Oral Solid Dosage Manufacturing Suite for Aspen Pharmacare
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Award for Architecture Citation
As the largest pharmaceutical manufacturer in Africa, the upgrading and expansion of the manufacturing facilities of Aspen Pharmacare in Port Elizabeth has been an ongoing and complex process.
Its most recent addition - the new Oral Solid Dosage Unit - was undoubtedly the most challenging due to yard constraints, limited access and the accommodation of an existing reinforced concrete structure. The coordination of the logistics for the complex to remain operational whilst the new addition was under construction, also had to be taken into account. The design brief called for a barrier-free and flexible new manufacturing area, serviced by extensive and complicated reticulation systems.
The architects skilfully erected a steel structure over parts of the existing reinforced concrete structure, with the various production and plant rooms suspended from the new steel framework. Circulation was moved to the front of the site, taking advantage of natural light, as well as of views across North End Lake – considerations not generally associated with facilities of this nature. Prominent cantilevered service components, conspicuously clad in bright blue corrugated sheet metal and hovering above the transparent circulation areas, modulate the street facade and provide an attractive backdrop for panoramic views from the city.
The new addition, accompanied by the sensitive landscaping of an awkward and tricky site, form a well-composed counterpoint to the disparate assembly of buildings, yet without relying on any superfluous design gestures to camouflage a utilitarian facility of immense engineered complexity. The architects are commended for creating a well-considered work of architecture, executed under severe time and economic constraints, and for reaffirming the role of architects as principle agents in a challenging design environment.
Award of Merit Citation
The building succinctly and unobtrusively explores the idea of a 'contained sterile working environment' within the context of the greater Aspen Campus and the city of Port Elizabeth. More notable is how the new additions soften a campus that appears to be traditionally industrial and mechanistic into an elegant pharmaceuticals manufacture and production gallery. This is craftily illustrated by the manner in which the white walled internal volumes of the additions and alterations display or exhibit the conduiting and machinery as sculptures within warehouse-sized work spaces of walls that are strategically punctured with openings that frame portraits of in- and outdoor spaces.
The historical characterless industrial eastern fagade of the campus now exploits the dam views and landscape, whilst the facade's three projecting block forms articulate and aesthetically give rhythm to an otherwise cacophonic street edge. This effectively elevates the quality of the campus' eastern edge; celebrating the relationship between the natural and man-made environments.
This project convincingly marks a shift in pharmaceutical factory design by the exhibitionist approach of the interior spaces, coupled with the systematic visual dialogue created by the unconventional 'portrait-like' window openings between laboratories and corridors. Through this project Aspen successfully demystifies a long-standing tradition of inaccessible, insular and cocooned laboratories by exploiting double-glazing to achieve the required vacuum-sealed interiors as prescribed by pharmaceutical factory design.
The building also presents creative solutions on how to bring natural lighting and interactive views into what is traditionally a sterile white environment, thus allowing for better social and spatial cohesion within the building and between interior and exterior spaces.
All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.