8 Merchant Place
Known affectionately by its creators and users as 8MP, this brand-new build is the latest addition in an almost 30-year history of intervention on the Merchant Place site, situated at the corner of the very well-known Rivonia Road and Fredman Drive in Sandton, Johannesburg.
Boogertman + Partners changed the Sandton skyline at the end of the 1990s when 1 Merchant Place, an 18-storey tower, was completed. Needless to say, they have been engaged since then with Rand Merchant Bank and Eris Property group as the campus has grown and expanded over the subsequent years.
Enter 8 Merchant Place…
The new building is a relatively modest architectural insertion size wise, but will be experientially significant in the day-to-day activities of staff and visitors. At its core it is a building that ensures that the surrounding campus is utilised to its maximum efficiency by pulling non-core functions out of these and rearranging them into one space. The new structure houses a staff wellness centre, a restaurant and core retail facilities on the ground floor. There is a staff gym on the first-floor and a staff creche on the second floor and an open entertainment and exercise level on the roof of the building.
This complex brief is “poured” into the piazza that sits between the RMB buildings and the neighbouring Investec head office. The building expresses itself as a series of undulating horizontal planes that hover over the piazza space, with clear glazing between to ensure maximum light penetration into the new spaces. A distinctively reactive architectural language has been developed that sinuously fills the space while using the existing structural grid from the parking basement below. The new structure purposefully contrasts the architecture that is there, its curvaceous shape opening new spatial opportunities between itself and the existing built form.
The brief from the client to Boogertman + Partners was to consolidate the various “employee value proposition” (EVP) offerings that RMB had into one integrated building. This was primarily driven tp start with by a desire to increase the gym size, which was at the time situated in the 9 Fredman Drive building, and to also introduce a RMB creche for use by staff.
Initially, the proposal was to place these elements on the empty land at 87 Bute Lane, which is owned by RMB and used for parking at the moment. However, as the team looked at issues around ease of access and parking, it became clear that this new building needed to be fully integrated into the heart of the existing campus to maximise its impact.
As Boogertman + Partners began looking at the placement of the new building on the piazza site, they realized that there was a bigger opportunity to also accommodate the existing Wellness Centre, which would have a synergy with the gym, as well as a new consolidated entertainment venue that could be used by departments in the bank for internal and client events.
On ground floor, the building splits into two portions, one half housing the bulk of the retail and restaurant, the other the wellness centre. The space between these two portions become a covered outside eating area for the restaurant and allows access through into the campus from the Investec building, thus tying the two corporates together. Entry to the floors above is through one access-controlled lobby to the lifts and stair cores.
On the first floor, and part of second floor, the gym is located. On the lower level the free weights area occupies a large open volume with views on all sides and connects to the changerooms and ablutions. On the upper level are studios that open onto an external deck.
The second floor houses the new creche. This facility opens onto a secure open-air playground that is only accessible directly from the creche. Babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers will all be accommodated, the space has its own small kitchen and laundry area.
The third floor accommodates an outdoor entertainment area that is supported by an events kitchen, allowing functions of various sizes. There is also an outdoor running track that connects to the gym via the fire stairs for staff wanting to exercise in the fresh air.
The building uses a minimal palette of external finishes to emphasise its dynamic shape. The clear glazing is framed above and below by a triangular section, pearlescent white aluminium “sill” detail that traces each of the curvilinear slab edges. This is offset by Tyrolean plaster on the minimal solid panels.
The new building is an extension of the existing RMB ThinkSpace precinct, a publicly accessible art exhibition space that inhabits the spaces between the buildings at Merchant Place. The underside of 8MP slabs are thus conceptualised as a 6th elevation and will receive an artwork that will be printed onto and integrated into the external ceiling panels, pulling the art precinct into the building.
The first big challenge (and Zutari will attest to this) was strengthening the existing columns in the basement and under the Bute Lane bridge link to take the new structure. This required addition and expansion of the existing pile bases, as well as adding new rebar and width to the columns to increase their strength profile.
Architecturally, the new building is designed around the basement grid layout (which all the Merchant Place buildings are based on) which creates a nice direct connection to the historical buildings, while showing how the same structural base can yield very different architectural results depending on how you approach it.
Another interesting challenge was dealing with the existing levels on the bridge link crossing over Bute Lane.
The landscaping and water feature there previously covered a 1.5m step up where the bridge goes over Bute Lane. The size of the building was such that the design team wanted to create a unified ground floor which was bigger than the upper portion of the slab. To overcome this, a new suspended “bond-dek” slab was created that floats over the lower portion of the existing concrete slab. It also created a useful void space for dealing with the new services from the building.
The different uses that the team wanted to incorporate into the building all had their own unique design requirements, and the building needed to be flexible enough to accommodate all of these while also remaining economically viable. This was achieved by creating a central services core that then supplied the various different use areas on the different floors, freeing up the bulk of the floorplate to be used as necessary.
One of the big organizational questions was around where to position the creche. Initial thinking was that it needed to be ground floor to accommodate an external play area. This created a clash though as the piazza space is used through the day by staff, and is fully open to the public. The counter intuitive solution was to lift the creche to the second floor, and create an open to the sky play area on that floor. This allowed the team to resolve the security question while also given maximum freedom of use of the space to the creche. The play area is wrapped by the running track on level 3 which creates a shaded zone. To enhance the sense of exterior, a 4m high olive tree was planted in the centre of the play area, to provide shade and a sense of the natural environment. To make sure there are no safety concerns the play area is enclosed on all sides by floor to ceiling glass, but is open to the sky.
Meet the Team:
Developer: Eris Property Group
Architect, Urban Design, Landscape and Interior Design: Boogertman + Partners
Quantity Surveyor: Vusela Consulting
Civil, Structural, Wet Services and Green Star Consultant: Zutari
Electrical Engineer: Claassen Auret Inc.
Mechanical Engineer: Adaptive Resource Engineers
Main Contractor: Trencon Construction
Landscape contractor: Countryline Africa
External façade installer: Diri Aluminium
Project Manager: Metrum Project Management
Photography: Tristan McClaren (Trencon Construction)