Nedbank’s dynamic head office in Windhoek is the very first building in Namibia to achieve the green heights of a 6-Star Green Star New Building rating

Words Anne Schauffer IMAGES CreativeLAB

STARSTRUCK: Nedbank Namibia’s first 6-star new building rating

Freedom Plaza, Independence Ave, Windhoek, Namibia
Green Star rating:
6-Star Green Star – New Office As Built v1.1 rating
Type of building:
Commercial offices
Project dates:
June 2017 (land acquisition) – November 2021 (completion)
Project size:
9 082m2 (total commercial office area)

In the heart of the Windhoek CBD, integrated into the greater Freedom Plaza development, Nedbank’s iconic new head office has resculpted the city’s skyline. More than simply good looks, this landmark building received a 6-Star Green Star rating – New Office As Built v1.1 – from the Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA). This is the first and only one in the Nedbank group, and the first Namibian building to receive this accolade for a new building. Nedbank’s commitment to environmental sustainability has long been an integral part of its vision, and the bank consistently applies those principles wherever it has a footprint.

This time, it was Namibia’s turn: “Importantly,” says Nedbank Namibia’s managing director Martha Murorua, “this new head office is a symbol of our commitment to supporting the local economy and creating job opportunities for Namibians.” The GBCSA 6-Star Green Star certification is reserved for highly efficient buildings that also address social issues and contribute to the community: “With 97% of the contract value allocated to Namibian companies, this new head office showcases the collective positive impact we can have on empowering and supporting local capacity development,” says Murorua.

An integrated approach

Appointed independent project manager, Pewer Fourie of Emcon Consulting Group, assisted the client with the appointment of the professional team: “A key requirement was green building experience or accredited staff,” he says. “Construction in Namibia is an established industry, but the design and construction of green buildings are relatively new to the market.” Only two other buildings in Namibia have received the Green Star New Build accreditation. For Nedbank’s building, as part of the innovation points achieved, the entire professional team, and key representatives from the critical specialist subcontractors, completed the GBCSA New Buildings online course. This elevated understanding, knowledge and capabilities around sustainability within the Namibian market. Sustainability consultant Janus van der Merwe of Windhoek Consulting Engineers (WCE), described their goal as educating as many Namibians as possible about the benefits of sustainable building design and construction: “Nedbank took the first step in the right direction, and future developers would be smart to follow suit.”

Nedbank’s brief: an iconic landmark, a 5-Star Green Star rating, and a place that would attract and retain talent.

“Given that all Nedbank’s new buildings are certified, it was natural that the Namibian one would strive for that,” says sustainability consultant Elri Syfert of Solid Green. To best manage and attain the green certification, it was deemed expedient for a joint venture to be formed between WCE, a multidisciplinary consulting firm in Windhoek, and Solid Green, sustainability specialists from Johannesburg. Together they submitted a proposal to Nedbank, and were appointed as the team’s sustainability consultant. Syfert explained the division of labour: “Solid Green would be responsible for the project’s modelling, and WCE would be the Namibian representative and the project accredited professionals. The great thing about this project was that we were all involved from the concept phase, so the modelling was able to guide the design. When you get a team on board from the outset, it becomes an integrated design process.”

The Nedbank Head Office Campus in Windhoek, a visually striking 16-storey building located at Freedom Plaza on Independence Avenue, is characterised by strong contemporary geometries.

Emcon’s Fourie outlined Nedbank’s brief: an iconic landmark, a 5-Star Green Star rating, and a place that would attract and retain talent. Nedbank had several buildings spread across the capital, which increasingly presented logistical and operational challenges. The new building in the CBD would resolve these challenges, and be aligned to Nedbank’s ever-vigilant green vision.

Rowan McNamara of Kerry McNamara Architects was the appointed architect. Everything began with the site choice: “The site identified in Freedom Square had an adjoining one. By adding that land, we’d be able to reduce the amount of parking needed on the single Nedbank site, and better accommodate the bank’s operating space requirements – we could split subterranean parking over the two buildings. It would also reduce the overall volume of earthworks as well as the concrete required. Nedbank purchased the land, and we created a super-basement below the two properties. So, essentially, Nedbank and a commercial property share a ground platform or basement.” The sites’ position in the CBD came with specific urban design guidelines for the extent of each building: “We had a set of parameters guiding the team in terms of envelope, height, coverage and certain basic colonnade and set-back elements.”

The result? A 16-storey project with five levels of parking below ground, and 11 levels of commercial and utility above ground.

The graphic design of the solar facade took its inspiration from the angular Nedbank logo.

For McNamara, “When it came to the building design – with a commitment to achieve a Green Star rating – our existing relationship with Solid Green enabled us to constantly use them as a sounding board. In a nutshell, the contextual envelope with which we were working was that the site and building were within the centre of the CBD, faced north, had very good orientation and had great opportunities for views – and the building could be taller than its neighbours.”

