The new head office for Cube Route Logistics is located within the Boundary Park Industrial Park. This pet food distribution company, offering logistics services countrywide and into southern Africa, is housed in an AAA grade office block with warehousing and e-Pet store facility.
The architecture of the office building was designed by award winning Architects Of Justice (AOJ) to impress onlookers travelling along the prominent Malibongwe Drive. Once at the facility, customers coming to the e-Pet store and retail shop engage with the very striking façade of this easily recognisable facility.
“This non-conventional façade is a rationalised version of what was initially proposed to the developer and the tenant,” explains AOJ’s Alessio Lacovig. What is visible in this ultramodern structure is an array of exposed concrete elements warping around the building, posed against colourful wall infill panels which are broken by glass curtain walls. “Our vision was to present a raw concrete exoskeleton, filled with a pristine envelope containing a modern, clean and sleek interior. The aim was for juxtapositions of raw and polished, dull and vibrant. These contrasts make for engaging, striking and memorable architecture.”
The dominant feature of the façade is the set of staggered, angled, off-shutter concrete columns. Lacovig notes that while the tilting of columns doesn’t change structural integrity, it does add interest. These columns are completely structural (unlike often seen decorative approaches), as they connect the bottom perimeter down-stand beams and the top up-stand beams with some further intersecting the first floor slab. The more conventional approach is to have a beam and column structure behind a glass facade, yet in this case the concrete structure was made part of aesthetic in a very honest approach, driven by purpose not only aesthetics.
“The tilt on the columns was kept the same, a 15 degrees angle, to ensure enough visual variation, without excessive complexity in formwork construction and casting,” notes Mike Rassmann from AOJ. Constructed predominantly with local labour, the multi-stage pours proved challenging but certainly contributed to much needed skills development in the construction sector. “The effect created an enormous amount of value add to the building’s visual quality, and the spatial quality and the aesthetic internally, without effecting too much the budget and the project timeline,” explains Lacovig. “We had to be realistic and inventive given the site limitations.”
Concrete was, from the outset, the architect’s material of choice to complement existing structures on this site and as a contrast to the aesthetic impact of the other buildings, which have respectively a black masonry façade and a glass and spider-fitting façade. The specifiers also saw the value in using concrete because of the available knowledge on site. “It is also a relatively conventional construction method, which meant the reduction and elimination of material variation, different trades on site, difficult junctions and potential errors. This resulted in a simplified use of materials that reduced the project complexity as well as the timeline and was a more appropriate fit to the client’s budget models,” note the architects.
Rassmann notes that the project presented an interesting scenario, as there are two companies that run internally – the logistics company for pet products and an e-Pet store. This new head office is the amalgamation of two Johannesburg operations, with the third still located in Durban. “We had to incorporate these two companies within the one building, and while they are essentially the same company, they needed to appear as separate due to product branding. Part of the solution was splitting the two by floor and aligning the corporate identity accordingly.”
AOJ were involved in both the architecture and interior design of the Cube Route project. “The advantage of having one company dealing with both, is that you have a better sense of understanding the conceptual design of the building, and can bring that thread right through into the interior which gives you a better product at the end of the day,” says Rassmann. The interior doesn’t disregard the exterior, and vice versa. “The way interior and exterior intersect is very conscious,” explains Lacovig. “We haven’t hidden the concrete structure within the building; you can see how the ceiling edges have been stepped back to expose the underside of the concrete slab and you see the concrete beams perforating the ceiling and glass façade to intersect the columns and support the floor slab, making the expression of the structure very visible from the office interior. The complete project measures approximately 12 000m2, comprising one level of basement parking, premium office space of 1100m2, as well as the warehouse and e-Pet store facility totalling 9600m2.
The warehouse portion of this logistics facility had to be well laid out to accommodate the multiple daily deliveries via a fleet of 30 trucks which travel to approximately 800 outlets in South Africa. An array of drive-in bays, a large covered side curtain loading area and dock-leveller loading bays offer a variety of vehicles the space required for an efficient operation. A pilot office was also designed for the warehouse to offer managers an almost 180 degree view of the yard activities. It also acts as a central access point for warehouse staff, thereby increasing safety and control, and includes change rooms and ablution facilities on the upper floor and administration on the ground level. “While translucent sheeting in warehouses is standard,” says Lacovig, “we created a natural light band at around 9m high to keep the translucent sheeting above the racking level. To allow even more natural light into the facility we introduced a monitor at the centre of the roof design and included a newly patented system, one of the first to be installed, featuring a translucent smoke vent which, unlike conventional solid louvres, will let light in and also flap completely open when smoke needs to be extracted.” This duality in solutions thinking is a prime example of what AOJ and good architecture is about.
From a sustainable point-of-view, general sustainable practices were followed, as in all of AOJ’s projects. LED lights, low energy air conditioning systems and materials which have longevity and low maintenance were specified. Correct orientation and the use of double glazing on the façade – coupled with correct proportioning of this façade – ensures a passive control of natural light entering the building, as well as the thermal temperature gains and losses, improving energy efficiency. In addition, the façade’s design assists in reducing the noise from the busy road alongside the office. “We kept the size of the west façade small, thereby limiting exposure to the harsh afternoon sun and have a smaller ratio of glass to solid walls,” states Lacovig. “We specified performance glazing to effectively reduces the heat coefficient and give occupants more comfort. Furthermore, as an alternative to ambient control, and as a manual override, the windows can be opened so the space can still be ventilated naturally if needs be.”
Roughly 50-60 people will be employed in the main office space, and the architects note that the business almost has the feel of a large family business. “Very early on in the process we were informed that the old office had a tiny kitchen space, but that was where all the office staff interacted. In this new office, we ensured that the staff have enough space to gather, work in a café-style area and even cook meals together. Cube Route’s head office is a busy yet relaxed environment where people are encouraged to bring their pets to work, so it really was a project where we could explore the boundaries of the modern workspace,” says Lacovig.
This emphasis on aesthetic appeal – coupled with a human-centric design approach – has resulted in a unique, eye-catching building which deviates from the norm of a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to head office design.