The post-apartheid landscape of Johannesburg is changing as areas undergo a sort of reverse gentrification. Typically leafy suburbs are gradually giving way to developer-led, securitized estates. The suburb of Rosebank however, is different, developing into a dense, walkable urban centre, with a distinct character. The stretch along Keyes and Jan Smuts Avenues, home to many art galleries, has re-invented itself as the Keyes Art Mile, with specifically commissioned buildings and artworks.
Having acquired a site on the Art Mile, a law firm wanted to build its own boutique offices – different from the standard commercial space they had previously occupied. The offices were to be public facing, accessible and welcoming, not hidden behind a security cordon. The emphasis was on humane, beautiful spaces for the staff, clients and colleagues with constant connections to the sky, planting, views.
The spatial organization is straightforward and legible, public spaces on Keyes Avenue, addressing the street and the more private staff spaces on the Jan Smuts side, exploiting the dramatic sunsets and views over Johannesburg. There are no passages; one moves through courtyards and informal meeting spaces, always with a different orientation and view to the outside – be it a distant view of the city or a near view of a planted courtyard.
Each room is designed specifically for its use, with a particular emphasis on sensory responses – colour, touch, acoustics, warmth, light, and views. The open plan offices look into an internal planted courtyard, whilst the cellular offices are a glass ‘box’ contained in planted ‘green cage’ so that over time the offices will be sit within a scented garden landscape. The boardroom, library and meeting rooms are formal, quiet, and unfussy, with rich detailing and materials.
The landscaping and planting consolidates the overall design approach. West facing walls are shaded by foliage that also acts a visual filter to the traffic on Jan Smuts. The roof terraces and external courtyards are planted with indigenous veld grasses and aloes that will change with the seasons and mature over time. In winter, the tones are dry yellows and reds, bursting into colour in spring, when the grasses turn green and the wildflowers bloom.
The massing and materiality of the building is simple and strong – rendered masonry walls and glazed panels act as a foil for the planting and an external expression of the spatial complexity. The architecture is complemented by curated signage, interiors and furniture, with local ‘makers’ and designers prioritized. In keeping with the Keyes Art Mile, sculpture and paintings were specifically commissioned for the building. The emphasis is on quality, beauty and tactility, so that the staff and visitors feel valued and nurtured.