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GEMS scores on Innovation
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GEMS scores on Innovation

The new GEMS building, situated in the Menlyn Maine precinct in Pretoria on a previously occupied site, was awarded a 5-Star Green Star SA Office v1.1 Design certification at the end of August 2019.


Menlyn Maine, which has been developed to combine office, residential, retail and entertainment while densifying the previously low-density residential suburb, aims to be one of the first Green Living Precincts in South Africa. The new building for GEMS (Government Employees Medical Scheme) is designed to fit seamlessly into the Menlyn Maine precinct offering its occupants premium grade offices with easy access to conveniently situated amenities, public transport and entertainment facilities.

Zendré Compion, Sustainable Building Consultant at Solid Green says:

Menlyn Maine is dedicated to having all its buildings Green Star certified; and encourages sustainability initiatives that go beyond the green building features that have become a standard part of building practice. In this instance, the collective experience of the architect, contractor and the rest of the professional team – who had all previously worked on several Green Star rated buildings – contributed greatly to achieving the rating.

An important principle that has been incorporated in both this building and the precinct as a whole is that of ‘Beyond the Green Star Office rating’. This includes the adoption of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles. While it is sited on the busy January Masilela Avenue, this building’s entrance is on Mercy Avenue, where the design of the precinct is at a human scale. The building entrance steps straight off the sidewalk instead of being positioned behind multiple barriers. This entrance is slightly elevated, a good ‘designing out crime’ principle, while large shopfronts allow passive surveillance from the reception to the street. There is regular pedestrian traffic past the building as the precinct is quite dense, with numerous offices and a residential tower building across the street.

Compion explains that the building was awarded 10 out of the available 10 Green Star Innovation points. One point was awarded under the tool’s ‘Innovation 1 – Innovative Strategies and Technologies’ credit for making use of a fire suppression gas with a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 0. Due to there not being a local regulation or standard for phasing out gasses with high GWP in the fire suppression industry, this is substantially contributing to the broader market transformation towards sustainable development in South Africa.

Another point was awarded under ‘Innovation 2 – Exceeding Green Star Benchmarks’, as the building is located within walking distance of more than 8 amenities. An additional 8 points were achieved under ‘Innovation 3 – Environmental Initiatives’ for having achieved the following ambitious targets:

  • The project met the Financial Transparency Innovation Challenge by sharing its financial information on the cost of Green Building items compared to standard building costs, and in this way contributed to ongoing research on the cost of green building;
  • 10 individuals on the project team have completed the full Green Star Accredited Professional (AP) course or at least the online course;
  • The project registered for more than one certification (Design and As Built);
  • The installation of Learning Resources, in this case a screen in the building foyer with a live display of the building’s energy and water performance, as well as educational material about the Green Star rating;
  • For incorporating materials that have a high recycled content, in this case aluminium window frames with a recycled content value greater than 2% of the contract value. Other strategies regarding construction materials included reducing the cement content in the concrete used by 30%; and the average post-consumer recycled content of reinforcing steel in the building is at least 54% (by mass).

To reduce the possibility of immediate tenant refits, the new office was developed with 100% of the Useable Area as an integrated fit-out. All thermal insulants used for the development have an Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) of zero; and at least 95% of the interior finishes (such as paints, carpets, adhesives and sealants) minimize the contribution of Volatile Organic Compounds.

A number of energy efficiency and environmental initiatives were implemented. These include modelling the building during the design stage, achieving a reduction of 50% in Greenhouse Gas Emissions associated with operational energy consumption compared to a notional building model. Sub-metering and an effective mechanism for monitoring energy consumption were also provided, for ongoing management efficiencies. In addition, light pollution is minimized by ensuring that all light fittings are positioned so that there is no upward light spillage into the night sky.

Compion adds that Menlyn Maine, together with the project team, should be commended for water saving initiatives – including only having cold water supplied to ablutions, waterless urinals, and rainwater flushing in most of the buildings in the precinct. She says:

While some developers are still averse to sustainable initiatives that have management implications, these systems have become standard in this precinct. This is a great precedent and demonstrates the importance of planning, design and management for real sustainability in the built environment.

A Building Users’ Guide was developed to contribute towards optimising operational efficiency by informing relevant parties about how to use the building systems effectively. Recommendations made in the Guide also aim to ensure that all future alterations, additions and program changes are consistent with the intent of the Guide and the health of the environment.

The Guide also provides information on public transport options and routes, to encourage the use of public transport. The development is served by the Gautrain bus service, connecting to the Hatfield Gautrain station. An A Re Yeng bus station is currently being developed on the adjacent Atterbury road, linking to Hatfield and through to the West of the city, and to Mamelodi in the east. The Tshwane bus service and taxis also serve the precinct and its surrounds.

In order to reduce the number of automobile trips by the building occupants, the office development has a well-lit dedicated pedestrian network to adjacent buildings that gives easy access to Menlyn Central Square shopping centre, hotels, a gym, entertainment facilities and restaurants.

The precinct will be occupied both during the day and at night, with the mall, Sun Arena and residential building already attracting evening visitors, while the offices and mall are occupied during the day. These elements contribute to the sustainability and vibrancy of the precinct and bode well for the future.

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