Established in 1945, GLH & Associates Architects have been industry leaders for 77 years, successfully adding a plethora of iconic builds under their belt. The firm is passionate about innovating exciting yet timeless buildings and have cemented themselves at the forefront of cultural and sustainable projects both in the commercial and residential space across South Africa.
We are delighted to share an exclusive interview with GLH & Associates Architects’ board of directors. From inspiration to sustainable innovation, settle in as the team shares their expert insight…
Q: From the Vodacom SSIC Africa, built more than 10 years ago, to the most recent Ikusasa, we see a common thread of green and sustainable design principles echo throughout your work. How have green building projects progressed from then until now?
The GBCSA Green Star Rating system for buildings was introduced in 2007. When the Vodacom SSIC was conceived, we had already gained substantial experience and had opportunities to make use of many sustainable design initiatives on large-scale projects. Our building designs had in fact been awarded the very first 4-Star Green Star rating and the first 5-Star Green Star rating in the country, and we have been privileged to be at the pinnacle of sustainable design ever since.
The aim with the Site Specific Innovation Centre (SSIC) was explicitly to push the boundaries in terms of integrated design from the ground up, creating a prototype for the potential of passive energy design for possible use in areas of limited infrastructure. The main challenges when creating a sustainable building, both then and now, are to do more with less (less energy, less water, less waste, less carbon, less use of resources, etc.) and to consider the materials and processes for the full life of a building (i.e., from the chosen site to the design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition). During the design of the SSIC, we started by re-examining and reinterpreting every surface and service in the construction of the building, from the foundations up.
Significant changes over the last 12 years, in our opinion, have been in the availability and development of sustainable materials and processes as well as the change of mindset among building owners and developers. Global awareness of the environmental crisis has also pushed the necessity for sustainable design into sharp focus.
Q: What are some of the notable industry progressions in terms of green builds that you are most excited about as a firm? How do you plan to implement these new concepts in upcoming projects?
We are particularly excited about the expansion of the tools now available through GBCSA to benchmark not only new, but also existing or refurbishment projects of every description. Certifications have been added for categories like net zero, interior fitouts, existing building performance, precincts, socio-economic impact, and even custom tools which can be adapted for just about any type of building. There are simply no more excuses not to apply sustainable solutions to every aspect of the built environment, targeting excellence and then pushing the boundaries to the next level.
The advancement of solar technology has led to improved efficiency and flexibility in design, and we strive to include photovoltaic systems in all our projects. We are currently working on a design to incorporate bifacial solar panels which can absorb energy on both sides of the panel for increased performance.
Q: You’ve recently been awarded the 2022 Corobrik-SAIA Award of Excellence for Witklipfontein Eco Lodge (previously featured in our magazine when we were formerly known as Pro Landscaper + Architect). What was the biggest challenge you encountered on this site? And what would you say has been the most successful element to this build?
The initial selection for the site of the lodge was a fundamental decision that drove the design of the building, resulting in one of its most striking features: an extended green roof growing from the surrounding hills. When the decision was taken to carve the building out of the face of the earth rather than place it on the top of the hill, the green roof — which is now fully integrated into the surrounding landscape — became the most prominent feature of the lodge, allowing the building to blend seamlessly into nature.
Challenge or opportunity? The lodge provided a great opportunity for Xavier Huyberechts to explore his deep love for sustainability which is evident in the successful use of rammed earth for the walls of the lodge. The walls have predominantly been constructed using earth that was locally found on the site, and the application of different thicknesses of the walls helped to enable structural stability and thermal massing.
Q: What are some of the attributes you consider when selecting green building materials for commercial projects? What product(s) are you loving currently?
Our main consideration would be the effect our choices have on human well-being and on the environment. We are very aware of the substantial impact of the construction sector alone on our planet and are eager to implement strategies that will leave a cleaner template for future generations, without compromising on the legacy of creating inspiring buildings.
We would prefer not to single out any specific product, but rather express our love for the ever-evolving sustainable building opportunities we are continually exposed to. As a bespoke architectural practice, we are also fortunate to collaborate with some of the top experts in every field who are like-minded in taking on the challenges that green design demands.
