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Electric Ladyland Offices
Kloof, KwaZulu-Natal


Client:Electric Ladyland Properties
1999SAIA KZN Award for Architecture
2001SAIA Award of Merit
2002SAIA Award for Excellence


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29°47'47.14" S 30°50'27.57" E Alt: 553m

Project Description

Short Description

Develop an office campus including a café, art gallery, clothing boutique and Bed + Breakfast apartment as a radical alternative to the pervasive office park model by keeping vehicles to the site perimeter and arranging four new buildings around a central mini-park and series of open-to-sky courtyards, and whose simple two storey extrusions could accommodate almost any future use, are climatically passive, and evoke a sense of working-from-home in the benign subtropical climate of the area.

Detailed Description

The client desired an innovative, unconventional (in respect of conventional 'office parks') robust, versatile building, in which to accommodate a range of businesses. The environment described included phrases such as, 'a collection of classrooms... school buildings, gymnasiums, openplan, high volumes, spaces that could respond to changing work teams...'

A detail survey of the plants and trees, plus the existing house, pool and garden structures was the first task. The building design in around and between these elements has given the new office environment an established character, with what came first not always clear . The architects involved a horticulturist to advise on those trees which could be removed in order to make place for buildings, and the buildings fitted into the vacant areas. In some cases, the buildings are cut away to accommodate trees, which form an integral part of the elevation design, their shadows casting pattern onto the simple building surfaces.

The existing house became the pivot to the site arrangement, the precedent being 'the old church', or similar, as the landmark or point of orientation to a public space. The new buildings are positioned so as to make a series of courtyards, ranging in scale and 'publicness' and of varying character.

Each building has a 'forecourt', a mediating zone between the outside public areas and the office areas inside. These zones are reception areas, social spaces, themselves offering a range of possible activities, from film projection, to stage, to patio lounge. The extent of double volume space may be reduced as additional floor areas are required later, with the lightweight deck infills.

The language of the buildings is consistent throughout. A hard edge of punctured openings faces the traffic and parking area, forming the external skin to the courtyard. The courtyard edge is an external circulation route/verandah, with the curtain wall to be shaded either by orientation, or hanging blinds too be fitted. Variations to the ends of each building respond to the particulars of the site condition, the entrance marked by the transparent courtyard face wrapping around to the street face.

The concept drawings submitted, illustrate the primary intentions of the buildings, in their relationship to the site, to each other, and internally.

Budget restrictions combined with the client briefing and design response have resulted in a building of minimal finishes. The addition of sunscreens is to be undertaken in a future phase, as is the completion of the external works and the addition of a fourth building alongside St Mary's Road.

(designworkshop : sa)

Award for Excellence Citation

There is an art to designing a building with an ordinary brief where the familiar is made novel, the predictable innovative and the conventional distinctive.

Further where that which history has cast upon the shores of our own time as mere flotsam of the past is recognized as inherently worthy.

Electric Ladyland is just such a project.

While the plan-making pays homage to current masters, it is a reflective and interpretative, much as one musician might pay homage by creating variations on the theme of another.

This is a site of remembrances with the memory of changing functions layered into built form. It is a clear demonstration of how to find value in the ordinary stock of built heritage and elevate it as resource through the deceptive easiness in the locating of additional pavilions thereby drawing the whole together into an ensemble.

Then the architects are inventive in their resolution of the tectonics and assembly of elements which they never allow to become commonplace and mindless. The process of assembly and manufacture, of production and use are all part of the repertoire and bring life to and animate the design.

This is a highly cerebral design and adds a dimension to the local current debate as to what should be informing us in our search for architectural identity. In the execution of the design we are offered some clues:
take nothing for granted
what we have inherited, however non-descript, has value
every brief, no matter how commonplace, offers opportunity
understand the phenomena of site and set it as a stage
know the palette of available materials, but restrict your choices
know the level of your craftsfolk and challenge them within the range of their ability
do not underestimate either your or their aptitude for invention
understand the activities of your client and celebrate the way they live through and by their enterprise.

In this project we have a building that will speak to the future of the best that our present has to offer. As such the project is deemed fully worthy of an Award of Excellence.

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.

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