The Elegance – Description of Aleem Manji Architects.
The Elegance, a commercial building in Nairobi, Kenya, designed by Aleem Manji Architects, broke ground in February 2016 and has already garnered the attention of the architectural world with two prestigious award nominations.
The design principle of The Elegance is fairly simple; the office floor level plates rotate at the centre by around 5 degrees clockwise with every additional floor, akin to a deck of cards being fanned out from the centre. A challenge with this system was the sheer length of the cantilevers at the upper floors, which lead the architects to rethink the structural, and in the process, the building itself, and how it could be made better and more efficient. This led to the practice working with systems which are new to the Kenyan market.
The client, M/S VeePee Developers, required a commercial building that was initially expected to house a Ground Floor and Mezzanine Showroom Space of around 10 000 square feet; office space of approximately 70 000 square feet; and parking facilities adequate enough to park three cars for every 1 000 square foot of commercial space.
The brief evolved over the design stage, but some of the brief requests that the architects were tasked with paying particular attention to were to create a potential landmark in the area. The area itself (General Mathenge Drive in Westlands) is fairly close to the CBD area of Westlands, which teems with commercial office space. The client required a building that would set itself apart from the other office spaces and give itself top of mind awareness with any potential buyers.
The final client approved design was an evolution of the previous iterations and came as a result of two factors: market analysis and consultation with the local County Council leading to an increase in built up area, resulting in two additional floors of office space. Consequently, there was a need for additional car parking space, and additionally the decision was made to increase the parking ratio from three per 1000 square feet to four per 1000 square feet (for enhanced sales appeal), leading to an additional two floors of mezzanine parking.
The site of the project is located in the Westlands area of Nairobi, which is fast becoming an extension of the main CBD in as far as high rise offices and apartment blocks are concerned. It is located on General Mathenge Drive.
The area is primarily associated with mid to upper income dwellings and offices.
With the revised zoning of the area by the County Council, the area is expected to see prolific growth in high rise apartments and offices. The site itself is bordered by General Mathenge Drive towards the south of the site, requiring a building line of 9m to be left from the road. The development itself has been located centrally on the site, leaving room for the building line, as well as the requisite by-law requirements for siting.
The location of General Mathenge is somewhat unique as the road itself has and will have a mix between commercial and residential properties. As a result, the typologies of structures in the area and surroundings tend to vary fairly drastically, ranging from single family units such as: to low level commercial developments (2-3 storeys at most). The absence of any distinct vernacular language allowed the architects to select a language that would fulfil the brief of the client; that of creating a unique design that would, hopefully, become a landmark in the new burgeoning neighbourhood.
Key areas of the project
Broadly, the scheme can be said to have two key areas, namely the Parking Areas and the Office/Showroom Areas. The Parking Areas are split into two sections: The Basement Parking and the Mezzanine Parking. The provision of ample parking spots was one of the initial design brief items, and formed a critical aspect of the client’s sales plan. As such, the parking solution provided took on added importance to the overall design. The provision of a stacked parking solution led to the creation of higher ceiling heights in the mezzanine floors and basements.
There are two sections of commercial space: the Showroom Space (Ground floor and Ground floor mezzanine), and the Office spaces. The First Floor is a dedicated floor for Eateries/Restaurants, principally targeted at Fine Dining, Coffee Shops and/or Lounge Bars to target the residents and office users around the area. They have also made use of the slab that covers the uppermost mezzanine parking floor by converting the top of the slab into an outdoor garden seating area that will serve the individual food outlets.
The Offices themselves occupy the 2nd-10th Floors. They have been arranged around a circulation core at the centre comprising a staircase and three lifts. The Main Reception for the building is located on the Ground Floor, immediately prior to the Circulation Lobby. The design language used was an earthy mix of timber boarding on the backdrop and skirting of the desk itself, black slit stone cladding which we felt tied in with the massive entry wall on the external facade and frosted glass on the desk.
In Kenya there is a prevalence of using artificial cooling (air-conditioning) to regulate internal temperatures, especially during the summer. Additionally, there is some use of artificial heating in the form of electric heaters during the cooler evenings. The architects worked on mitigating these by attempting to maintain channels for through flow of cross ventilation through each floor plan; incorporating sun shading elements to prevent direct absorption of sunlight into the windows; the use of materials with a high thermal mass; and the use of a modified stack effect (the central void around the circulation core has vents along the roof level to allow hot air to escape from the roof level).
In order to reduce the energy requirement for lighting, they have put in place strategically positioned large windows to ensure that the use of artificial lighting during the day is minimized, along with LED light fittings as standard in all common areas. The most abundant available natural energy source around the equatorial region is the sun. The design will be utilizing renewable solar energy via Solar Water Heating PV panels for lighting in the common areas: Lobbies, Staircases, Circulation Spaces, Fire Exits etc.
The specification of the Glazing Solution was one of the most important aspects of the overall design. The reason for this was twofold: Firstly, glass formed the primary external finishing component of the building. As such the efficiency of the glazing solution would determine the overall efficiency of the building, both aesthetically as well as environmentally. An additional benefit of the double glazing solution proposed and accepted was its acoustic performance, taking into consideration the proximity of the design to the busy General Mathenge Drive.
Innovation with regard to construction needs to be contextualized, specifically with regard to construction practice in the region. In brief, an overwhelming majority of construction within the region is based on Reinforced Concrete Frame structures with masonry infill (in the case of multi-storey structures; low level structures sometimes use wall on wall structures).
In this context, the architects have used a few elements of Innovative technology. These elements may be considered the norm in more developed countries, but as of yet haven’t seen any widespread use in Kenya. Currently, steel structure construction is mainly limited to warehousing and industrial projects where long uninterrupted spans are required, and the need for short erection times are paramount. The Elegance will be one of the first projects done in Nairobi to adopt a steel structural system for a building more than 10 storeys in height.
The Elegance was recognised as the second runner-up in the AAK Awards of Excellence in Architecture 2016 in the category of Best Concept/Ongoing Project. Furthermore, Aleem Manji Architects was also named as a recipient of two Africa & Arabia Property Awards 2017-2018, and will be honoured at the Africa & Arabia Property Awards in Dubai in September 2017. They will be recognised in the Commercial High-rise Architecture category for The Elegance, and the Residential High-rise Architecture category for another project, Rumaisa.