Award for Excellence Citation
To understand something of the nature and magnitude of the SASOL Place building, it is important to briefly look at the history of the company as well as the historical development of the urban context where the building is placed.
SASOL was born out of a beleaguered South Africa when sanctions on every front, including oil, were imposed upon the apartheid state by the international community. SASOL was created to produce oil and petrol using the abundant coal supplies of the country. From these beginnings, a giant petrochemical behemoth developed.
Before this building was constructed, the company operated from 14 different buildings, situated mainly in Rosebank in Johannesburg. Not only did the new building have to unite the company on this level, it also had to be the device to create a new corporate culture. It furthermore had to be energy-efficient while, above all, also creating a physical symbol for the 'home' of SASOL as a company. The size of the building had to be about 68 000m2 to accommodate some 7 500 employees.
The urban context of Sandton has its own particular history that ultimately influences the form of buildings in its CBD. Generally, the topography of the area is sloping away towards the north from the watershed ridge in the south. 'Old' Johannesburg is closely associated with this ridge, while its northern suburbs occur on an undulating landscape of shallow valleys and ridges formed by geology and water erosion. The Sandton CBD, the context of this building, is on one of these subtle ridges in the landscape. This rise in the land enables the dominance of the Sandton skyline over areas such as Randburg and even Rosebank, despite Sandton being on a lower altitude. The Sandton skyline has, in turn, become the competitor to the older Johannesburg CBD skyline. It has also become the symbol of many new South African multinational companies. It is, sadly, also the symbol of the changing fortunes of these two areas. Historically, Sandton has had much larger land subdivisions than in the older CBD of Johannesburg or many other cities. This had the result that the built form of Sandton did not develop into mere extrusions of the land parcel, as is the case in many CBDs with a different morphology. From inception, buildings in Sandton could have a more three-dimensional form as a distinctive characteristic. What little urban space there is has largely been taken up by transport with not much concern for the pedestrian and the concomitant-built fabric that comes with caring for the common man.
This is the general character of the context where the SASOL Headquarters Building has been built. It was also within this context where the architects tried everything in their power to actually address the making of a public and urban interface — contrary to the general spirit of Sandton. The form of the building took its cue from the company logo, which is based on the chemical nature of its products and processes. When the building is viewed from the outside as a sculpture, its distinctive form is impressive, memorable and leaves the viewer in awe. This sense of wonder is intensified when the impressive interior atrium — the space that holds the building together — is experienced. It is filled with daylight and the internal facades are reminiscent of the outside facades while creating another sculptural quality — as if it is a rockface ready to be scaled. This experience of complexity is reinforced by the complete section of the building that includes the basement parking. However, the successive plans of the building reveal a profound and rational simplicity. There is a logic present, that only highly-experienced and talented architects can create. On ground level, the architects have demonstrated their concerted effort to engage with the public realm in a positive manner, and have created a series of open spaces, each representing a different biome for the staff to enjoy.
The building takes up its rightful role within the wide variety of building forms thåt have come to earmark the Sandton CBD. It is equally shiny and expressive in form like many of its neighbours. However, once the building's impressive intellectual underpinnings, its rationality and its courageous form-making are thoroughly understood, it distinguishes itself from its neighbours.
In the SASOL Place building, there is a thoughtful expression of form and function in a relatively uncontrolled and 'wild' urban context that portrays a deep, sensible knowledge and professionalism. It might just be that the multinational conglomerate, SASOL, has finally found itself a 'home' from where it can now approach the future. If anything expresses South African intellectual and corporate ingenuity on the world stage it might also just be this building as the new symbol for SASOL.
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