Positioned on Cape Town’s Foreshore at 35 Lower Long Street is the signature glass-planed office building developed by Abland Property Developers. The base building, designed by dhk Architects, had been awarded a 4-Star Green Star Office V1.1 Design certification, which solidified law firm ENS’s commitment to achieving a high rating for its interior fit-out. Closely aligned to the firm’s commitment to upholding environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles, the office fit-out was designed and constructed to achieve a 5-Star Green Star Interiors V1 certification. It secured the required 60 points, many awarded for the group’s drive to innovate and focus on staff wellness.
For ENS’s COO Lee Mendelsohn, “It is not enough to say you believe in those principles – you have to change how you do business to ensure ESG becomes a way of life. This is something that can happen only when each of us changes our approach to what we do, day to day, little by little, and across all aspects of our operations, which includes our Cape Town office interiors. It is the only way we will sustain our business – and in so doing, demonstrate how much we care for our clients, our people, and our planet.”
Health and wellness is integral to ENS’s vision for its staff and workspaces, and providing them with a “green” workplace and the tools to optimise it was important, continues Mendelsohn. “We developed a User’s Guide to ensure that our people and operations teams knew how to best use the building sustainably. Ongoing awareness campaigns – from simple things like switching off the lights to ensuring you focus only for 50 minutes and break for 10 – educates and encourages staff to play their part.”
The sustainability consultant was Annelide Sherratt, Solid Green’s Head of Department: Green Building Certifications (New Build and Interiors). Sherratt explains that, although the criteria for the base building 4-Star certification is quite different from the focus on materials in the Interior certification, many of the design attributes contribute and follow through, and points are acquired in the interior rating tool.
Client-staff meeting rooms were constructed with vertical aluminium fins to break up the volume of glass, increase privacy and create visual interest.
ENS’s fit-out spans the building’s upper ground level, floors 10 and 23, and five integrated office levels. Thinkspace was the interior design consultancy tasked with the project. Director Guido Tagge describes how, in constant close collaboration with his client, the design vision shifted away from a traditional office-bound concept to a reimagining of the space. Central to this were considerations such as post-Covid health and sustained wellness, confidentiality and security (imperative in a legal firm), the elevation of the staff’s experience and well-being, and underpinning it all, a union of functionality, design and sustainability.
A reduction of the fit-out’s environmental impact was a given. All the paint, adhesives, sealants and carpets procured had low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions; so too, usage of third-party eco-labels and certificates for furniture, assemblies and floor covering. The appliances and tenant equipment deployed are also energy efficient (rated under the Energy Star® system or the European Energy Labelling scheme).
Spread over different floors – comprising just over 7 750m2 – spatial planning and the flow between functions and floors is key. The street entrance on the ground floor is a general reception area for all tenants. An elevator provides direct access to level 10, which is populated with dedicated non-client-facing collaborative spaces for ENS staff. This works well for those working remotely and only needing a space to work from, or to utilise firm resources on occasion. It’s also a sanctuary-like space for office staff to work away from the busyness and buzz of an office level, or those who need a change of venue. The 23rd floor houses a client-facing front-office – along with a restaurant for everyone.
Five “staff-only” office floors are below that, each with an identical footprint comprising individual areas called “own spaces” and collaborative facilities.
Although there are separate floors and functions, a discernible design language and uniquely personal handwriting is carried through all the spaces. The bold land art by Strijdom van der Merwe and his sculptural stonework was a concept departure point for Tagge. Working with ENS’s brand team, a visual design link was created between them and the custom zen-like planters filled with indigenous plants. This organic sensibility is a thread that flows throughout. From a sustainability perspective, the plants not only contribute to better air quality, but are aesthetically pleasing, contributing to staff wellness and, ultimately, productivity. A horticultural maintenance contract using green supplies ensures the health and constant visual value of the greenery. The interior design team drew inspiration from these elements – the natural earthy imagery – and pulled it through the space in gentle ways, into the organic-shaped light fittings, wallpapers that speak to the zen garden, oversized photographs printed on panels, and graphics etched on glass.
Tagge took it further: “You’ll see repetition in a stylised way in different media, but there’s also adaptation from the ENS brand identity – there’s a natural flow of form that has its footing in their logo. This language starts at the reception desks – almost sculptural – [and it’s] a gentle, welcoming movement that directs the space. The materials are distinctly different on the client-facing 23rd floor, but that organic flow remains.”
