Elphick Proome Architects creates new factory for Unilever in Durban
The brief was to create 'a landmark, global flagship and state of the art production facility that is sustainable, energy efficient and a world class iconic building'. The development comprises a research development facility and offices integrated into the savoury dry food plant.
The design concept is a formal metaphor in abstract reference to the conveyor production lines which are integral to the core functions of the factory. One of the key elements of the design was to disengage the offices from the main warehouse which allowed this element to be expressed individually while still maintaining a consistent design language. A concordant architectural language was the key design principle and is displayed at a variety of scales from the production space through to the joinery in the offices.
The factory is trimmed with GRP fascias expressing the conveyor belt-like movement internally while curved concrete shelves along the sides of the office building merge with polished concrete paths running around the front of the building. The machine-like quality exuded is amplified using horizontal and vertical perforated aluminium solar louvres of the office and warehouse, angled for optimum sun protection while creating a reduction in cooling needs.
The entrance to the office building, is announced by an over sailing portico supported on randomly arranged angled columns. Predominantly white interiors reflect natural light from full height glazing comprising clear and blue panes of performance glass. The design of the office space is based on the concept of ‘agile workspaces', deploying ‘focus', ‘connect' and ‘vitality' zones, thus creating a dynamic, and stimulating work environment. Grey flooring, off shutter concrete and white ceilings are juxtaposed with bright colours in the office interiors.
A unique sustainability feature is the water-neutral plant. The 22,000-sq-m roof space is used to harvest rainwater which is then stored in a 1.5 million litre water subterranean recovery tank. ‘Water efficiency technology' facilitates 70% of all water used in the production process and grey water is recycled into drinking water quality using biological and reverse osmosis treatment. The harvested rainwater, air conditioning condensate and grey water are treated separately and fed back to the domestic water storage tank to be reused on site.
The powerful design concept evidenced in the realisation of the building can be considered as be an exemplary synthesis of theory and form.