Inside the tallest green building in Africa

Cape Town - Capetonians and visitors to the World Design Capital 2014 would have noticed the recent addition of a striking "crystalline" skyscraper to the city's skyline - the home of FirstRand Bank's new 5-Star Green Star SA rated regional office in the Cape Town CBD.


Fin24's Matthew le Cordeur shares his experience in a slide show tour of the building.

Portside is in a prime location in the emerging financial district on the Foreshore, at the corner of Buitengracht, Hans Strijdom Avenue, Mechau and Bree Streets and straddles a city block.

At 139 metres high, it's the tallest building in Cape Town offering over 57 000m² of AAA office space and 1 444 parking bays. The building has 34 floors including basement and podium parking.

Portside is a joint venture between FirstRand Bank [JSE:FSR] and Old Mutual [JSE:OML] and is the provincial headquarters of the various divisions of FirstRand, namely FNB, RMB and WesBank, as well as its asset management arm Ashburton.


R1.6bn total investment

FirstRand's investment amounted to R800m, with a total of R1.6bn invested between the two parties. The section owned by Old Mutual has a retail and office component that will be leased, while a mix of cafes and restaurants occupy the ground floor of the building along with a new FNB branch.

Portside accommodates 1 100 FirstRand staff, with space for 1 500 providing for future growth, and capacity in the building for 3 000 people in total. As part of Cape Town's Urban Development Zone, FirstRand intends playing its role in revitalising the local street life with plans to host various activities that will benefit the Cape Town community and also showcase what the city has to offer.

Stephan Claassen, FNB Provincial Head for the Western Cape, describes it as a "building for the people of Cape Town" and says Portside is an extension of their continued commitment to investing in the development of the city and region.

Culture comes to Portside

With talk of lunchtime concerts, hosting art exhibitions, cycling workshops and other events they hope to engage the public, for instance, holding art expo open days to coincide with Cape Town's First Thursdays.

And cleaning the immense glass facade presents further challenges but also an excellent training ground for "window cleaners".

There were 44 professional firms involved in the Portside project and 3 000 jobs were created along with 1 500 indirect jobs.

The architectural brief was to create a landmark green star-rated skyscraper for two corporate institutions, with a commitment to sustainable and responsible development. The tower building for the two sectional title owners has a rentable area of 54 000m², approximately 27 000m² GLA for each, plus 3 000m² of space for retail and a bank branch.

Where is Portside?

Google Maps shows the plot before the skyscraper was built.

First high-rise 5-Star Green Star building in Africa

Two plazas on different street fronts with separate lobby, lifts and reception areas ensure a distinct street address for both FirstRand and Old Mutual. The plazas create a public realm integrating with the landscaping that wraps around the building. Existing trees were protected during the construction process and incorporated, including the Ficus trees on Hans Strijdom Avenue.

Portside is the first high-rise 5-Star Green Star building in Africa and follows best practice in terms of sustainability, visual impact, public space, green building principles and climatic control, easy access, security and social responsibility.

Staff are encouraged to cycle to work, with 227 bicycle spaces and a clear cycle route as well as change rooms with showers and lockers, some with bicycle battery chargers.

Community bicycle racks are also available for the public to use on the pavement at street level. As a "building of the future" there are 70 parking spaces for hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles and 70 motorcycle bays, as well as 16 bays with electric car chargers and 26 more wired for future use.

Other green features include double glazed windows for light and reduction in heat load, grey water recycling, motion sensors for lights and air conditioning, and one main energy centre at podium level with a second at roof level.

Portside is clad as a fully glazed "curtain facade" and the architects have ensured that the 360 degree views of the city have been maximised, while maintaining a comfortable working environment through the efficient integration of the facade with the HVAC and lighting systems.

Concrete TV interviewed the key players during the construction of the building.


'Timeless 21st century building'

Derick Henstra from dhk architects describes Portside as a "timeless 21st century building - a modern classic".  He says the City of Cape Town is set within an extraordinary landscape and Portside was designed to become a landmark while being considerate to its immediate surroundings.

"It engages with the public realm at a human scale and provides a superior working environment for its occupants,” says Henstra.

To say it is a truly "spectacular" building is not an understatement and for those who work there, it must surely lift their spirits every day as they take in the wraparound views, which are some of the best the Mother City has to offer.

The internal aesthetics include a touch of international design principles and a balance between professional and innovative finishes.

Harmonious environment

The clean lines, natural-look textures and wood tones contrasted with the steel and glass of the structure, and punctuated by bright and cheerful colours woven seamlessly into the decor themes, creates an overall harmonious environment.

Each internal area seemingly has its own "personality" but is still functional and comfortable. There's plenty of space, and while workstations are compact and together, employees can escape to one of the "decompression rooms" which are positioned on the corners of the building maximising the views. 

The chill-out areas have coffee machines, comfy chairs and tables, and each is a little different from the other with bold colours in the decor introducing a vibrant, modern look and feel. The floor-to-ceiling "glass curtains" let in natural light and interact with the vibrant cityscape and surroundings.

Scrum areas, "work cafes" and a wellness centre add to the mix and employees can join the gym, which has all the latest and best equipment plus plenty of space, enjoying the views while working out.

The wine room

There's a wine room that offers a relaxed space to entertain clients, "after hours" of course.

Next to the wine room is a pool room with beanbags and comfy sofas plus various board games laid out on the coffee table. The staff canteen could almost be mistaken for a trendy coffee shop and leads out onto a massive open-air balcony, which will provide a gathering spot on those perfect summer days when the wind is at bay.

FirstRand has consolidated 22 office buildings in the Cape Metropolis into two main buildings, Portside in the CBD and Willowbridge in Tygervalley.

Claassen says this is "FNB's renaissance" with buildings in Menlyn, Johannesburg, Randburg, Port Elizabeth, Tygervalley, Durban Umhlanga which will be ready in December this year, as well as Gaborone and Windhoek. All are 4-Star green rated by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). The Bank is also enabling Bloemfontein and Stellenbosch through lease agreements.

Tax advantage

He says there is a significant tax advantage to owning a building like Portside versus renting and also a distinct benefit for shareholders.

The bulk of the construction and fit-out of the building was finished in May this year and the various brands within FirstRand started moving into their offices in June.

* Julia Hinton is the editor of Property24.

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