For the project, Firmenich partnered with Tétris Design & Build which was tasked with delivering a holistic design-and-build solution that considered the entire eco-system of the workspace. The goal was to breathe new life into Firmenich’s dated Midrand office, in collaboration with Firmenich’s Global Workplace Solution’s division, whose focus is to provide employees with a great workplace experience every single day.
Ashley Sams, facilities manager for sub–Saharan Africa, joined Firmenich at the concept stage of the project. The interior was to be completely stripped of its cellular offices making way for an open-plan layout, aligning with an entirely different way of working. Sams explains, “Firmenich had changed its strategic direction to ‘smarter working’ – largely prompted by the pandemic – encompassing the fact that people can work from home. This meshed perfectly with the new open-plan workspace being created, one where nobody takes ownership of a desk.”
Sams not only brought extensive experience with green star ratings, but a deep passion for sustainability: “The pandemic arrived shortly after the project began, and – without implying any positive sides to Covid – that hiatus provided breathing space to relook at the project with a view to getting the project accredited. It was such a golden opportunity.” Sams was convinced that, with sustainability as one of the Group’s core values, Firmenich could achieve a 6-Star Green Star rating.
With Tétris firmly behind the sustainability quest, Firmenich partnered with Solid Green, professional green building consulting services in South Africa. Sustainability consultant, Cebisa Mafukuzela, stepped on board: “From there, the project just went from strength to strength,” says Sams. “It didn’t necessitate massive changes to design or even direction. In fact, the only physical extension to the original building, was a double-volume atrium with large double doors leading out to the garden and a staff canteen for eating, meeting and connecting.”
Tétris, working with Studio Fanucchi Architecture, created this haven of natural light, an appealing visual statement for visitors entering through reception and for people moving through the space on the stairway connecting the two floors. An unplanned-for bonus was, that when the time came, the atrium provided an additional roof surface for further photovoltaic (PV) panels.
For Tétris’ project manager, Ryan O’Donovan, the project’s additional focus married perfectly with their ethos: “Tétris does design based on sustainable and best practice – we have an internal tool called The Sustainability Code. We want our teams to be sustainably minded, every day – every decision made must be about, “Can I improve the sustainability of the project?” It’s an active methodology of encouraging people to push that on every level – so, not just the wallpaper, but the glue, the substrate…”
From a colour and design perspective, Firmenich has a global playbook – brand guidelines. “In engaging with Tétris, our job was not only to upgrade the interior of the facility but to anchor it in a regional context from an African perspective,” says Sams.
They began with the molecule. Firmenich’s work involves combining molecules to create unique smells and tastes, so the design team used its hexagonal shape as the framework for its design language and combined it with the structured geometry of traditional African Shweshwe fabric patterns. The brand guidelines are interpreted in bold wallpapers in pre-set colours and imagery relevant to the different divisions. From planters to carpet tile designs, all reflect the design language, resulting in an international look and feel that’s combined with local culture.
Acoustics were a consideration, particularly in the hard surfaces of the laboratories. Soft furnishings and aural best practice dry walling and ceiling systems offset the harsh audibles; in the office spaces, boldly patterned carpets and upholstered informal meeting booths both look appealing and absorb sound.
Internally, lush greenery features strongly, none so much as the large African map outline – in essence, a living moss wall – which also localises the brand attractively.
From the outset, it was a delicate journey, because of the nature of Firmenich, and the stringent requirements for its laboratories. O’Donovan says, “Our team worked closely with the client to understand the lab requirements, which are designed to analyse, create and produce samples. Air quality is core to Firmenich achieving a healthy workspace environment. Positive and negative air flows are engineered to ensure that odours remain inside laboratories and don’t extend beyond these areas.” Firmenich installed a fresh air reticulation system to distribute fresh air throughout the space, and CO2 monitors continually measure air quality, constantly displayed for all employees to take note of.
Tétris carried out an extensive analysis of the light, and it deems the result as one of the key successes. The team created an entirely new floor plan whereby almost everybody in the building is within seven metres of natural light. The standard office plate was turned upside-down or rather, inside-out. Where office-based staff would traditionally be on the outer perimeter of the building with garden views and laboratory staff in the middle floorplate in fluorescent-lit labs with storerooms downstairs, Tétris broke this mould. All storage facilities not requiring daylight were moved to the inside of the floorplate – the large flavour and fragrance libraries, as well as evaluation and sensory rooms where taste and scent profiles are tested over time. All the working and engagement facilities were pushed to the exterior. From a wellbeing perspective, staff look up from workstations straight out the large windows to the landscaped gardens, with increased natural light, which assists with focusing, concentration and mood enhancement.
