B M D O F F I C E
Head Office Building and Art Gallery - Wynberg, Cape Town
Van der Merwe Miszewski Architects was commissioned to design new headquarters for the large and well-established BMD Textiles (Pty) Ltd after fire destroyed much of the complex.
The brief required approximately 3000 square metres of office space allocated to various functions including executive offices, department offices, board and showrooms, general open-plan and cellular office space. Most intriguingly, however, the new building had also to display an extraordinary collection of South African art, including numerous contemporary paintings and a variety of original African textiles.
The context – the light industrial neighbourhood of Diep River – consists largely of factory/shed-type buildings whose forms arise from the functions they house – manufacture and mass production. The wide, windswept, soulless access roads are designed primarily for efficient delivery and dispatch. Most of the remaining buildings within the existing factory are completed in face brick and the owners expressed a desire for the achievement of visual continuity by the use of this material. The north elevation onto the main street was required to be sound insulated and protected against sun penetration and heat gain.
The central conceptual idea for the design is based on the creation of an internal working environment assembled around gallery spaces for the display of fine-art collections. The core of the building consists of two interconnecting triple-volume spaces; a rotunda atrium that identifies the entrance and a rectilinear working atrium around which open and cellular offices are arranged. The gallery spaces, the rotunda and the atrium are intended as a neutral “backdrop” for the display of a diversity of art works. From the outset it was envisaged that long narrow sheaths of fabric could be hung dramatically within these tall spaces to allow for three-dimensional display and appreciation. Circulation for the entire office building is, therefore, contained in these atrium/gallery spaces.
Upon entering at the base of the rotunda, the visitor is presented with an option to move swiftly to the upper floors in a glass hydraulic elevator or to climb the open timber-and-steel concentric staircases. These lead past the interior wall surfaces of the rotunda, where fabrics are displayed in structural niches. From the base of the rotunda one can also enter the rectangular atrium with its terraced floor leading to the office spaces.
Consecutive flights of steel-and-timber stairs lead to a succession of platforms, with the boardroom at the head of this route. Open galleries encircle both triple-volume spaces on all levels, linking all the workspaces and offering views into – and across – the open columns in which the fabrics may be displayed. Overhead, long linear skylights (allowing only south light to penetrate) regulate the plan, accentuate the form of the atrium and link it to the rotunda.
Floor, wall and ceiling surfaces are treated in muted, neutral tones. Floors are generally of ceramic tiles and imported beech wood parquet block. Light beech timber is also used on stair treads and selected wall and door surfaces. The steelwork for the balustrade, elevator surround and staircases is coated in a light silver Hammerite finish to co-ordinate with the brushed aluminium ironmongery. Artificial lighting, to augment the natural south light, is suspended from overhead “halos” hung from a series of curved light scoops. The “halos” also provide the means to suspend a changing display of fabrics.
The building diagram has contributed greatly to the creation of a unifying work environment. The inclusion of joint circulation areas blurs hierarchical boundaries and all categories of staff must, by virtue of the circulation, routinely see one another, share a greeting or discuss a problem at hand. This contributes to increased communication, team spirit and awareness within the work environment.
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