paragon Architects completed separate projects at 33 & 39 and is currently busy with construction for 31 Commerce Crescent.

Building Development

The architecture along Commerce Crescent draws inspiration from the surrounding industrial area. The buildings’ design is as showrooms, with each floor being able to divide into smaller tenancies. The pallet of materials included black brick, off-shutter concrete and glass. Each building has its own unique take on how these materials have been incorporated.

33 Commerce Crescent

The only new build project in the development is 33 Commerce Crescent. “The building’s form is the same as surrounding architecture. The unique feature is the braille-like pattern brick façade,” explains Project Architect Kirsty Fick. The building consists of three levels; namely Lower Ground; accessible from Commerce Crescent, Upper Ground and a First Floor accessible from the top entrance along Bowling Avenue.

Project Architect Kirsty Fick

“Visible on Commerce Crescent and Bowling Avenue. The client wants each floor plate to subdivide into multiple tenancies. This was the driver behind the form, resulting in three levels with different entrances,” notes Fick.

As a new-build project, Paragon Architects was able to control and design for any structural challenges. A cantilevering brick box protrudes onto Commerce Crescent, consisting of a double-volume space overlooking Sandton. There is a strong contrast between the off-shutter concrete; black patterned brickwork and reflective glass bands. The black-brick façade protrudes bricks to create texture. The strong vertical forms of glass reflect the surroundings.

The entrance visible from Bowling Avenue has a double-volume atrium with a floating steel staircase; bespoke 5.5 m hanging planters and light pendants. The steel staircase looks like a single sheet of steel spanning over 8.4 m, creating a ribbon-like effect; with the stair effectively sailing above a garden below. Paragon Architects designed 1.6 m x 2 m steel mirrors exclusively for the ablutions.

The two steel staircases posed a particular design and cost challenges. “We ensure it is in the budget and keep to the design intent,” explains Fick. Workshops held with the engineers; subcontractor and Paragon Architects to achieve the desired result. The steel stairs support is by two 250 mm x 100 mm steel stringers that allow for the 8.4 m spans. The glass balustrade steel posts hang off the steel stringers.

39 Commerce Crescent

39 Commerce Crescent ties in with all the other buildings along the street; highlights Senior Project Architect Kim Newell. Using the same pallet of materials, its form breaks away from the rectilinear lines of its neighbours. The façade with angle forms that cantilever 1.2 m off the existing structure; separated from each other by reflective glass bands.

Senior Project Architect Kim Newell

Traditionally, brick façades are rectilinear. At 39 Commerce Crescent; the bricks set at 70° angles; to create the sloping forms that wrap around the building. To create the sloping walls; Paragon Architects alter the pattern that conventional face bricks laid. Each course offset from the one below.

Detail drawings of the brick façades determine the pattern change direction around a 90° corner. Cut bricks inserted into the pattern to ensure that it could be continued around corners; without interrupting the visual impact of the staggered pattern. The rough off-shutter concrete façades mimic the slope of the angled brickwork. Reflective glass punctuated the junctions between these two materials.

This project involved converting an existing three-storey commercial building into a four-storey showroom. The existing structure retained and strengthened as required. To add an additional floor; the foundations have to be stiff and the size increase to accommodate the additional loads.

Large openings in the existing floor slabs for new fire-escape stairs and service ducts; as well the atrium opening in the centre of the building. Carbon-fibre strips and steel I-beams installed on the underside of the existing slabs to strengthen them; reducing the need for additional columns. This allowed the floor plate to remain as open as possible, ideal for its showroom function.

Fancy Facades

The conventional industrial façades transform by sloping off-shutter concrete and black brick façades cantilevered off the existing structure to form the futuristic exterior. The façade forms punctuate reflective glass panels. Atrium brings light into the centre of the deep floor plate. The building is future-proof.

The internal atrium allows all floors access from a central common area; allows the building multiple tenants. A central staircase is in the atrium void to connect the four levels. A skylight above the staircase on the new floor level to allow light into the centre of the floor plate.

The sculptural stair is designed in Rhino; with the 3D form flattened to form panels that are laser cut to create the formwork cast in place for the stair. “This allowed us to create a complex form that would not have been possible with conventional formwork,” adds Newell. The building is let to a single tenant that wants to maximise the usable area. Early on in the project; the decision to convert the roof space into an open-air showroom, which enjoys a panoramic view out towards Sandton.

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