The Sandton skyline is forever shaped by the remarkable Alice Lane buildings designed by Paragon Architects. We spoke to the team behind this ambitious project as the last of the six buildings nears completion, about the technology that’s enabled them to push design boundaries.
By the time Bowman Gilfillan moves in as the anchor tenant in the brand new 18-floor office building currently being constructed on the corner of Alice Lane and Fifth Street in Sandton’s commercial centre, architects Paragon would have designed all six of the buildings on this Sandton block.
The new building is not only an office block, however. It is set to include showrooms, retail elements as well as concept stores on the ground floor that will be accessible from the piazza, a tranquil space nestled between the three buildings that complete the final phase of this design.
“Working on phases one, two and three offered us an opportunity to explore the
interstitial quality of the three buildings and challenge the notion that Sandton’s pavements are alienating,” says Anthony Orelowitz, one of the founding partners of Paragon Architects.
“This wasn’t the intention from the outset, so we were privileged to take on an entire city block that allowed us to extend our contribution from architecture through to urban planning and design.”
Other tenants on the block include Norton Rose Fulbright attorneys in the iconic 15 Alice Lane towers, Marsh insurance consultants, Sanlam and Santam,
Absa Capital as well as Virgin Active with their premium facility in the Marsh building.
The 15 Alice Lane Annex has been one of the most talked about landmarks, for its dramatic exterior aluminium casing with an organic tree pattern.
Orelowitz says the rapidly changing landscape of architectural software allowed the practice to explore design opportunities over a period of a decade. There are traceable threads that continue throughout the precinct, but each building has a subtle change of evolutionary design.
“Parametric modelling, which was first realised in buildings by Zaha Hadid, amongst others, has now reached a level where ‘funny shapes’ are no longer entertaining. Paragon uses Revit, and to some extent Rhino, to model and then develop our buildings. The firm seeks to exploit to the maximum the boundaries
that can be explored in this software to create appealing and efficiently designed buildings that are comfortable and responsible to occupy.”
It is the final phase of the Alice Lane development, the butterfly-shaped plan of the Bowman Gilfillan building that will represent the very latest in design technology that Paragon has used in its work. Working with generated site line analyses and sun studies, the conceptual design was specifically created to allow sunlight into the public space, essentially using sunlight to chisel form.
“From the outset, Paragon was aware of the requirement of cellular office space,” says Orelowitz. To ensure that all offices were exposed to natural light, two wings were generated so that external offices and internal offices were equally exposed, essentially ensuring that every office is a perimeter office.
This building is much higher than the first two phases and whilst a common design language binds the three buildings, the construction materials define their individuality. Whilst unitised aluminium panels are the dominant material in the Marsh building, in the Bowman Gilfillan building it is glass.
“The glazing reflects the latest glass technology in terms of light and dark and also day and night experiences – creating a striking visual effect,” says Orelowitz.
“By making use of Autodesk Revit we have been able to not only design the shell of the building, but completely visualise the finished effect, ensuring that the building is not only functional and environmentally friendly, but also aesthetically stunning.”
The entire Alice Lane precinct is aimed at achieving a Four Star Green Star rating.
The epic Alice Lane design project began in 2008, with the Marsh building acknowledged as the Best Commercial Building for 2014 by SAPOA.
Important in the creation of this urban jigsaw puzzle was to constantly bear in mind how these buildings would work together and how those working in the precinct would experience the environment.
“We are grateful for the opportunities offered by our clients to explore architectural form and to contribute to an improved placemaking in Sandton,”
With this and many of its other buildings, Paragon has demonstrated a vision for a dramatic contribution to the South African skyline: We asked Henning Rasmuss, fellow founding partner of Paragon, about the practice’s approach to design:
“We aim to be known for being innovative and exceptionally engaged in delivering value and quality in the way we conduct business,” he said.“We want to be known for pushing boundaries, creating surprise, and finding opportunity in every project. To be known for creating elegant and responsible architecture for a resource-limited future. To be the strongest link in excellent teams.”
“On the technology front, we continue to up-skill around Revit and Rhino and learning to model using surface modelling (NURBS). We are excited by the opportunities offered in technology with 3D printing, so in the future we may expand from architectural design into general design. We may design elements that are used in our buildings. We are in a transition between crafting and exploiting technology. We continue to offer our client the best value engineered buildings possible and for our staff a stimulating and encouraging workplace.”