Office floors 18 to 21 are exclusively for staff, designed with certain principles in mind. Unlike the offices of yesteryear, ENS’s reimagining began by moving away from a hierarchical layout. Every staff member who works in office – irrespective of title or position – has an identical, dedicated “own space”, specially designed for concentration, focus work and collaboration on virtual platforms. The term “own space” relates not only to privacy, but also to the individual’s customisation potential. Each is individually controllable from a lighting and HVAC/air conditioning perspective – this means that lighting is controlled via wall-mounted switches, enabling each occupant to control the lighting levels in their immediate environment.
Similarly, an occupant can determine their own temperature and air flow, and the air they breathe is filtered, directly to each one’s own space. The fit-out optimised indoor air quality – around 66% higher than required by building regulations (SANS 10400-O). From a health and comfort perspective, these mini offices are entirely independent of those adjacent. ENS took cognisance of the importance of health and wellness as a future-proofing element. Evaporative cooling towers or other evaporative cooling systems are eliminated from the design of the building.
“Importantly,” says Sherratt, “the fit-out focused on acoustics, and was awarded an innovation point for speech privacy. These quiet, sound-proofed spaces were fitted with specific sound-dampening features such as acoustic Class C ceilings, at least one acoustic wall panel, acoustic rated walls, and doors with acoustic frame and threshold seals, particularly to facilitate e-meetings.”
Points of view
Traditionally, offices are placed on the perimeter of an office level and a few have the privilege of having a view, symbolic of yesteryear’s hierarchical approach to space allocation. Not here. All ENS’s “own spaces” are in small clusters in the centre. Tagge explains: “We deliberately removed all offices away from the windows. We placed the communal and functional spaces there, so everybody is able to connect to the extensive views and share the “wow” spaces. So, from stepping out of the lift, corridors radiate from that central point to each individual “own space”, and from there, continue onwards towards the windows. The idea is that you’re always walking towards the natural light.”
There were also strong sustainability reasons for moving offices away from the impact of the perimeter. Climate is far more controllable when it’s unaffected by cold or heat from the glazed facade. Heat and cold transmission is more stable when that factor is removed.
A healthy mindset
The fit-out design focused on health in innovative ways. At the arrival point on each floor – and in three or four other positions – are dedicated hand-wash basins. They’re well-designed, inviting features, with greenery and partial privacy screens around them, so health remains front of mind. “They invite a shift of mindset,” says Tagge. “It’s not simply a sticker suggesting you wash your hands, nor do you need to go to the ablutions, or use a harsh alcoholic cleaner. They’re right there, elevating the concept of health as a priority.” The building and interiors also limit occupant water usage by using water-efficient fittings.
Movement “towards the light” – from “own spaces” to stand-up desks with views, or the different-sized meeting rooms – involves what Tagge describes as “interesting, not boring, straight corridors”. En route are the printer and photocopier stations, all of which meet the standards for low emission, so there are no additional indoor pollutants.
The intention of level 10 was twofold, and is solely for staff. It offers numerous formal and informal spaces – from meeting rooms and break-out areas, to dedicated quiet rooms and prayer rooms, a library and coffee stations. Importantly, it’s designed to facilitate interaction – debate and ideas – across different practices and disciplines within the firm. Staff need to intentionally move from their office level to this one – this is important for wellness as staff need to move from being sedentary at a computer screen to a different floor, different vistas and different interactions.
Level 23 has both the main, welcoming reception and forms the client interface along with a shared area for the people of ENS to enjoy each other’s company and views over Cape Town. There are meeting rooms of varying sizes, some separate, others less formal, and the 22nd floor below can be accessed via a feature staircase. The ENS visual language is evident here, too, with different materials and artworks. And there’s an exceptional restaurant and coffee bar, showcased within the environment to create a draw card for interaction. Tagge calls it a “show kitchen”: highly contemporary, where diners look directly into the workings of the kitchen.
However, if quiet is what they prefer, they can choose to sit in one of the various visually connected spaces that all form part of the shared experience of the restaurant. There’s a wide range of options in terms of functionality, and the space can cater for an internal staff function as readily as it can an international indaba. The rooms can be reconfigured to hold different numbers of people and different functions.
For staff in particular, the location of the building on Cape Town’s Foreshore has contributed to a significantly reduced reliance on private vehicles. The site is within walking distance of a range of amenities, and is close to the MyCiti bus stops and the Cape Town Station, connecting to various Metrorail stops.
The 4-Star Green Star Office V1.1 Design Certification at 35 on Lower Long Street was the beginning of the building’s sustainability journey. ENS has cemented its commitment to upholding ESG principles by securing a 5-Star Green Star Interiors V1 certification for its innovative and people-centric office fit-out.