First Capital Bank is celebrating its 10th year in business with a first for Zambia

Words Marlinée Fouché IMAGES Paul Munnik Architects

Changing the face of green design in Zambia

Project nutshell

Location: Lusaka, Zambia
Green Star rating: 5-Star Green Star – Office Design v1.1
Type of building: Office
Project dates: Certified November 2022
Project size: 3 820m2 total gross floor area

A new building is rising in Lusaka, and it’s not the usual type of glitzy office block one usually finds here. It’s a relatively small building with two wings, each consisting of three floors and a shared lower-ground parking level. Regardless of size, its influence has already been exerted and may transform the face of green building design in Zambia.

First Capital Bank’s FCB new-fangled head office is the first in the country to receive a Green Star rating from GBCSA. According to Patience Mutale, chief transformation officer, it flows from the company’s desire to make a difference in the environment by influencing the future of construction.

The initial plan wasn’t the construction of a green-rated building, but when the new CEO, Edward Marks, stepped in a couple of years back, things changed. “As we evolved over the past 10 years more information around being environmentally friendly started coming through,” says Mutale. “With the new management, he believed we can also play a role in this space and contribute to improving the environment that we operate in.”
The rest is history.

The original design was drawn up by Paul Munnik, from Paul Munnik Architects in Botswana, and it was also he who made the necessary adjustments. “What we have tried to do is build a cost-effective, simple building with good passive design principles. In Lusaka, the tendency is to go for flash – buildings that have an impact, that are striking, and have features like full-glass façades. Features that, I believe, are not particularly environmentally friendly and are just there for the sake of image, rather than dealing with practical elements.”

Kagiso Sebetso from Time Projects, describes Munnik’s continued involvement as invaluable. “We worked with him for decades in Botswana as well, and he has always aimed for a green design. If some of his buildings were to get rated, they would come close, because sustainability is always at the core of his design. It’s a great advantage because we didn’t have to start from scratch.”

Munnik wanted to maintain the same look and feel to the building, as the one he designed for FCB in Botswana. “We generally try to work and design towards a green star accreditation in any event, so we really didn’t have to make too many changes to our original design,” Munnik says. “My primary concern is the passive energy aspect of a design, so orientation, treatment of façades on various orientations, looking very carefully at west façades and how to deal with them – eliminate heat gain while maintaining natural light quality.”

One of the biggest adjustments to the design was the addition of solar panels to reach a 5-Star Green Star rating. “There wasn’t an initial requirement for photovoltaic (PV) panels, so the roof design was changed to accommodate the panels at a sensible orientation, without affecting the look and feel of the building.” The initial double-pitched roof was changed to a mono-pitched one to house the 92kWp PV system with an estimated annual production of 156MWh.

Along with this, the fresh air system had to be upgraded to accommodate an increased occupancy. The design attempts to strengthen the occupants’ relationship with the outdoors, by allowing them to open windows rather than switching on the aircon. “It’s about creating a moderated environment that is comfortable for everybody. It’s about balancing temperatures and creating a comfortable environment, that people can individually adjust and modulate.” For this reason, Munnik chose not to design a completely controlled environment, he designed one where the use of natural ventilation is encouraged.
Air quality is further enhanced using low VOC materials across the board. To bring down the energy consumption of the building, lighting zoning is applied to both open-plan and individual offices, and the lighting density is lower than typical levels.

You get the sense that this is a building where you would really feel welcome.

The new head office for First Capital Bank is the first in Zambia to have a 5-Star Green Star rating with GBCSA.

To maximise daylight and minimise heat gain, a series of vertical and horizontal elements were designed to create shading on the glass-glazed façades.

The building is conveniently situated on the edge of the city, near commercial amenities and residential buildings, and is being constructed on a site previously used as a parking lot. Along with this, the trees on the parameter of the site could be preserved. “The majority of those trees are well cultivated, and although the building is still under construction, it gives the building a presence of establishment and also offer shading” says Munnik. In the end, the landscape amounts to less than one percent of the site, meaning less water will be used for irrigation.

