Well-positioned and easily accessible, The Precinct site is located on the south-eastern corner of the M2 Motorway and Plaine des Papayes Road, near Grand Baie in the Pamplemousses District of the Republic of Mauritius. Retail amenities are 2km away and Port Louis a mere 20km.
The Precinct Unity building is part one of a larger three-part mixed-use complex to be developed in phases. Developed by African real estate development specialist and GR1T subsidiary, Gateway Real Estate Africa (GREA), The Precinct – ultimately to comprise a lettable area of 10 000 square metres, with parking for 500 – is anchored by London and Mauritius-listed GR1T Real Estate Investment Group, Dentons Law, the world’s largest law firm, and Workshop 17, the South African leading co-working space. This first phase, Unity, has a gross floor area of 9 811.02 square metres, and is due for completion in December 2022.
The Precinct – Phase 1 – incorporates many environmentally sustainable initiatives in line with the Green Star Office v1.1 certification tool of GBCSA, with further guidance taken from the 2017 Mauritian Local Context Report.
Adrie Fourie, Accredited Professional and sustainable building consultant for Solid Green Consulting, explains how the application for the five-star certification played out: “Initially, we were aiming for a 4-Star Green Star rating, but because this team, spread from Mauritius to South Africa, pulled out all the stops, we were able to accumulate other credits which led to the 5-Star Green Star Design rating in round two.”
Attaining a 5-Star Green Star rating from the GBCSA is an accolade – and philosophy – to which the developers and all role-players committed themselves to. GREA embarked on a journey to develop a property which considered its environmental impact hand in hand with the wellbeing of its tenants. The process began as a workshop with the building’s design team, the goal being to adjust the original design marginally to reduce demand for natural resources, minimise greenhouse gas emissions associated with operational energy consumption and improve the welfare of occupants. Fourie says, “For instance, we examined ways we could change certain elements of the design, and the structural engineer was able to identify fundamental design changes that used less material than if a typical design approach had been used.”
A project-specific Environmental Management Plan was developed and implemented to minimise the environmental impact associated with construction activities. The design team focused on the operational phase of the development, and by involving the facilities management team the project identified all maintenance-related challenges in the design to ensure effective changes were made where necessary to allow appropriate access. The Precinct will incorporate recycling waste storage space to facilitate recycling of resources used within the building to reduce waste going to disposal.
The Precinct Unity Building will ultimately benefit from a large central landscaped park, diverse recreation options, including a children’s playground and green settings to enhance the ecological value of the building. On the site’s perimeter will be extensive naturally shaded open parking to supplement the underground parking bays. The use of alternative modes of transportation to work is encouraged, so there are parking bays for mopeds, EV charging bays and bicycle racks are an integral part of the parking allocation (for both occupants and visitors).
From an architectural perspective, a few pillars drove design with the promotion of wellness as one of the forerunners. Forward-thinking companies are constantly seeking seamless, effective and comfortable ways to blend work and personal life, and, together with international architects, Elphick Proome, the developers focused on providing employees with exceptional social and wellness spaces. Formal and informal connectivity between occupants is a way of life at The Precinct.
Avish Bhinkah of GREA endorses that vision: “The building goes way beyond traditional design and construction principles. It offers a futureproof adaptability to ever-changing tenant needs.” He adds, “Its designed with that particular flexibility needed by today’s businesses, combining work, wellness and a social lifestyle in an array of contemporary and considered spaces, for a more holistic, efficient and enjoyable work life.”
From the outside in, and basement upwards, there are innumerable elements which contributed not only to the 5-Star Green Star rating but took it beyond. The goals became a philosophy which every team member embodied. Fourie pinpoints some of the more unusual elements within The Precinct Unity building: “The collaboration between the architect, façade engineer and Solid Green modelling simulations consultant allowed for a building façade solution that resulted in multiple green star points. The innovative clip-on façade can be removed in its entirety should the building need to be repurposed, so less demolition waste. The Unity enjoys street frontage with performance glazing which provides ample daylight for all building users and appropriate daylight glare control is achieved through perforated aluminium screens on the southwest and northeast elevations.