Light, louvres and leisure space

One of Nedbank’s requirements was that there be an exploration of the concept of solar control on the facade’s external portion. Clearly, Namibia has sun in abundance: “Simultaneously, from a user-comfort and green perspective, we wanted to reduce the heat and glare on the exterior,” says McNamara.

Together with Solid Green, we modelled our concept of employing louvres on the building, which gave us a major advantage – it reduced the heat load, maintained natural light and ensured access to good views. We were one of the few able to investigate and do the sun modelling right from the beginning, which was very useful in working to achieve what we wanted. We used this opportunity – one we seldom get – to create a very, very interesting facade, coupled with the benefits of it being a solar one.”

The graphic external louvres act as both dynamic facade elements and passive shading devices.

Graphically, the facade’s inspiration stems from the Nedbank logo. “It works back to the graphic nature of the particular angles used on the N. In terms of design, we were able to marry their corporate identity and the graphic with the solar panels, while still dealing with the all-important solar control.”

In essence, these graphic external louvres act as dynamic facade elements and passive shading devices to limit glazing and heat loads. They’ve contributed significantly to the contemporary icon that is the Nedbank building.

The facade is one exceptional design feature, but there are two others inside the building, which not only stand out, but also feed strongly into the sustainability goals: the atrium and the sky garden.

The full-volume atrium runs through the building’s centre, and achieves two objectives: “It brings natural light into the back of the floor plates, and facilitates an easy visual and practical flow within the building between the various departments,” says McNamara. Bridges invited easy and constant interaction between staff.

Given that a key driver was to offer greater occupancy comfort alongside more efficient building performance, it was imperative the design incorporated spaces and elements that mitigated against the culture shock of staff moving from their previous individual offices to the new way of working – open plan.

A range of mindful breakaway spaces for staff are significant elements on every floor.

The sky garden: energy modelling allowed the design team to achieve excellent views for the building occupants while maintaining thermal comfort and energy efficiency.

Bringing the outdoors in

An outside breakout space was initially targeted for the roof – as most are – but in Namibia, the heat is such that roof gardens are inevitably covered soon thereafter… and the space isn’t well used. “We flipped that around. We wanted to bring it closer to the centre of the building, but still have good views. We dropped the sky garden further down the building,” says McNamara. The top of the building was then used for solar, and the sky garden lowered to be more accessible to everybody. It’s a multipurpose space – an entire half of a floor was used – so it’s an auditorium, café or canteen, and extremely well used. From the exterior, two floors down, it’s visible by its large windows with 270-degree views. Inside, vast plant boxes accentuate the sense of outdoors. Fourie says, “To achieve this feat, we removed three columns on the seventh floor. WCE’s structural engineer Herman van der Merwe overcame the challenge by introducing three large beams on the roof and hanging the eighth and ninth floors from them.”

The ground floor accommodates Nedbank’s public entrance and client interface, client services, walk-in centre and a coffee shop. The various office levels are set out between the active ground floor and the sky garden. A range of mindful breakaway spaces for staff are significant elements on every floor, including ‘five-minute’ spaces, where staff can make a private call or even pray.

Energy, water-saving and sustainability solutions

Superb external views and natural light decreased reliance on artificial illumination during daytime hours, but the responsibility for achieving all the energy-efficient designs rested with Emcom’s mechanical and electrical engineers. Emission reductions of 90% were achieved through passive design measures, efficient design measures (lighting, ventilation, hot water, lifts) and the PV system, which reduces the peak electrical demand by 30%. Construction, too, played a significant role: Portland cement was reduced by 47% by replacing it with an industrial waste product, fly ash – the steel reinforcement has a post-consumer recycled content of 92%. Inside the building, numerous sustainability features were integrated to reduce electrical consumption: 100% LED light fittings were installed, and motion-detection-enabled lights only switch on when spaces are occupied. Performance glass is fitted in specific areas to reduce energy usage and improve staff comfort.

Potable water use is reduced by the grey- and rainwater harvested for irrigation and flushing, and water-efficient fittings limit occupant water usage. The HVAC system increases fresh air supply, an improvement of 33% above standard building regulations.

The introduction of an advanced building management system (BMS) is part of Nedbank’s vision to share information around sustainability in the workplace. The BMS system is responsible for the monitoring and reporting of energy and water consumption – this not only informs, but also educates. Nedbank’s commitment to sustainability includes education, as well as promoting heathier lifestyle choices for employees – facilitating the choice of a staircase over a lift or escalator, and the provision of convenient amenities for cyclists, such as lockers and showers. An exciting innovation credit implemented within the development is the Sun Cycles Innovation, a small shop with basement storage. The idea is to use Sun Cycle e-bikes for short business trips in the CBD – including Nedbank and neighbouring FNB and the Hilton – as well as tourist rentals and city tours. The project’s initiative is the first that aims to actively advocate green building and sustainable mobility.

For Martha Murorua, this iconic Nedbank building is not only an inspiring environment for employees and clients, but also a significant feather in Namibia’s cap for the manner in which it showcases the quality of Namibian workmanship: “Our hope is that it will inspire other businesses in Namibia to adopt more sustainable practices.”