Non-potable water will also be used for landscaping purposes, and inside flow rates are managed with water efficient fittings. To supplement municipal water, rainwater will be harvested and treated.

Sebetso says the contractors, designer and the clients have committed to a building tuning contract, which includes regular inspections of the respective services and to provide consistent reports to monitor the efficiency of the respective services. Munnik echoes this sentiment, “I am there at least once a month, and the council is very involved. More so than I have experienced in Botswana and South Africa, which I think is very positive. There’s an education process there as well.”

Everyone is talking about the use of fly ash. (Fly ash is a byproduct of coal-fired electric generating plants.) “I don’t think anybody has used fly ash in concrete in Zambia ever before,” Munnik shares. “They thought we had rocks in our head when we said we wanted concrete mixed with as much fly ash in it as we can possibly get!” Firsts like this are challenging, but FCB believes it helps to usher in change through the value chain, says Mutale. “Today, somebody did not know about fly ash, the next day somebody will see it as a new economic opportunity, and then it starts to expand.”

Awareness and curiosity among their new neighbours is growing, holding them accountable for their actions.

A lot of care is taken during the construction phase to ensure that the bulk earth work or whatever earth is excavated, is either re-used on the construction or at another site. The target is to divert at least 70% of the waste from landfill, and according to Sebetso, they get regular proof: “Every month or so we get pictures of what the guys are actually doing with the material or with the waste and how they are re-using it.” The design also provides facilities where clients can store waste from recycling.

“I think when people experience the building, or just the site itself – the way that we have designed the access and the way it links to the surrounding street networks, invites people to the building, and will invite people to ask questions about it as well,” says Sebetso.

A lot of care was taken during the construction phase to ensure that the bulk earth work was re-used on the site.

Mutale also pays frequent visits to the site. “You get the sense that this is a building where you would really feel welcome. This feels like a place where the light is going to be enough.” The goal is to maximise daylight, while providing glare control. According to Sebetso, modelling was done to optimise daylight and where not too much energy is needed to cool the space from heat gains that come from daylight. This includes occupant-controlled daylight glare, and a series of vertical and horizontal elements to create shading on the glass-glazed façades. “This particular site is really well orientated,” says Munnik, “which makes it a lot easier to manage the heat gain and natural lights, and to deal with the passive shading aspect of the façades.”

Access to the building, and how it links with the street networks surrounding it, invites people in to the building.

A lot of thought also went into the parking space. “I know that Africa is taking a little bit longer to catch up on hybrid vehicles, but we tried to design the parking space in a way that makes people think about it for the future,” says Sebetso. The final building will have dedicated, convenient parking bays for hybrid vehicles and for those who carpool to work. A cyclist facility and showers also form part of the design, and Sebetos believes this too can usher in change. “When you walk around in Lusaka, a lot of people are walking, so I think they’re open to other means of getting to work apart from driving. Their traffic is insane, often causing public transport to be unreliable.”

We are trailblazers, and it is something to be proud of.

The rating includes three innovation points for financial transparency towards the GBCSA, the fact that this is the first 5-Star Green Star rated building in Zambia – and the training of the entire project team.

Mutale mentions that awareness and curiosity among their new neighbours is growing, holding them accountable for their actions now and after construction. For this to happen, the end users cannot go back to their conventional ways, and that is why a user guide has been created. “It’s a PDF document that’s not too technical,” Sebetso says, “so that anybody from any industry can understand it. It’s in basic language, and provides simple diagrams that people can understand, even if they don’t have a building or engineering background.”

After construction, preferential parking will be given to electric and hybrid vehicles as well as those using carpools to get to work.

It is expected that construction will be completed in the middle of the year, after which further ratings may be pursued and FCB’s employees are ready to go all the way. “We are trailblazers,” adds Mutale, “and it is something to be proud of. It’s really to begin to derive the benefits of what this certification means to us as a business, and also for the community.”