Liberty Two Degrees (L2D) is an internally managed Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) with a large property portfolio that focuses primarily on precinct developments and operates largely in the retail sector. As a company, it has set high sustainability targets for itself, constantly focusing on how it can improve the performance and reduce the environmental impact of all the buildings in its portfolio.
In April 2021, the fit-out of L2D’s new head office, called the Liberty Two Degrees Innovation Hub, was completed. It comprised a little less than a thousand square metres of office space on the third floor of the West Office Block tower at Sandton’s Nelson Mandela Square. L2D already owns the precinct, which incorporates Sandton City Shopping Centre, Nelson Mandela Square, Atrium on 5th and Sandton Office Tower, which itself is 6-Star Green Star rated. In September 2022, the new office fit-out was 6-Star Green Star rated, using the Interiors V1 tool.
By 2018, when L2D was reconfigured and listed as a corporate REIT, the company was already formalising its environmental targets. The project’s main goal is to create spaces for people that are built using four main building blocks: GOOD, SMART, INTERACTIVE and SAFE Spaces. The Good, Smart and Interactive building blocks are underpinned by the SAFE Spaces building block, which ensures that its environments adhere to the highest standards of hygiene, care and security, says GBCSA Chair, Brian Unsted who is the asset management executive heading up GOOD Spaces.
Unsted explains, “The decision to pursue this rating for our offices stemmed from our sharp focus on the long-term sustainability of L2D, including the achievement of Existing Building Performance ratings (EBPs) across our entire portfolio and ambitious net-zero targets, while enhancing our distinctiveness and competitive edge.”
L2D’s project lead for this fit-out, Saadiyah Kahn says, “The project itself was supported on four main ‘pillars’ that are a combination of L2D’s strategic building blocks and are key business enablers.” The pillars of Good, Smart, Well and Design were identified and fleshed out through engagement with the project team and other stakeholders. They were defined as being answers to the new requirements for a future-fit office environment, particularly in a post-pandemic corporate world.
“I thought they were joking when they showed me the space because it was this long corridor (between the two internal atria of the Nelson Mandela Square mall), with a big semi-circular space at the end of it, opening out over the square itself,” proclaims Edmund Batley, design lead for the architects, Batley Partners International. “It has an amazing urban presence, but we couldn’t think how we were going to make it work efficiently. It was the opposite of an ideal square or rectangular space and instead resembled a tree and its trunk. It became a ‘tree of life’ story that evolved and L2D continues to support this green design theme.”
“The design is intended to stimulate all five senses,” continues Batley. “There is running water, art, a lot of greenery, textured walls, colour and special lighting to change moods as you experience the differing areas,” he says. “We have built a ‘central park’ in the middle of the offices that became the screen between public and private areas.
The “Good” pillar aligns with L2D’s GOOD spaces building block. The objective of this pillar is to transform an old, unappealing office space into something new and exciting that is more suitable to the changing work environment, while also being good for both the planet and the building occupants. Targets are set to minimise electricity and water use and efficient fittings were installed throughout while usage, consumption and peak demands can be monitored and assessed using smart meters linked to the building management system (BMS). Waste stream audits are done on all of L2D’s portfolio to minimise waste to landfill. In this case, office waste feeds into the existing Sandton City waste stream, a high percentage of which is either recycled or composted with very little going to landfill.
“Biophilic design is also utilised for the project, where real plants and natural daylight are incorporated to reduce stress, enhance mood and improve the creativity and productivity of the office occupants,” adds Kahn. Natural wood walkways divide carpeted desk areas. There is a “mat of moss” as a backdrop to the entrance logo signage. It survives on moisture from the air with a little air purification from time to time, but needs no actual watering, muses Batley.
The “Smart” pillar aligns with L2D’s SMART Spaces building block, which encompasses the company’s overall digital transformation strategy. As technology has developed, and as the working world has changed since the pandemic ushered in remote work and online collaboration as a normal part of the working world, there has been a steep rise in the technological demands of efficient office spaces. “The aim for the new office was to create a plug-and-play setting that is mostly wireless and allows for a combination of online and offline collaboration options for L2D people,” explains Kahn.
The “Well” pillar relates to L2D’s SAFE Spaces building block, which focuses on safety, health and hygiene.
Elri Syfert from Solid Green handled the Green Star submission for the project. She explains the importance of Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) to the health and wellbeing of people occupying the buildings. “One highlight of this project is the special attention to air quality within the office,” she says. “At least 95% of the nominated area is provided with fresh air at a rate of 10l/s/person, which is a 33% improvement over the SANS 10400-0:2011 requirements.”
Indoor air quality monitors assess temperature, humidity, VOCs, carbon monoxide, dust particles and nitrogen dioxide levels, quickly alerting to any abnormalities or spikes. Plant room CO2 levels are monitored and automatically corrected if necessary. A green cleaning policy was implemented that adheres to environmental best practices for interior cleaning. The policy will ensure that building users and maintenance personnel are not exposed to potentially dangerous chemical, biological or particle contaminants.
The “Design” pillar encompasses all the aesthetic design decisions, as well as where and how materials and finishes are sourced. Kahn adds, “Priority was given to locally sourced materials, both from a carbon footprint point of view and to encourage local social investment. But this pillar also focuses on L2D’s requirement to be ‘rooted’ in the South African context.” This allowed for the inclusion of bespoke artwork and colours, as well as some innovative materials.
“The most prominent and innovative design feature,” says Syfert, “is the use of 100 000 compressed, plastic toothpaste tubes recycled into a three-dimensional wave ceiling feature with integrated LED lighting to accentuate the forms.” Batley adds that the material was cheaper than using timber for a similar feature, but that it takes a brave client to embrace such new materials.
L2D invests significantly in art and is acutely aware how the pandemic had affected artists. Kahn says that the art consultants, Latitudes, curated a unique and bespoke collection of art that aligns to the key design themes. One piece, a colourful “beehive” screen, was made by women in the workshop of Bethany House, a non-profit organisation that shelters and rehabilitates women and children.
The spaces were designed to be fluid and versatile, and include ergonomic and comfortable work and collaboration spaces, as well as spaces for relaxation and meditation, further emphasising a focus on wellbeing and mental health. The spaces are flexible enough to be adapted or expanded as the business needs change over time.
Meyer Erlank of Trend Group who completed the fit-out for the project commends L2D for staying true to its green strategy, particularly in using existing furniture and fitting assets in its new office design. “We are proud to be part of such a prestigious project. The development is an example to the REIT community that it is possible to re-purpose to the highest environmental standards in a cost-effective way,” he adds.
The development includes the creation of a detailed user guide, spelling out how the spaces should be used to continue achieving the high standards envisaged. Soft elements have been thought about, right down to the purchasing of good quality, fair trade coffee for office consumption.
Kahn says they were pleased to see its staff immediately embracing the new, agile working environment and using it in the ways it was intended to be used. Future Vision continues to encourage boundaries to be pushed. The benchmark targets for improving the building’s performance include a Net Zero Waste Certification in 2023, a net-zero water target for 2025 and a net-zero carbon target by 2030.