South Africa : The Fairland Office Development - Far from ordinary...

The newest addition to the skyline of the West Rand of Johannesburg is the long awaited office development that houses WesBank and FNB HomeLoans.

On a hillside and highly visible from the N1 highway, the Fairland office development represents a fundamental shift in the stereotypical image associated with banks.

The design concept was composed by Continuum Architects and was underpinned by a six part story. The exterior evokes the earthy colours of Africa through green glazing and earthy exterior paint finishes. Vertical sunscreens adorned with potato prints are a prominent feature along the eight facades of the building in grey, green, yellow and red.

The development comprises a three-storey structure with canted concrete columns, supporting corner pod office units and sweeping elliptical features. The pods at the outer corners of each building are placed at a 6 degree pitch with triple volume glazing carefully fitted between the columns.

The building can accommodate over 5,000 people. A shared facility with a footprint of 3,000 m² is situated between the two office buildings. It houses a clinic, facilities management offices, security offices, canteen, two kitchens with the capacity to produce 2,000 lunches each day, training facilities and a 600-seater multi-function conference centre.

The entire building is perched on top of two super basements that can accommodate 1,600 cars, with an additional 1,250 on-surface bays. The two-level basement contains vast storage facilities, a gymnasium, computer and electrical rooms and back-of-house facilities for the kitchens and pause areas. The third basement level accommodates the centralised and shared HVAC room.

A winning team

A 55% black economic empowerment (BEE) component was required and the client took a decision to put the architectural component to competition. Four major architectural firms including Continuum Architects, were briefed on the project and given two weeks to come up with an architectural concept.

Continuum Architects was formed for the project and is made up of the expertise of CNN Architects, Fairbairn Architecture, MDS Architecture and MMA Architects.

"The composition of the consortium was carefully considered to meet the targets of black economic empowerment (BEE) and women-owned equity, as well as to bring together design and technical expertise, coupled with specific experience within office environment design," says Kim Fairbairn of Continuum Architects. A diverse group of staff members from all four practices, including architects and technicians, was seconded to Continuum Architects for the project and a joint office was established.

The opportunity to design the building was awarded to Continuum Architects in November 2006.

The design concept

The design is unique in that it embraces African concepts and culture within the context of today's economic infrastructure.

The winning presentation was divided into six chapters, each of which used a symbol to explain the nature and the thinking behind certain elements of the building. The first addressed the macro economic environment and the metamorphosis of the financial services industry. The second chapter was all about the site, the analysis of the site and the location of the site in the city of Johannesburg. The next chapter in the presentation was about place-making in Africa and was symbolised by a path in the veld.

The fourth chapter focused on the building as a body of water and was structured around the notion of an aggregation of fish and how they work together as a group in this body of water. Chapter five determined the external architectural expression of the building. The interface of land and water was explored and various elements came to play a role in the composition. The final chapter was symbolised by an image of the Nymphaea lily, one of two indigenous lilies to South Africa.

The sheer scale and presence of the office building entices one to explore it more closely. The first impression, which is one of earthy colours and organic shapes, gives way to large open volumes for a dramatic experience in the entrance foyers, which open up into various atria.

"Although there were some minor refinements along the way, the design at presentation stage was executed in its entirety," explains Kim Fairbairn of Continuum Architects.

Exterior architectural expression

The silhouette is fragmented and the presentation to the major roads and the adjacent Fairland neighbourhood is both bold and courteous to its surroundings. The image of the building as a symbol of a watering hole and oasis along a pathway in Africa has resulted in interesting and sometimes unexpected architectural details and a building that is unique in more ways than one.

Twenty one fire escape staircases take on the abstracted appearance of bulbous Baobabs. These break the continuous rhythms of the vertical sunscreens adorned with potato prints to give the appearance, at a distance, of the reeds adjacent to the water. Each of the facades contain coloured sunscreens finished in grey, green, yellow and red representing winter, spring, summer and autumn.

The colours of the rendered weatherproof facades represent the colours of the earthy tones of Africa and were all found on site in the soils and geology. The colour selected for the glazing represents the rich greens found in fertile watering holes.

"The rich natural environment around the 'watering hole' will be complimented with a diverse and vast landscape, part of which is a storm water attenuation pond that is already attracting Egrets and other birdlife," says Fairbairn.


Despite its enormous scale, the building is experienced as a warm, personal and intimate space. White sound, up lighters and high quality carpets characterise the basic shell of the offices, which are penetrated by filtered natural light via the multitude of atria located throughout. No workstation is further than 15m from such a light source and almost every workstation benefits from a view to the outside world from their seat.

The interiors of the shared facilities building were designed by Continuum Architects. "It has double volumes, in which one can imagine that you are one of the fish in the aggregation, part of the water body and part of the repository of the wealth of the organisations," explains Fairbairn.

This was brought to life through the use of steel columns placed randomly to evoke reeds growing from the floor bed, with abstracted reeds offset against the aqueous coloured walls. Visible through the imaginary meniscus, the ceiling is patterned in the form of floating lily pads. The light fittings represent rising bubbles and together with both natural light and strategic artificial lighting, the mood gives you the impression that you are submerged.