Q: What buildings have inspired your team? Any build, anywhere!
Architecture is an ever-evolving learning experience. Therefore, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly which buildings have influenced our work. As architects we constantly try to expose ourselves to innovative design and technology and to learn from others. Our aim is always to add value and to create buildings that stand the test of time. We have been lucky to have a 77-year heritage on which to continue to build our practice.
Q: Which architect (dead or alive) would you like to collab with and why?
Naina Jivan: While doing my practical year in India, my visits to some of Balkrishna Doshi’s vast projects left a lasting impact on me as a young student of architecture. Inspired by the likes of le Corbusier, Doshi reinterpreted the lessons of modernism with consideration to India’s traditions, lifestyles, materials, and environment, designing structures that celebrate the human spirit. Be it in his low-cost housing schemes or institutional buildings, Doshi provided spaces in which to gather that are physically representative of their environment.
My deep respect and love for Balkrishna Doshi’s philosophy of creating a relevant architecture of place can be summarised in these words: ‘The most important things are experience, the rasa, which is the subtle experience of the space which makes the space memorable.’
Q: Ikusasa has been popping up quite a bit on our news feeds. Can you tell us a little bit more about this project, its intentions, and what makes it so unique?
This building is situated in Oxford Parks — a flourishing mixed-used metropolitan precinct in Dunkeld — and is the proud new home of Anglo American’s Global Services division.
We aspired to deliver a world-class sustainable building that is welcoming and accessible to all, boasting pleasant and desirable places to work, interact, and liaise while doing so in the context of a well-planned and meticulously executed urban landscape. The district’s integrated urban philosophy is focused on the pedestrian experience, heightening the sense of human scale. It connects activities inside the building to streetscapes, creating an urban vibe through a fabric of landscaped links, winding between pedestrian pavements and mid-block public or semi-public spaces.
From start to finish, a 12-month construction period had to be achieved, including the complete interior fitout for the tenant. This put incredible pressure on the design and construction team and required meticulous selection of materials. To allow the building to be closed at record speed, the design of the facade aimed to have all elements incorporated into a system of unitised panels that could be erected as completed modules without the need for perimeter scaffolding. This included glazing, aluminium cladding, and composite stone panels which helped to accomplish diversity and contrast.
The tenant and developer’s desire for demonstrating environmental sustainability was realised by intentionally expressing elements in the essence of the architecture rather than concealing them (e.g., the solar panels). The building’s relatively long east and west facades required solar protection, which resulted in a rhythm of solid stone panels that step to concurrently tie into the placement of the roof solar panels at an optimal 10-degree sun catchment angle.
As the first building in Oxford Parks to target multiple 6-Star Green Star ratings, it sets the tone for exciting future projects and upholds the vision for a sustainable, integrated precinct.
Q: A large portion of your projects are cultural builds. You’ve also been involved in some of Johannesburg’s most iconic public and cultural building projects. Would you say cultural builds sit at your team’s core focus? What are some noteworthy cultural builds you’ve been involved in over the years? How have these defined your firm and reputation?
Culture and community sit very much at our core. We understand the importance that every building plays in the way it is situated, how it is conceived, how it functions, and the impact it makes in people’s lives and in the building of a city. We appreciate the fact that our buildings will outlive us and become the stage around which memories are made and lives are lived.
We are very proud to have been the architects who undertook the renovation of the old Newtown fruit market into the Market Theatre. This was far more than a building project. The resulting theatre became a place that broke social conventions, being inclusive to all communities and encouraging creativity. It became a nucleus for building a new way of being and a vision for a new culture. Even today, it remains on the cutting edge of experimentation and cultural development.
We were also privileged to have designed and built the Alexander Theatre, the original Johannesburg Civic Theatre, the Bloemfontein Civic Theatre, and the African Ballet Theatre. Theatres are places that need to work both functionally and acoustically while being designed around a large amount of technology. They are where science and art meet. More importantly, they are places that build community, encourage imagination and create magic.
We believe we bring the full number of these assets to all of our buildings.
GLH & Associates Architects
Directors Briget Grosskopff, Xavier Huyberechts, Naina Jivan, Louise O’Raw