ADO Architects


Billiton Corporate Head Office | Witbank




Client : BHP Billiton
Project name : Billiton corporate office park, Witbank
Project value : R40 million
Professional Team : Project Architect: Thetaplan / Design Architect: ADO Architects
Project Management Team : Thetaplan
Main Contractor : Tri-Star Construction
Structural Engineers : C-plan engineers
Implementation period : 2005

Design Report

BHP Billiton selected a site on the eastern outskirts of Witbank for their new corporate office. Additional space and a worker friendly environment was required for their staff in Witbank.

The site that was selected is part of a larger office park that has recently been developed off the President off-ramp adjacent to the N4 highway. The site is directly adjacent to the N4 and is highly visible to the traffic driving on the highway. From the site there are beautiful unimpeded views.

The new building has been designed on the upper end of the site and the parking has been placed on the lower end of the site. As a result of this placement the building presents itself very well to the on-coming traffic. The beautiful view that the site offers has been maintained and placement of the building has been such that the shade netting of the parking does not impede the view.

The footprint of the building was based on a curved spine as an axis of circulation. Three blocks with a predominantly north south orientation radiate off the spine. The block closest to the main entrance is a multifunctional space while the next two blocks provide office space. Analogies of the footprint of the building can be made to a persons hand or a leaf from a plant.

The main spine as an axis of circulation in turn is the element that generated the building in its third dimension. The spine was developed as a large high wall which as a form is clearly legible from the outside and provides the hierarchy for all the other building forms. The three blocks that are attached to the western side of this wall each punch through the wall and as a result there are three identical cubes on the other side of the wall. While the large wall is heavy and symbolically strong, the attached office blocks are sculptured to be a lot lighter and have floating mono pitch roofs. The three cubes on the eastern side of the wall are sized so that they are clearly secondary elements attached to the dominant wall.

The curved spine as an axis of circulation can be described as an internal "street". All the internal spaces lead off this internal "street". The spaces resulting from cubes on the eastern side of this internal "street" are used as common meeting rooms or offices for senior management. These spaces are separated from the internal circulation route with glass shop fronts. This is in keeping with the company philosophy of transparency and promotion of communication. Access to the three blocks on the western side also takes place from the central spine of circulation. These spaces are accessed via additional lobbies.

The first block closest to the entrance foyer is a multifunctional space which can be used for conferencing, workshops etc. The facility has terraces that open up to the outside and there is direct access to the garden. The next two blocks provide office space. The space provided is relatively deep and the majority of space used is for open space planning. These deep spaces can accommodate many different space planning layouts. The structural columns on the ground floor have been kept to a minimum, on the first floor it was possible to omit the internal columns since the roof trusses span over the outer walls. This assists in keeping the space flexible to accommodate layout changes that may occur in the future.

The spaces that occur at the wedges between the office block units are common spaces. Canteen type furniture is placed here; staff can meet here and take a break from their work. Along the internal circulation route these spaces can be described as the public facilities on the internal "street".

BHP Billiton is an international company which owns many corporate buildings in the world. The modernist idiom is evident in their portfolio of buildings. Care was taken to ensure that the building becomes a sensible addition to their international portfolio of buildings. At the same time the architects took a lot of care to ensure that the building related to its environment and that the architecture had a local character. The honesty of the forms reflected these modernist principles. The choice and mixed use of materials such as natural rock, face brick, earthy colours, coloured plasters in combinations with large windows and high tech steel shading features together produce an architecture that captures the many layers present in South Africa. The aesthetic of the building is also influenced by the climate in the area which is predominantly hot and requires a lot of sun control. The resulting large roof overhangs and extensive shading elements are a response to the intense sun. The face brick used is locally manufactured in close proximity to Witbank. The brick is a red brick with a darker fleck which provides the walls with a vibrancy that is often not present in face brick walls.

While the external colours of the building consisted of an earthy palette used in combination with greys the internal colour palette introduced additional colours. The majority of walls were a light cream with soft lime greens and oranges used on accent walls. Textured fibre glass wall papers were used in combination with coloured plasters on the wall. The western wall of the central axis of circulation is finished in deep red ochre so as to enhance the main direction of orientation in the building. The floor tiles have a natural feel to them; they are slip resistant and are used internally as well as externally with the intention of getting the interior to relate to the exterior. Carpets are a calm grey green and provide the ideal backdrop for the office furniture finished in maple separated with soft grey dividers.

The roofs over the offices are covered in sheet metal. To reduce the heat load a sandwich construction was installed below the roof sheet. This was in accordance with the design as prepare by the acoustic engineer. The insulation installed is an over purlin solution consisting of fibre boards with a soft insulation above the boards. This design insured that the roof provided the necessary heat insulation and at the same time provided acoustic insulation from external noise. This is especially of importance in the event of rain and hail which can interrupt communication and work in the office spaces.

Laminated glass was specified for all the windows to reduce the noise generated by the traffic from the highway. The windows in close proximity to the highway were specified with a noise reducing laminate. On the northern side of the office blocks large horizontal egg crate shading elements were installed. The windows on the southern side are not true south and are orientated slightly to the west. These windows are a lot smaller, vertical shading elements adjacent to these windows provide the necessary sun control from the west and at the same time are architectural features. On the eastern side of the building the three cubes have vertical shading elements that are made up of large metal aerofoil/louver members. Windows facing directly west received vertical sun control elements.

The landscaping of the site consists of indigenous plants. The landscaping graphic is simple and yet very strong. In the open spaces a combination of wild olive trees and grasses were planted. In contrast aloes in crusher rock beds were planted in close proximity to the building.

Since the building has not been built in an urban context and due to the attractive setting a user friendly building could be designed which has generous spaces that relate well to the external environment. The different aspects of the building have been designed to enhance the working environment, improve productivity and contribute to a happy staff contingent.

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