OLD MUTUAL ZIMBABWE has probably the most prestigious
property investment portfolio in the country. Structure and
Design has featured two of their most prominent properties
in previous issues – the Eastgate Mall and the new Eastgate Market.
There are other major buildings in the CBD which form part of their
core real estate fund which include Old Mutual Centre, Batanai
Gardens, CABS Centre, Stanley House and Three Anchor House.
They have presence outside of the CBD through Westgate Shopping
Mall, Tendeseka Office Park, Borrowdale Office Park, Highglen
Shopping Centre and Mutual Gardens – their corporate headquarters.
Additionally, Old Mutual has extensive investments in retail, industrial
and residential properties across the country.
Old Mutual has always been forward-looking, innovative and quick
to adapt to current market trends as shown by their development of
the Eastgate Market, the first of its kind in Zimbabwe. They are deeply
committed to creating new models of property development and
property management, through adapting to changing lifestyles and rethinking how our cities and towns work.
The centre of Harare has generally become a much less desirable
space for both commercial and retail enterprises. With the movement
of businesses out of the CBD, there remain vacant office space and Old
Mutual has taken a bold step to help improve the situation and breathe
much needed life into the City. Their new Innovation Hub – called
Eight2Five – situated within Three Anchor House, is a prime example of
their ability to adapt to current trends. It’s in line with their philosophy of
changing their business pattern to suit current needs while at the same
time helping to renew and regenerate our urban environment.
In recognition of the urban flight, Old Mutual started rethinking their
property management philosophy. They looked at the highly successful
WeWork model of more flexible office and workspace solutions.
WeWork is an American commercial real estate company that
provides shared workspaces for technology start-ups and services
for other enterprises. Founded in 2010, it is headquartered in
New York City and now has 800 locations worldwide. WeWork
offers workspace to businesses where and when they need it,
whether the goal is to be closer to home, empower teams in
different cities, or have a go-to private space where workers can
get away from their home offices and actually focus. Many smaller
entrepreneurs don’t need full-time, dedicated office space but
just the convenience of a desk, internet access, related services
like printing facilities, and a comfortable space to consult with
co-workers or meet with clients. The WeWork model offers
shared offices, meeting rooms and office services in a relaxed and
comfortable environment According to WeWork’s philosophy, “The future has a greater variety of work locations, even within one company. Some people will head into a central office, others will take a 5-minute commute by foot, bicycle or car, to a neighbourhood co-working space. Others will work from
home most days, but not all. Teams will, eventually, gather in person, but not every day. Oncea-week meetings and work-togethers will make sense. Having a dedicated space for that once-a-week meeting wastes money, so a co-working supplier will provide great value.”
Old Mutual approached Office Design Co. to work on a radical new design for two floors of their Three Anchor House property in Jason Moyo Avenue in the City centre. The Office Design Co. team is comprised of Olly French who provides the design and conceptual side of
Office Design Co. and Steve Bailey who focuses on the project management and implementation of their projects. Three Anchor House was designed by local practice Fleet Utria Architecture and built between 1993 and 1995. Three Anchor House was one of the last high rise buildings to be constructed in the City centre. Old Mutual’s brief to Office Design Co. merely stated their requirements – offices, meeting rooms, a coffee shop, pause/rest areas and so on, but gave Office Design Co. free-range regarding the interior design and layout. Old Mutual has partnered with Office Design Co. on a number of previous projects including the design and implementation of their refurbished reception and Service Centres (both CABS and GreenZone) at 100 The Chase in Emerald Hill. In addition Office Design Co. has created the interior design and brand identity for CABS branches and GreenZone (Old Mutual’s retail offering) in locations around Zimbabwe. Office Design Co. was given a tight deadline to work on the concepts and design details in mid-2019 and construction work started in August. The first phase, the fourth floor, was completed in July this year – with challenges and delays caused by a difficult economic environment and thereafter complications brought about by the Covid 19 outbreak. Work on the fifth floor is yet to start, although ready to roll and is likely to be completed next year. Office Design Co.’s solution is unique, very contemporary, packed with colour and pattern, but above all it’s practical and comfortable. Materials were selected on the basis of budget and with a very specific look and feel in mind. Starting from the lift lobby some of the design themes are immediately apparent. The floor in the lobby has a fun mosaic design by Burnt Earth, with the words “Be the best version of you” set out in black, white and yellow tiles. There is a neon sign above that reads “ndinoda basa” – which translates as ‘I love work’. Inspirational mottoes recur throughout the workspace intended to be both fun and motivational. Other sayings include “It always seems impossible until it’s done” (attributed to Nelson Mandela), “If it doesn’t challenge you it won’t change you”, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” and “You are freaking awesome”. The slogans were provided by the client, through one of their partners. There’s also the multi-coloured Eight2Five logo in the lobby which was designed at Old Mutual’s head office in Cape Town. Part of the lobby walls have been clad with vibrant yellow and white panels while parts are clad in OSB (Oriented Strand Board) which has been left in its raw, industrial state, with a giant yellow numeral “4” indicating the floor. Bulkheads contain track spotlights, so the lobby is bright and cheerful. Royal blue doors lead off on either side to restrooms, kitchenettes and service areas. To the north of the lobby is the main reception