Africa Innovation Centre : Inspiring African Innovation


General Electric’s Africa Innovation Centre near Rosebank, Johannesburg, taps into African artistry to activate creativity and enterprise development on the continent. The project is aiming for both a 5-Star Green Star SA Interior rating and the US-based Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Commercial Interiors Gold rating.

“The purpose of the building is to build collaboration between General Electric (GE), clients and stakeholders,” explains consultant Kathy Berman from Innovationspace. GE committed to incorporating a distinctive modern African flair into the centre, she adds, along with the latest sustainable features.

Local architects Paragon Interface took the lead on the refit. Paragon spokesperson Hugh Fraser explains GE’s priorities were to provide access to a healthy environment and to internalise this in the workplace, thus promoting an integrated and balanced health and wellness-driven work environment.

GE, as an American company, is eager not only to achieve a South African green building rating, but also aim for the US Green Building Council’s LEED for Commercial Interiors Gold rating – the second highest rating that can be achieved. The team feels the design process, the use of environmentally sound materials, innovative acoustics, flexibility, ergonomics, visual comfort, as well as management of waste, water and electricity will help them achieve the significant Gold rating.

Paragon worked closely with Berman as the Green Star/LEED consultant to guide the process and set out parameters for the desired ratings.



GE hunted for a specific, strategically located setting before settling on a new development that fitted their needs: the Green on Glenhove office park developed by Barrow Properties. The site is located alongside the Killarney Country Club golf course, minutes away from the Gautrain station and is easily accessible from the M1.

Paragon had to build on original architect ARC Architects’ design, but the development allowed for a generous retrofit.

“The goal was to create a mixed-use, flexible, functional, robust and sustainable environment highlighting the key principles of GE: industrial innovation and African collaboration,” Fraser explains.

The end result is a primarily east-facing three-storey glazed structure offering access and parking on its west side and bordering the golf course to the south. The 2454m² building includes functional spaces such as a publicly accessible ground floor with a health-focused work café and digital exhibition centre, and indoor and outdoor collaboration spaces.

Berman says that overall the multi-floor fit-out was designed to be a dynamic and versatile, multi-floor space, with mobile structural elements and furniture. The flexible environment fluidly facilitates collaboration, interaction and innovation for all users.

The restricted access first floor is devoted to permanent tenanting and incorporates agile workspaces and a fully equipped GE Africa Healthcare training centre. The top floor includes a flexible learning and development centre, collaboration rooms and multi-disciplinary laboratory.



The interior of the building boasts unique furniture by African designers curated for the centre’s modern tech hub feel. More than 300 pieces were commissioned or handmade by African artisans. Visitors to the centre are immediately drawn to a striking three-storey high mural by Peter Mabeo of Mabeo Furniture in Botswana, made from over 3000 pieces of indigenous and sustainably sourced wood applied piece by piece to the wall.

The building is a uniquely African, but global, contemporary corporate spatial design, says Fraser.



Fraser points out that it was critical to include contractor TSK Bartlett in working towards achieving the criteria of the sustainability ratings they were targeting. Using certified products, such as the adhesives and sealants, was a big part of this.

GE specifically targeted some elements in the socio-economic categories of the rating, including employment opportunity, skills development and training, empowerment, and health and safety. Specialised technicians from Europe came to South Africa to train local installation teams on the bespoke products, their installation, maintenance and functionality.

The building features many standard sustainability interventions such as occupancy-controlled lighting and efficient water usage. However, “the overall fit-out aims to achieve substantially more than the minimum levels set out by GBCSA and LEED for an interior rating,” Fraser adds.

The digital welcome screens at reception broadcast the latest energy, waste and water usage reports of the building. Ventilation is supplied by a VRV air conditioning system, incorporating high levels of fresh air, and heat recovery systems.

Paragon and Subsonic Designs Acoustic Consultants custom-designed the acoustic environment. The specially designed meeting rooms and teleconferencing facilities block out noise, while also separating the meetings from the open-space working area.

The centre is electric car friendly, with six dedicated parking bays offering charging facilities. Mabeo also designed bicycle racks for cyclists commuting to work.



Berman says 90% of the refurbishing was Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) compliant.

Through Paragon’s experience with the localisation process in the project it became clear the onus rests on the industry to leverage African creativity, he says. “It proved difficult to utilise and procure local products and skills that meet the legislation and performance requirements set in the Green Star and LEED accreditation requirements”.



Berman says the project resulted from a commitment GE made with state-owned freight logistics group Transnet to boost enterprise development in South Africa. The company has already supplied Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) with around 150 diesel-electric locomotives and is in the process of fulfilling an order for 233 diesel locomotives, incorporating 55% local content. As part of the deal, GE committed R500million to enterprise development in South Africa, and the centre stands as a beacon of that commitment.

The centre is also the home for the GE Healthcare showroom. The installed technology provides hands-on training for health professionals from all over Africa.

Berman says the centre aspires to support the development of small businesses capable of supplying the local market and potentially GE’s global supply chains. It will be the company’s innovation and technology transfer centre of excellence in Africa and serve as the basecamp
for the Londvolota Enterprise Development Trust, launched in 2015 to accelerate supplier development in South Africa.

By Yolandi Groenewald

The full article appears in Earthworks Magazine, Issue 34: oct/nov 2016, pp 64-72