Environmental commitment and sustainability

The site was a previously a wasteland that had been used as an illegal dump and on which squatters had settled at various points in its history. It was rehabilitated, with great care taken in the landscaping design to include indigenous plants and an environmentally-friendly irrigation system.

Energy Consumption has been dealt with on both 'passive' and 'active' levels. These measures have contributed to a saving of 1 MVA in demand, or almost 20%, a figure in line with estimates at the outset of the project. Double glazed windows are used throughout, along with insulated walls and roofs and exoskeletal sunscreens to prevent direct incoming solar radiation.

Solar water heaters are used for all the hot water requirements of the office ablutions. Electronic dimmable control gear has been fitted to all the lights, which are able to detect movement and turn themselves off if there is no personnel movement in the building.

The wholly indigenous landscaping is irrigated partly by the collection of condensate generated by the HVAC plant daily. This, combined with the borehole supply, accounts for 90% of the site's irrigation requirements, reducing dependency on municipal water supply.

Blasted rock from the excavation process has been incorporated as an aesthetic feature and to prevent erosion.

The building is uniquely barrier free. Physically, visually and aurally challenged staff members are very comfortable in the building. "A water bowl has also been provided for Kerry, the first Labrador guide dog in the building to have received her own access card!" says Fairbairn.

Outreach programme

The art of children between the ages of 7 and 12 adorn over one hectare of sunscreens on the eight facades of the building.

The definition of the word "knowledge" was discussed with the children in the programme and they were asked to explain their understanding of that word. Once completed, each child turned their sentence into a sketch. Potato prints were made of these sketches, which were then printed onto different colour papers and laminated onto the sunscreens fixed to the exterior of the building.

Partnership approach

The Fairland office development took two years to build and was finished on time and within budget. Partial completion was achieved six to eight weeks before practical completion to ensure that all commissioning items and defects were dealt with effectively prior to practical completion. The partnership approach between the contractor and the professional team was exemplary on this project.

The Fairland office development is unique in the South African office development landscape and is set to be held up as a new standard for unique, functional, environmentally responsible and aesthetically pleasing buildings.



Established in 1995, CNN Architects has developed into a practice with a firm reputation in terms of its design and technical output. By having won both architectural awards as well as competitions, the practice is known for its creativity and innovation. CNN is Durban-based; is black women-led and places significant emphasis on capacity building and socio-economic development. CNN offers to its clients: local knowledge; a progressive, proactive and innovative attitude; as well as the dynamism of a South African practice.


Fairbairn Architecture is a practice driven by the pursuit of a belief that our built surroundings directly influence the quality of our lives. In addition to a keen sense of innovation, practical responses and within commercial parameters Fairbairn Architecture offers architecture … with a story behind it. For more information visit


MDS Architecture is an award-winning practice that has designed buildings to attract the business, the people and the activity that lead to a sustained performance. With a proud reputation spanning more than 50 years, the practice is renowned for its skill in the sectors of hospitality and leisure, retail developments, offices, residential buildings and interiors. For more information on MDS Architecture, visit

MMA ARCHITECTS MMA Architects strives towards finding new architectural expressions through the use of space, light, colour form and materials which are more reflective of our unique South African heritage. In our work we believe that Architecture has a role in the transformation of our country and the upliftment of marginalized communities.

We also believe that architectural expression should remain free of limitations of "style" and should seek conceptual clarity through a sound theoretical approach; this is predicted on the appropriate use of local materials and technologies. For more information on MMA Architects visit


ARCHITECT Continuum Architects, a joint venture between CNN Architects, Fairbairn Architecture, MDS Architecture and MMA Architects DEVELOPER Eris Property Group PROPERTY OWNER Joburg Property Company PROJECT MANAGERS FS Joint Venture: Focus Project Managers and SIP Project Managers PRINCIPAL CONTRACTOR Joint Venture: Grinaker LTA and WBHO QUANTITY SURVEYORS Pentad Mapeni Quantity Surveyors MECHANICAL ENGINEERS Spoormaker / DTM ELECTRICAL ENGINEERS Mpumelelo Engineers ROADS & iNFRASTRUCTURE Arup / PDNA STRUCTURAL & CIVIL ENGINEERS Africon / Iliso SPACE PLANNERS WESBANK BNS SPACE PLANNERS FNB HOMELOANS Blue Zebra / Baloyi KITCHEN DESIGN KDH Catering Design RATIONAL FIRE DESIGN AND WET SERVICES Africon TOWN PLANNERS Maluleke Luthuli & Associates TRAFFIC ENGINEERS Arup INTERIOR DESIGNERS WESBANK DSGN INTERIOR DESIGNERS HOMELOANS Switch Design Group LANDSCAPING Green Inc. LAND SURVEYORS Trevor Harpham ACOUSTIC ENGINEERS Pro Acoustic Consortium MAIN CONTRACTOR: ROADS Bryan Westcott (Pty) Ltd ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANT SES