desk which is backed by a brise soleil wall, partly painted in bright yellow and partly left untreated. On one side of the reception desk is a bright yellow partition of laser cut steel. Behind the reception desk is the shared printing space. To the right of the reception there’s a series of booths which have been partly soundproofed by padding covered in Java print where clients can make phone calls without making too much noise to disturb other occupants. Across the lobby there are three cubicles with bright green doors which are totally soundproofed where tenants can make Skype or video calls in private. The cubicles have little industrial looking chimneys coming out the top for air-conditioning. Behind the Skype cubicles there are two private meeting rooms which can accommodate six people each. Office Design Co. has incorporated a bit of fun with the lighting strapping together white, translucent “chigubus” to create unique fittings with an industrial aesthetic, mimicking glowing clouds overhead. Other playful elements include plug points for users with valves to switch on the power at their individual desks and port holes as viewing panels in doors. The solutions used in meeting a variety of working scenarios in the space was to accommodate three specific types of SME business scenarios. The first being a ‘Hot Desk’ for a single consultant-type user. These users will rent space on a large table and will be allocated a locker nearby where they can lock up their laptops and personal effects if they need to leave the office, or when they’ve finished work for the day. Secondly, there’s the Private Hot-Desk scenario where a fixed desk location is preferred, not an office, but still in an open area, screened off with expanded mesh panels or sound absorbent screens. The third scenario is designed for a Small Business option where tenants can rent a fixed office, which will be lockable and separated – where they brand their own door and have added security and privacy, with lock-up and go options; each slightly different in size, décor and layout. All of the user scenarios have the option to book meeting spaces of various sizes equipped with conferencing and presentation facilities. The office floors of Three Anchor House are basically rectangular spaces with triangular sections that protrude from each of the building’s four corners, seemingly out over the road. These corners give a great view over Harare’s CBD and surrounds showing off the urban context of the building’s location. This urban vibe is referenced in all sorts of design elements within the interior of the spaces. There are galvanised flexible conduits, ‘fences’ rather than partitions, exposed pipe work in the painted concrete deck ceilings and blackboard walls instead of the usual white boards common in most offices. More unusual and bespoke fixtures and built-in fittings – like the Skype rooms and phone booths – includes two small, private meeting booths where two people can sit face to face for more intimate chats. Many of the light fittings are the old fashioned wire framed ‘bulkhead’ lights often used in factories and on ships. The design further referenced an urban feel by including archways on some partition walls with brick wallpaper surrounds that give a New York industrial loft effect. In all cases, where aluminium and glass partitions are used, they are full height, large panes of glass maximising the light and open nature of the working environment. The east side of the floor space is probably the most unusual for an office space. There’s a coffee shop for tenants to grab a quick cup or a snack, as well as bistro-style seating for tenants to relax or chat with clients. There is a series of banquettes for more informal seating as well as some comfy wing back chairs upholstered in vibrant Java print. The wing back chairs and other soft furnishings were manufactured to specification by Ivory Palm Interiors while most of the other seating was sourced from Only Italian. Ivory Palm Interiors also made the ottomans for the flexible auditorium on the north side of the coffee shop. The cube shaped ottomans can be easily packed away into specially made shelving or arranged in any convenient configuration for presentations, group gatherings or for entertainment events. This space easily opens out to the adjacent café space with a full height, 7 metre long sliding folding door. This sounds like a lot to fit onto one floor of office space with a substantial area being dedicated to the lobby, restrooms and two kitchenettes as well as service areas. However, through the careful use of open plan and flexible layouts as well as glass and screens rather than office partitions, it never feels cramped or overcrowded. The Office Design Co. team used various floor finishes to differentiate areas with diverse functions – high-traffic areas have Cemcrete floors by Artisan, meeting rooms have wood finish vinyl floors while private or functional areas are carpeted to limit echo and noise. A variety of ceiling treatments also demarcate spaces. The existing suspended ceilings were stripped out and the concrete slab painted in a series of different dark tones with ducting, conduits and other services exposed, allowing the spaces to breathe and extending the feeling of height. Plasterboard bulkheads have been used in combination with different materials, such as upholstered panels, slatted sections and solid timber, all suspended on cables or threaded bar to give the spaces diversity, offer some noise buffering, partially conceal elements like air-conditioning and to support light fixtures. Although the design is a riot of colour and pattern, the consistent use of some materials helps to tie it all together. OSB board has been used throughout for some partitions, bulkheads and structural elements. It’s a slightly rough and ready material but helps to add texture and warmth to the industrial aesthetic. Java print has also been extensively used for its vibrant pattern, replacing regular, boring office-type fabrics. Another key element to refreshing the feel of the office environment is the extensive use of plants (in OSB planter boxes) to create a more informal look. The plants serve as screens and also help keep the air inside fresher and cleaner. But the design is not just about looking good – there are also many more technical elements involved. Most of the plumbing and electrics had to be re-configured and the sprinkler system re-set.