Discovery’s Green Star rated head office in Sandton garnered much attention when it opened in 2018 and is making headlines again as its interior design and fit-out has just received its own 5-Star Green Star rating.

Words Melinda Hardisty

Healthy on the Inside
The Discovery building’s interior scores 5 Stars

When one health insurance provider decided to focus on keeping clients and staff healthy and fit before they were sick, they defined a completely new insurance model. Discovery endeavoured to further that vision by commissioning a building that aims to keep the people occupying it healthy. Their Sandton head office aspires to be both good for the planet and for the 8 500 staff who occupy it daily. The building has already claimed a 5-Star Green Star Design Rating, and a 6-Star Green Star As-Built Rating for the base build. In July, it added a 5-Star Green Star Interiors Rating to its accolades.

Healthy vision

The push for sustainability in this development came both from the developers (a partnership between Growthpoint and Zenprop) and the tenant, Discovery. The base build ratings relate to the overall building and are usually driven by the landlord. The interiors rating relates purely to the tenant’s fit-out, and is based on final as-built information, hence it follows base build accreditations. Yovka Raytcheva-Schaap, from Zutari, was the Lead Green Star Accredited Professional (AP) for the entire project. She explains that having the building include an integrated fit-out for a single tenant enabled the project to be viewed and designed as a whole and the base build rating to be leveraged for the interiors rating where applicable, making for a very streamlined process.

Left: Colour, texture, and patterns create movement and energy in the public reception concourse, while also defining spaces for different functions.

Top right: Clean lines, natural materials, outside views, and sunlight enhance the healthy feel of this restaurant area.

Bottom right: A smaller atrium creates a park-like space to relax or meander through.

Whereas the base build certifications look at the building in its wider environment, interiors ratings have a slightly different focus. Claire D’Adorante, director at Paragon Interface, the designers responsible for the 1 Discovery Place interiors, explains that the interiors rating hones in on the indoor environmental quality for the inhabitants, taking into account acoustics, ergonomics, materials, and greenery, among other things. The idea of creating a healthy office environment for people tied in very closely with the Discovery ethos.

Active streets

The building comprises three linked office volumes, set out around atria. The largest atrium, in the middle, forms the main building hub. The organic, sweeping curves of the building’s architecture informs the interiors as well. “The tenant’s willingness to explore quite a dramatic design afforded us tremendous opportunities to incorporate new design strategies to drive significant changes to their dynamic workplace culture,” says D’Adorante. Discovery’s brief for an “active” building fuelled the idea of a central concourse or “street” in the main atrium that became the centre for activity and movement. It includes seating areas, cafes, tree canopies, and even street lights. This streetscape is spanned by a 2 800m² glazed roof, flooding the interior with natural light. The adjacent atria are each designed to create different experiences of the space. The larger of the two is active and energising, while the smaller is more peaceful and calm.

Left: The building has been transformed into a mass Covid-19 vaccination site.

Right: Acoustic treatments in the form of specialist ceilings, screens, soft furnishings, and carpets help to create comfortable spaces within the large volumes.

“Apart from providing the highest indoor environment quality, the building is fully activated, promoting physical movement and healthy lifestyle,” adds Raytcheva-Schaap. An agile working environment allows staff to move through, and use spaces in different ways depending on their tasks. Occupants are encouraged to use the attractive, open stairways rather than the lifts or escalators, and there are multiple routes, both horizontally and vertically, to connect between different parts of the building, encouraging movement and engagement between people.

There are various healthy food outlets, shops, medical suites and other offerings available inside the building, while the roof, spanning all three office towers, houses a running track, yoga decks, a gym, mini sports courts, and pause areas to get some fresh air and enjoy the incredible view.

Couches, woodlands and rainbows

The Materials category contributes the highest number of points to an Interiors rating. “However,” adds Raytcheva-Schaap, “achieving points in this category is quite difficult as many local furniture and finishes manufacturers don’t have the third-party eco certificates required.” Since this development was to combine an existing workforce from five different buildings, there was already a lot of furniture in use, so Discovery opted to reuse as much as possible in the new space, which not only saved money, but also contributed significantly to the rating points. “To give an understanding of the order of magnitude of the undertaking, we had about 50 000 pieces of furniture installed, of which about 35 000 were re-used pieces,” says D-Adorante. “The perception is that it was a costly fit-out, but there was a lot of frugality where there needed to be, offset with new items in certain areas.”

Timber slats and plants bring nature indoors and create a human scale space in a large atrium volume.

The design incorporated an extensive amount of indoor planting. This adds to human well-being by creating a palpable connection to nature. It also adds colour, texture, and helps to soften the edges of the main atrium, both visually and acoustically. A planted trellis creates a backdrop to the main reception desk and incorporates the Discovery logo, forming a subtle but tangible link between the brand and wellness.

Occupant comfort is the main aspect considered for an interiors rating. Over-and-above the base building performance for air, thermal, and light quality, improved acoustic clearness is a large component of comfort, particularly in an office environment. Class A ceiling tiles, soft furnishings, and foliage were among the elements implemented to improve acoustic quality in spaces.

Spaces for different uses, and for different departments, are defined by brightly coloured finishes and furniture. The vibrant colours are borrowed from Discovery’s departmental colour branding and contribute to the visual energy throughout the building. The main corporate colours, blue and white, are used in the reception and public areas. The bright colour scheme is also used to define the directional signage, an essential part of navigating such a large building easily.

One of several café areas, bathed in natural light and with timber and planting creating a healthy and comfortable setting.

Rod Benard from Baseline Project Management, the company responsible for managing Discovery’s relocation and fit-out, as well as the procurement of their FF&E (Furniture, Fittings, and Equipment), adds that this created some complexities in the fit-out process.

Existing furniture needed to be refurbished, moved, and reinstalled without causing any disruption or down time for staff.

Local players on a global stage

1 Discovery Place won Paragon Interface the Office Design Award at the 2018 SBID (Society of British and International Interior Design) International Design Awards, arguably the most prestigious awards event in the global interior design calendar. Then, in 2020, they scooped up the Excellent Architecture – Interior Architecture category award at the German Design Awards. Locally, the project won the Interiors category at the 2019 SAPOA Awards.

The sheer scale of the project has attracted attention, but also the design sensitivity that has allowed for both public and intimate spaces to be created within an activated whole. Documenting each item of furniture and every finish, for construction and for the Green Star accreditation documentation, was a mammoth task for the team.

Pandemic pivot

Of course, what nobody could have predicted when the project was launching in 2013, or even when the building opened in 2018, was the upheaval and change that would be brought on by the Covid-19 global pandemic. Initially the building emptied out as the country locked down and businesses transitioned to remote working. But then 1 Discovery Place reinvented itself as one of the most visited vaccination centres in the country. The open plan, free-flowing, flexible spaces allowed for easy change in functionality. Raytcheva-Schaap explains that “the inherent sustainability characteristics of the building have played a role in this transformation. The large day-lit atria, supplied with large volumes of outdoor air, are suitable for setting up a vaccination workflow with limited waiting time and low exposure to risk.”

This forced, but highly successful, metamorphosis is testament to the future-proof nature of the building and its interior design.