Qoboza/Klaaste (QK) Building Refurbishment
In July 2018, Activate completed a 2300 sqm refurbishment to the Qoboza/Klaaste (QK) Building that included significant challenges including a very tight timeframe, managing construction work during teaching hours, and an onerous fire approval process.
The building, formerly the Perskor Building, was acquired by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in 2012 with the aim of establishing the university’s Doornfontein Campus as the academic and technology hub of the City of Johannesburg. An initial refurbishment, undertaken by GAPP Architects, linked the building via a sky bridge to the original Doornfontein Campus buildings. The Perskor building was renamed the Qoboza/Klaaste (QK) Building in honour of journalists Percy Qoboza and Aggrey Klaaste, and the intention was to create additional lecturing space, to offer work integrated learning training in a workshop environment and provide interactive hubs for engineering students.
Edward Brooks, founding director at Activate and project lead on the 2018 refurbishment, comments that the original refurbishment by GAPP to transform the building from an industrial structure into a series of lecture venues and associated amenities had been quite successful. However, due to budgetary constraints at the time, the project’s internal fit out remained incomplete with only 60% of the initial floor space converted.
In late 2017, Activate was commissioned to undertake an additional R50m budget fit out of two floors with lecture venues, seminar rooms and new ablution facilities to bring the converted space to 90% of the floor space. This encompassed the design and construction of 10 teaching venues in total (ranging in size from 96- to 152-seaters), plus 8 staff offices and 4 seminar rooms. Eight of the lecture venues were located on the 1st floor, with an additional two venues on the 3rd floor.
Construction began in January 2018. “The initial design by GAPP specified an industrial look-and-feel and robust finishes,” says Brooks. “We designed the new refurbishment in line with this concept, while upgrading some of the specifications such as audio-visual equipment, the technology of which has advanced in the last few years; and sophisticated drop-down acoustic panels in the lecture venues to assist with sound attenuation, which has been an ongoing problem in parts of the converted building. Two other upgrades were the re-waterproofing of the roof, and the upgrading of some of the floor finishes.”
One of the biggest challenges was accommodating an extra 500 students in terms of fire regulations. This required the addition of two new free-standing fire escapes to the south side of the building. The challenge arose because these fire escapes meet the ground where a bank of volatile gases was located, which services the Resolution Circle – a training hub owned by UJ that provides experiential learning opportunities to undergraduate electrical and mechanical engineering students. The bank had to be moved about 50m to an enclosed area within a new caged concrete and brick structure, with fire deluge systems and alarms. This process resulted in 6-month delay from the Johannesburg Fire Department before acknowledgement of the relocation was received.
The new design includes a very robust double staircase that can accommodate 500 students, together with new bridges that span the existing atria, to make the atria transversable and to facilitate circulation within the new areas of the building. New spill-out spaces were also incorporated, furnished as informal work areas for students with acoustic ceiling panels to dampen the sound from the public areas. The architects also gave each atrium a different colour to give building users a sense of orientation. And new air-conditioning units were craned onto the building for a Variable Refrigerant Volume (VRV) HVAC System, which was specified in order to minimise energy consumption and maximise fresh air.
Brooks observes that the project had to be very well coordinated, as much of the construction work took place during academic teaching time. The deadline was also not negotiable as the project had to be practically complete in time for an Engineering Council South Africa (ECSA) accreditation process that UJ underwent for new B Eng Tech qualifications, which took place in July 2018.
“The team had to commit to a fair amount of weekend and night work, together with stoppages during exams. We had to get fabrication of the bridges and staircases done quickly, as these were key to ensuring that the rest of the project rolled out on time. We also had to put in big crash decks to prevent materials falling while students were walking down below. With all these factors, the project was completed under budget and on time, so the university was very pleased.”
From the Client’s Perspective
UJ’s Executive Director: Operations, Professor Andre Nel, says, “The Q/K building upgrade was part of the ongoing process to fully utilize the available floor space which was obtained through the original shell conversion of the Perskor building. For senior UJ management it was important that the new architectural team, Activate, would ensure the integration of the new space into the converted space in a way that would not clash with the original design but would be identifiable as new and fresh. The Activate team produced a design for the new space that created a visible difference in the designed spaces while ensuring that the overall industrial feel and academic environment design smoothly integrates the new areas into the old.
“Acting as the principal agent for UJ, Activate also managed the project in a professional manner ensuring that the project was completed in time for the ECSA accreditation as well as within a very tight budget. Universities are being pressed to provide ever more services on restricted budgets, and the ability to manage a project to meet the budget with minimal variations and additions is to be commended. The UJ project team was always comfortable that the best interests of the university were being served and that our project was being given an exceptional level of attention by the Activate team.
“For UJ, the final product’s acceptance by the academic users is perhaps the best indicator of the success of a project and, so far, the feedback on the new spaces, lecture venues and offices has only been positive. UJ can only express its heartfelt appreciation to Activate and Edward specifically for a project that, from a client perspective, was a simple pleasure.”
Architect and Principal Agent: Activate Architecture
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