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Council chamber: the reasons behind its engineering

The new council chamber, at the top of Rissik Street in Braamfontein, makes a bold statement, “Johannesburg, a smart city at work”, and it has received much acclaim.

It’s an award-winning piece of architecture that is still being nominated for more awards. Described as “iconic”, “a triumph of urban creativity”, “Joburg’s transformative symbolic structure” and more, this impressive building was strategically engineered with a specific purpose assigned to just about every part of its design.

The new chamber has distinct features that sets it apart. It is substantially larger than its predecessor, accommodating 363 councillors with an additional 172 seats for the public and press, all housed under a soaring 14-metre high roof.

The main chamber contains locally crafted carpeting while the entrance walls of the chamber are adorned with array of artwork in various media. Outside, a set of six-metre tall flagpoles are positioned around the pond. These flagpoles bear the names of former councillors, in tribute to their service.

The circular shape of the chamber is an important feature as it represents the African drum, commonly used in music making across the African continent. It is also symbolic of the lekgotla, a centuries-old traditional African gathering place. The word itself means “a place where meetings are held” in seTswana.

The chamber’s glass construction is another aesthetically pleasing feature, and it represents openness and transparency. The glass façade makes optimal use of South Africa’s abundant sunshine, allowing natural light to enter the building, which helps reduce the energy required to illuminate the interior.

Bronze fins placed around the glass exterior help shade the inside from direct sunlight, while the golden gleam of these fins resonates with the City of Gold.

A smart building

The chamber features state-of-the-art technology, such as electronic identification of councillors; recording devices for attendance through use of identity cards; the ability to vote electronically; telephonic messaging linked to senior officials and members of the executive, where information can be exchanged without disturbing the chamber proceedings; electronic links to external stakeholders through facilities inside the chamber; an audiovisual system, with four screens, one a large ball screen hanging from the ceiling of the chamber; and a paperless chamber, where a council pack will appear on the 15-inch touch screens in front of councillors, with a photograph of whoever is speaking appearing on the screen. There is also the ability to broadcast proceedings outside or directly to TV channels.

A green building

The chamber was built with sustainability in mind, and upon completion and inspection it received a 5-star Green Star SA Public and Education Buildings (PEB) Design certificate from the Green Building Council of South Africa.

When JPC CEO Helen Botes made the announcement, she highlighted that building new spaces, with good lighting, improved air quality and pleasing working conditions, would improve productivity immeasurably. She believed that this would also have a ripple effect and improved customer service.

Noteworthy green design features of the council chamber include:

  • Underfloor air displacement system that delivers 100% fresh air to the chamber above
  • A glass façade that allows for natural light, but not heat, thus reducing the energy required for lighting and cooling within the building. “The positive mood associated with the ability for natural light to filter through a space, enables the end user to be happier and more productive,” say the architects
  • The metering of energy and water systems, which is displayed for visitors to observe usage. A building management system collects and monitors water and electrical meters and water consumption, including air conditioning and ventilation installation plant status. Toilets are equipped with low flow taps, urinals and dual-flush toilets, and only has a cold water supply
  • The use of locally manufactured products in the construction of the chamber
  • The creation of job opportunities, for youth and women in particular
  • Concrete with a high fly ash content has been used. Fly ash is a waste product from power stations, meaning less electricity was used in its production. This has also reduced the pressure on landfills, where the fly ash would eventually be dumped
  • Steel with a high recyclable content was used. This means that emissions during its production have been reduced
  • Interior chamber finishes have low volatile organic compound (VOC) and formaldehyde content. VOCs are carbon-based compounds used in a wide range of finishes, from paints to carpets. They evaporate at room temperature, and combined with other compounds in the air, are unhealthy to inhale

A culturally rich building

Residents have played a significant role in the finishes to the chamber, and a public art competition held in June 2016 resulted in the selection of 135 artworks that were carved onto two-metre, three-sided wooden totems.

These totems now adorn the inside of the chamber and every single one tells a story of the people, from happy and sad tales to exciting and vibrant ones – each story reflects Johannesburg’s uniqueness. These totems have been nominated as a finalist in the Cultural Tourism category in the 20th Annual Business and Arts South Africa (BASA) Awards.

A building that has facilitated community growth

Local contractors from Ward 60 accounted for 30% of the workforce under the council’s Jozi@Work programme, which aims to create job opportunities for people within particular regions. Bricklayers and steelworkers were employed, and where more advanced skills were required, sub-contractors undertook skills and development training. An estimated 313 people were trained, with 155 entities employed during construction, 56 of them with BBBEE ratings.

Around a quarter of materials, products and services, including labour needed for construction, went to SMMEs. A whopping 95% of the project contract value was procured from BBBEE level 1, 2 and 3 contractors and consultants. More than 500 jobs were created during construction. Six joint ventures were created with companies in Ward 60, one of which was tasked with skills and development training.

A place where people can commune

While it is a place of work and business, the chamber has been built with people and networking in mind. Here artwork, water features and indigenous landscaping create an inviting environment.

The new chamber is only the beginning of what is to be a complete revamp of Metro Centre Piazza to create a multi-use, inclusive, beautiful inner-city area.

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