The Liberty Two Degrees (L2D) offices in Nelson Mandela Square was just one of the ambitious green projects that architect Edmund Batley and his team at Batley Partners International (www.batleypartners.com) pulled off during the 2020-2021 Covid-19 lockdowns.
The firm takes on design projects that are of interest to them rather than specialising in a particular sector.
“We have tried to avoid being pocketed and bracketed by one particular typology or sector. We are fortunate to have enjoyed all the projects we embark on with a full array of design specialists on our staff and core management team,” say Batley.
He adds that the team has been together for close to 18 years and depends on each others’ skills to execute projects holistically.
“We like projects to dictate themselves, which often means making improvements and some massaging along the way. A visionary client allows for this kind of innovation,” he adds.
Green certification an important aspect for architects
Green certification was as important to Batley Partners as it is to L2D. All Liberty’s buildings are green-certificated. In the case of old buildings this is a particularly lengthy and demanding process.
The original offices in Nelson Mandela Square were built 17 to 18 years prior to this renovation. They had been empty for many years and the whole idea was for the company to modernise and revitalise one of their own assets, thereby setting an example.
“I thought they were dreaming when they showed me the space, because it was this long corridor with a big curved area at the end of it. I couldn’t think how we were going to make this work efficiently,” says Batleu.
“It was the opposite of an ideal square or rectangular space and instead resembled a tree trunk with branches. It became a ‘tree of life’ story that evolved as L2D continued to support the green design theme, which included providing sensory components, art, colour and texture”, he says.
Recycled toothpaste tubes create feature ceiling
The main walkways are wood parquet, with carpets in the work spaces. Instead of using timber slats for the ceilings or having simple white ceilings, one million Aquafresh toothpaste tubes were recycled to construct the slatted ‘rolling’ feature ceiling.
According to Batley, apart from its uniqueness, this feature was a lot cheaper than using wood.
“Indeed, it took a brave client to embrace these new materials”, he adds.
The space, which aims to stimulate all five senses, was given a 6 Star Green Star Interiors rating by the Green Building Council of South Africa.
“There is running water, there is art, and there is a lot of greenery, textured walls, colourful walls and special lighting to suit different moods,” Batley says. “We built what we call ‘Central Park’ in the middle of the offices, which became the screen between public and private areas,” he adds.
The client had a staff of about 50 people and their previous offices were 400m2 in size with four meeting rooms or collective areas.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, they wanted to reposition their offices so they would become a place for people to hang out and feel at home, since workers couldn’t be forced to return to office at the initial stages,” Batley explains. “So we have ended up with a 1 000m2 office with 16 different meeting rooms and collaboration spaces, including a café area.”
Local artists contributed to the space
Liberty Two Degrees invests significantly in art and was sensitive to the impact of Covid-19 on artists. For this project, Batley’s team identified artists who were not necessarily famous but either had existing work or could create work that reinforced the theme. They were invited to contribute creatively to the space and worked collaboratively with the design team.
There are no artificial plants in the offices. Behind the logo signage in the entrance, a mat of moss provides the backdrop and introduces the theme of the offices. The moss survives on moisture in the air with some purification from time to time, but needs no formal watering.
“We don’t like to have a preconceived idea of what our projects are going to look like when they are finished because we believe in an evolutionary process,” Batley says. “Of course, project managers and engineers need hard and fast information to execute projects, so we divide the concept into hardware to provide the backbone of the project and software, which is the process-oriented approach for things that can be adjusted and changed.”
“Obviously there are budgets and programmes and other factors that influence what can be done,” Batley concedes. “But at the end of the day the job is the boss, the design is the boss and the product is the boss – so that’s the philosophy we follow.”