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SENMIN International
Sasolburg, Free State

Victor UTRIA ARCINIEGAS: Design Architect



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26°49'28.23" S 27°50'55.88" E Alt: 1503m

Architect: Victor UTRIA (assisted by David BORCHARDT and Jessie VERSTER)

"Firmitas, Utilitas, Venustas"

Marcus Vitruvius, the 1st century BC author and building innovator, is credited with the statement that architecture must be a balanced ensemble of "Firmness, Commodity, and Delight", or in today's language, Quality, Functionality, and Beauty.

If they are to contribute to improving our lives, buildings must have appropriate spatial accommodation, structural stability, and aesthetic appeal. This is as true today as it was 2000 years ago. Today we add an extra dimension; sustainability. These are principles that informed the establishment of the Senmin project brief and guided the validation process applied to every design decision that followed.

Senmin International, is a chemical company whose products separate rock and organic matter from precious metals and stones. Like the minerals embedded within the rock that its products work on, the Senmin building is a jewel located in the midst of the rough gritty context of Sasolburg, surrounded by industrial buildings that accommodate the engineering operations of Sasol.

The design of the Senmin building embodies the identity of its occupier. We strived to design a place that would articulate and express the company, its people and their daily business, and put Senmin on the map in Sasolburg and beyond.

The building comprises three key components:

  • A central Courtyard enclosed by the office building, forming a lush green lung within the building and an oasis protected from the harsh Sasolburg environment outside;
  • A circular collaborative open plan Office Space that wraps itself around the courtyard and forms a continuous flexible environment enveloped by a series of angled panels orientated around the central point of the courtyard. The angled panels are constructed not of heavy concrete but light-weight steel frames clad in two layers of high performance polystyrene;
  • A rectangular Technical Centre that abuts the circular office form and accommodates controlled laboratories with restricted access.

The building has rendered the previously invisible presence of Senmin visible, and created significant interest and intrigue in Sasolburg. The building's occupants relay stories of curious passers-by arriving at their entrance to enquire about who Senmin are, what they do and what happens inside the building.

(GIfA Newsletter, 20 September 2016)

Submitted by William MARTINSON