Anglo American Platform
Johannesburg Canopy 1917/2017
What if the timeless iconic statement in architecture is no longer the vertical skyscraper but instead the horizontal landmark, a city platform and canopy that is best able to provide the seamless social connectivity and interaction required for a XXI century corporate office landscape?
For Anglo American, the administration of the company during the past century (since being founded in 1917) was adequately accommodated within the distinct heritage buildings that both symbolized and functioned as a centralized monolith.
By shifting to a contemporary interactive and accessible work environment, all of the shared common facilities are brought together into a single city platform that is raised high above the public square. This platform efficiently collects and distributes people between the parkade and tower on Marshall Street and the historical buildings of Main Street, while at the same time encouraging chance encounters for informal gatherings.
Meanwhile the public square below is enlivened by both the reflective crystal canopy of the platform above and the public forum itself, comprising museum and programmed spaces for performances and exhibitions within the embedded buildings. Anglo American staff move freely from the platform into the square, to shaded contemplative or social areas across the new mining landscape contours of sandstone mounds and craters to mingle and engage with the local public.
This innovative new urban typology of the platform serves as both the corporate foyer and public canopy connecting and responding to the formal and functional needs of the Johannesburg campus buildings. Even though it is a grand entity the platform adapts by bending, touching and receding from the heritage buildings where necessary and desired, but always to bring the previously disparate edifices into a single shared working environment – a new urban conglomerate.
City Canopy/Public Mining Square
The pedestrian thread that is Main Street is no longer simply an axis terminating in the cordoned-off Magistrates Court but becomes the Mining Square that gathers the hundreds of Anglo American staff and local public in a shared urban environment as a cohesive public social condenser. A new Anglo American mining and geology museum together with the restaurant across and kiosks within the square, provide visitors with the cultural and social spaces currently absent from this part of the city.
The paths from the nearby public BRT station and the historical mine shaft on the way from downtown Gandhi Square, cross beneath this city canopy within the sandstone contour mining landscape. Like other superblocks in the inner city precinct, such as Bank City, Magistrate’s Court and nearby Standard Bank complex, the new Anglo American platform pulls together and integrates the immediate small urban blocks of Johannesburg into an identifiable local precinct to catalyze the surrounding area. Here a large covered public space and program is given back to the city while offering a distinct sense of arrival to the precinct.
The important rehabilitation of the heritage buildings is premised above all on the introduction of new integrated functions and the revitalization of interior spaces. Rather than the simple restoration of exterior structure and surface alone, a carefully considered reinterpretation of the traditional envelope and, most significantly, symbolic face of the company is developed through the use of the integrative and cohesive intervention of the Anglo American platform.
Raised high over city to sit above the cornice of 44 Main Street (encompassing levels four and five), the platform sweeps away from this historic entrance to intersect across the square with the upper floors of 45 Main Street and emerge out the other side of the building in Fox Street. The rich dialogue between the entrances of the two heritage buildings is broadened into an architectural conversation among the other buildings from a recent era, to set up a discussion across generations as well as functional renewal. The solidity of stone is set against steel and glass, square in contrast to the sinuous, views from within the new, of the old, are framed for emphasis, and materials such as the sandstone blocks in the façade are carried over as rough landscape contour segments.
Rather than attempting to imitate the carved detail of the heritage buildings, the suspended curved and crystalline structures of the new draw on the architectural language of its time for contrast. Deep shadow lines where new and old converge, light wells alongside facades, and steep cut backs to reveal historical entrances, all these bring the necessary tension along with the compliance of an engaged conservation.
Deep double-story steel vierendeel trusses allow an open configuration within the platform (that have both vertical chords and widened diagonals to allow circulation) and reduce the staggered grid of steel support columns on the public ground level. For the massive roof itself, saw-tooth triangular truss structures are made up of alternative lines of skylights and, significantly for the mining company, copper square-profile sheeting that will age as a green tone. Within the smooth white epoxy-coated platform, glass of
different transparencies is used to allow views right across the interior landscape while diffusing intense rays from the skylights above. From below, the platform is covered in an undulating crystalline grid of triangular reflective copper sheets to enhance light in the striated sandstone square and emulate the geological formations of minerals.
At the core of the buildings green technology strategy is the simple control of air and light in the platform that is then extended into the existing upgraded buildings themselves. The warm air that accumulates in the platform is released through roof ventilation shafts that suck out the rising warm currents and this, in turn, is supplemented by nightly venting through pivoting side windows of the remaining accumulated stale air. Sunlight is maximized and managed through the skylights above and the series of light wells within the platform. Adjustable louvers control the harsh low west light (while not eliminating views and filtered light). The multi-story recesses in the façade of the 55 Marshall Street tower bring light and ventilation deeper within the enclosed confines of the existing building envelope. Significantly, the reuse of all the existing buildings is an environmental consideration that is embraced here with negligible structural subtraction and integrative additions applied consistently to the whole environment.
Within the existing building envelopes, the contemporary office will be an open plan environment that encourages social interaction away from the computer or mobile screen while managing informal encounters, all through the collective commons of the platform. The open plan office itself will be laid out for maximum efficiency and productivity, increasing occupancy levels and allowing for connections down to the platform as a variety of movement routes, hubs and stopovers.
With most collective functions performed on the platform, the greatest concentration of these collaborative encounters are likely to arise face-to-face between staff in this grand foyer, leaving the compactness required of certain divisions and the security for certain private work back in the upgraded office block. So the most public facilities remain on the city square, the more collective corporate facilities are brought onto the platform (including those requiring a public interface), and the gradually increasing private corporate realm settles above the platform in a series of secure bands.
This large Anglo American platform provides a single collective environment for spatial clarity within which staff can move freely throughout their working day, from their arrival by car, taxi or public transport in the morning through lunch and coffee breaks during the day, to a session at the gymnasium in early evening. It is the central foyer to orientate staff and visitors alike to the surrounding buildings of the campus, and control access to individual divisional and corporate offices located in the interconnected buildings.
During the day, staff are likely to visit the platform for any number of important social engagements as well as individual appointments. They could be meeting with a client or holding a unit workshop, attending a geology lecture or conducting a mine safety training session. Staff could be visiting the clinic or stopping for a juice at the health bar, attending a government mining conference or collecting a prescription. Lunch could be a
sandwich taken down to the public square for a music recital or a stroll through the museum.
The vast interior is open, punctuated with bright transparent light wells, edges delineated and mezzanines springing right off surrounding buildings. Casual lounge areas lie alongside tree-filled courtyards, natural breezes blow through open pivot windows, views are framed by light wells into the mining square below or onto preserved heritage facades directly at eye level, the auditorium quarry quickly fills with groups of people attending a conference – these all find place within the new Anglo American platform.
Through this spatial intervention of the city platform and canopy, Anglo American can make a real architectural difference and reaffirm its commitment to the social and economic future of Johannesburg.