Interior spaces are shaded through external awnings, which decreases the need for excessive air conditioning and shields staff from glare. Areas are accessed through sealed, no-touch, double doors activated by access cards to ensure each space is thermally controlled.
For lighting, motion-activated LED lights are found throughout the building, achieving greater energy efficiency, requiring less maintenance and enhanced product lifespan.
Potable water – and ongoing access to it – is vital for the functioning of the laboratories, so it was imperative in a water-stressed country, that there is ample on-site water storage and availability. Tétris was tasked with providing solutions for harvesting rainwater, storing water, sourcing underground water and ensuring efficient water use. The result: rainwater is harvested from the roof and parking area, stored in a 100 000l underground concrete water storage tank, thus reducing reliance on municipal water supply by 75%. Thereafter, this rainwater is pumped to an above-ground 5 000l tank, providing potable water to the building through a reverse osmosis treatment plant. In addition, a borehole was sunk to access natural underground water. The quality of its water production is regularly tested and measured, thereby ensuring the supply of compliant potable water for employees.
“It was a journey of evolution,” says Sams: “As we progressed, we included various sustainable aspects. We questioned ourselves constantly, ‘Why this when we could do that?’” Hence, all toilets are Propelair, 84% less water use in comparison to conventional toilets; no-touch timed sensor taps with blended water at a pre-defined set point are used throughout – more hygienic, with a water saving of 60% over conventional alternatives.
Water wastage was curbed by the installation of a circular heat pump so that hot water is immediately available when taps are opened.
Tétris oversaw the installation of the PV system, a 110 kilowatts peak (kWp) system including battery storage. That power is supplied to the building ensuring continuous power even during outages, with a satisfying 75% reduction in municipal power usage in comparison to historic consumption. Non-critical air conditioners are on timers to reduce unnecessary use of power.
Sams adds, “We also installed an electric vehicle charging station. Currently nobody has an electric car, but if anybody had been toying with the idea of getting one, free charging here could be persuasive.
“Things often happened which guided the direction in which we all wanted to go,” he says. From a staff member wanting us to collect plastic bottle caps to support an owl rescue organisation, it progressed to installing a bat box and two owl houses. Once occupied, they’d become natural pest predators, potentially allowing us to water down our existing pest control treatment strategy.” This action too, became a catalyst for rethinking the gardens: “There wasn’t an extensive breakaway space, so we added two external decks and on the landscaping side, chose to regenerate 20% of the landscaping back to its original state. We swapped the kikuyu grass for Egoli Granite Grassland and, weaving through it, created a journey of smells that links back to Firmenich as a fragrance house. It’ll have certain scented plants – all labelled – and we’ll also measure the biodiversity impact over a five-year period, so there will be some useful data there. It’ll also be interesting to see what the area looked like before human inhabitants.”
For recycling, individual desk bins were removed and central recycling stations established. “Initially,” says Sams, “there was a little resistance, but soon everybody realised the benefit in terms of movement, etc. Importantly too, the consciousness of recycling becomes entrenched.” That consciousness is considered significant, and at regular intervals throughout the building, smart meters communicate internally around indoor air quality, power and water usage levels, all to create a culture of awareness.
“Firmenich wasn’t only focused on the green certification,” says Mafukuzela. “The firm is committed to sustainability. For example, it has obligated officially to only using certified green products for its interior. We repurposed the Existing Building Performance tool for Firmenich.”
In the office, adjustable Haworth chairs, 100% recyclable with up to 24% of recycled material, were supplied for all employees, and the monitors are on adjustable arms for optimal comfort.
Achieving the GBCSA 6-Star Green Star, which is a World Leadership rating, was a team effort. “To stick within the original budget, to achieve this and have happy employees and colleagues enjoying a vibrant workplace experience, that was the main success of the project. But none of this is possible if you don’t have a company which supports the vision and journey. Firmenich did.” For Sams, “I envisage a site that has zero impact on the environment it operates in and maybe, even looking past that, moving from zero to positive. That’s where my vision is now, so we’re not only targeting the net-zero rating across all four categories but net positive. That’s the journey ahead.”