At the heart of the Precint Unity is an impressive, light and airy five-volume atrium, with two floor plates of varying size, depth and dimension set adjacent to it. Essentially, the atrium has vertical connectivity via an open feature staircase and lifts. The office spaces interface with this central space and feature projecting meeting pods, while lightweight bridges crossing the atrium provide space for informal meetings. The office floors themselves offer an array of space planning options and can accommodate both small businesses and large corporate tenants.
Wellness is a constant thread running through the project. A total of 68% of the office area has access to external views, so occupants have a visual connection to the outside environment. That not only provides a break from time spent in front of a computer, but fosters that all-important human-nature connection, health benefits of which are well-documented.
The building’s design incorporated natural light and ventilation – a mechanical ventilation system provides ample outside air (at a rate 33% better than what is required from SANS 10400-O:2011).
The development is designed to reduce the urban heat island effect to minimise the impacts on surrounding micro-climates, human- and wildlife habitats. Evaporative cooling towers or other evaporative cooling systems that creates the risk of legionella disease are eliminated from the design. Air-conditioning will be performed by a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system that comprises of several air-cooled indoor and outdoor units, connected by a refrigerant piping network. Louvered grills ventilate the basement naturally, an extraction system will be provided for the common toilet area with fans located at roof level. Smoking is prohibited inside the building.
Internally, towering green walls and provision for 10 plant units for every 25m2 of the building improves the indoor environment quality. There’s a cool, green feeling throughout the building.
The Precinct Unity’s landscaping is masterfully designed to contribute to environmental biodiversity, with intelligent irrigation control and moisture sensors saving water. In a three-step process, on-site black water treatment – where grease, odours and large waste is removed from wastewater before bacterial decomposition takes place – allows the chorine-disinfected effluent to be stored in a 32m3 irrigation tank. The treated wastewater and non-potable water will be used for irrigation.
The focus on wellness extends into leisure and exercise. Fourie explains the lengths they went to: “The stairs were positioned to be as visible as possible, so there is an instinctive choice over the lift. More movement, healthier occupants.” From a leisure perspective, there’s everything from coffee shops and chill rooms, right up to the sixth floor where the vast, glamorous Grand Baie Sky Bar, with its views right to the sea is available for events.
Water efficient fittings limit the occupant water usage to 0.55L/day/m2. An energy model of the building was generated and compared it to a notional building model. The building design showed an improvement of over 50% on the South African National Standards (SANS) 10400 notional building, complying with its commitment to minimise greenhouse gas emissions.
All selected gaseous and fire suppression systems and thermal insulants have an ozone depleting potential (ODP) of zero.
Gathering information is key to understanding and managing building systems and assessing opportunities for energy savings. Sub-metering of major energy and water consuming systems are all in place and connected to an effective monitoring system. Occupant awareness and behaviour is considered equally important, and there are visual displays on each floor detailing sustainability factors such as energy and water savings and indoor air quality factors such as air temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels.
The bathrooms and common areas are equipped with LED light fittings, operated by occupancy sensors. Parking area lighting makes use of LED luminaires and is equipped with motion sensors. Appropriate lighting zoning and efficient office lighting design with an average maintained illuminance level of no more than 400 Lux will also contribute to the savings. As an example of the detailed thought processes which went into all aspects of the project, Fourie mentioned that all external lights are facing downwards to minimise the effect on migratory birds, prevent disruption on biological rhythms and limit greenhouse gas emissions emitted merely to light the night sky.
Commitment by developers to sustainability goals is echoed by anchor tenant Grit Real Estate Income Group, which has set itself ambitious targets to be achieved by 2026, namely a 25% reduction in the carbon footprint across operations and a 25% increase in building efficiency by reducing water and electricity consumption across the Group.
Shevira Bissessor, COO of Gateway Real Estate Africa sums up: “The whole idea behind The Precinct, was to find innovative, supremely sustainable ways of combining work, wellbeing and a social lifestyle. We drove this Green Star rating from the top, and it’s something we are inordinately proud of. It is very important to us to have a positive impact on the environment and society, and we feel we have achieved both – from playing our role in climate change as part of the real estate sector to ensuring there was a societal compact and authentic job creation component to the project. And we are just completing Phase One – that vision will continue through the next two phases.”