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Mauritius Commercial Bank: Ebene Building

By: Jean Francois Koenig, Architect

The Mauritius Commercial Bank, the oldest bank in Mauritius and the Indian Ocean islands founded in 1878 and based in the capital city Port Louis, February 2006 saw me design offices and training facilities in Ebene, in the centre of the island, which decentralised them from Port Louis for the first time in history.

Their brief came with instructions to keep it simple and inexpensive. They got something different that went far beyond the brief. The building reinvented the client’s way of working and thinking about the workplace and the environment.

To put it in context, it started at a time before many Green Building Councils around the world had been formed and it became the first building in the southern hemisphere to obtain a British Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) certificate. The building also became the first Mauritian work of architecture to represent with four others the best of African architecture at the International Union of Architects (UIA) World Congress inTokyo 2011, a triennial event and with it, I was elected as one of the ‘100 Architects of the World 2012’ in a competition organised by the Union of International Architects (UIA) and the Korean Institute of Architects (KIA).

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It has become so popular with the client that they all want to work there and sometimes board meetings traditionally held in Port Louis have been switched from head office to the new building. Energy savings begin with a well insulated building and optimum orientation. The concrete shell is insulated with 50mm rigid polystyrene, an air gap of 350mm and an 8mm thick honeycombed aluminium external skin. The portholes in the glass rings all around the ellipse are double glazed and with the air gap of the outer reflective glass skin creates a triple glazing solution. The two glass facades of the ellipse are true north-south with sunscreens whose projection depths were determined by sun path analyses. They are 1.8m on the north face and shallower at 1.2m on the south to prevent direct sunlight hitting the full height double glazing during working hours from 8.30am to 4.30pm. During this period, the blinds remain up to allow maximum glare free daylight to enter the 22m deep floor plate eliminating the need for artificial lighting entirely. Low angled early morning and late afternoon sun is controlled by perforated blinds which drop down automatically from sun sensors relayed to the computerised building management system.

The building is the expression of an abstract geometric shape in the form of a pure ellipse. It is held aloft on four pillars. Born from the need to accommodate both auditoria and offices, it is the architectural synthesis of these two different requirements fused into one single shape. It is an example that Islands care about, and can make a leading contribution to global sustainability even though they have a low carbon footprint and insignificant impact on climate change.

The orientation of the elliptical glass facades is true North-South. The blank curved East and West ends are well insulated and the portholes are triple glazed. The photovoltaic cell farm contributes to over one third of the total energy needs at peak with clean solar power.

The Board Room on the top floor shows the expressed steel structure, natural light entering from the roof and the sides, and the ample space provided for the long table as well as two rows of plants under the glass rings.

Plant rooms, traditionally situated on the roofs of buildings, are situated on lower levels for ease of access and maintenance. This liberates the roof allowing large spans and column free spaces on the upper floors facilitating internal planning.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 2.07.17 PMFull height double glazing allows in a maximum amount of natural daylight. The depth of sunscreens, deeper on the north facade and shallower on the south facade are determined from the study of sun paths. Sensor controlled perforated venetian blinds are activated automatically to control glare. To eliminate interference from external noise from the nearby motorway the glass walls of the auditoriums are triple glazed.

There are no suspended ceilings in the building, not even in the acoustically engineered auditoriums. The underside of the concrete slabs are kept bare and painted white.

Underfloor cooling passes through a stabilised air plenum without ducts optimising flexibility. No ceilings allow cold energy stored within the thermal mass of the structure to radiate directly into the floor below keeping ambient temperature down and diminishing cooling loads.

The ‘all air’ air conditioning uses ‘free cooling’ in winter months. Three large thermal storage tanks insulated and clad in polished stainless steel store energy to further reduce cooling loads.

Night time illumination accentuates the shape of the building whereby its beauty, like the soul, comes from within. Five glass rings encircle the building accentuating the purity of its geometry. Portholes enhance the air and space ship quality of the architecture gives the sense that the building is ‘landed’ on its base.

Access to the plant rooms are through “gull wing” doors. The materials chosen are long lasting and mostly maintenance free. The pillars are clad in travertine marble. The louvers are in semi-matt stainless steel. The shell is clad in aluminium and, in an honest expression of function, no attempt is made to hide the blue insulation of the shell which is seen through the glass rings. The drop off entrance porte-cochere lights are recessed in the thickness of the concrete slab. Kerbs, bollards and the sloping and curved retaining walls are in white off -shutter precast concrete.

Source: The Green Building Handbook Volume 6

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Energy efficiency industry created to the detriment of entrepreneurship

It is becoming more evident daily that we are experiencing an energy efficiency entitlement epidemic, where hand-outs are expected.

So writes Yolanda de Lange of Energy Cybernetics: Eskom DSM and similar energy efficiency ‘assistance-type’ programmes has in my opinion, in a majority of companies, created a culture of expectation, even before initiatives are taken to implement energy efficiency projects.

No sustainable mind-shift

The DSM approach, whilst creating significant awareness and being overwhelmingly successful to ensure the lights stay on when  needed – has not actually created a sustainable mind-shift. But it did what it had to do when it had to do it.

Yes, an ESCO and energy ‘expert’ market quickly mushroomed when Eskom DSM started their programmes. Now that DSM is gone, most of these knowledgeable companies and skills that have been developed are virtually ‘hanging in the air,’ so to speak, and are struggling to make ends meet.

What’s in it for me?

Industry is just not as keen to embark on energy efficiency projects, as they are not able to “get something out of it”, other than the savings. ESCO’s and other energy consulting-type firms and entrepreneurs that relied on the DSM programme have had to become very creative in changing their offerings to be able to successfully quote for jobs.

On a daily basis we receive enquiries at the Energy Training Foundation (EnTF), and of late the questions asked have moved from mere, “What is the course about?”, followed by a booking or not, or, “Where can I buy product ‘X’?”, or helping to find a Certified Professional for a project; to in the last few months me feeling like a career guidance officer brainstorming with enquirers as to how they can use their training or qualification they received from the AEE to get business in.

Yes, there are some tenders out. Some emulating another ‘assistance-type’ solution to clients, but this energy industry is a tough one, which is the backbone of the ‘green skills’ and environmental jobs the government wants to grow. Tenderers are finding that they have to tender and quote to the bone, offering lean quotations, whilst having to cover increasing expenses to keep businesses afloat.

No holistic focus on sustainable energy management

Is the problem not that the real benefits of sustainably implementing energy management to ensure continuous energy efficiency with all the related benefits have not been the focus, but rather one project at a time? Offering a client a properly constructed energy management plan is the only way one can make sure the project(s) that have been implemented remain optimal in delivering what the client needs, and more importantly, it gives the energy market a lot more credibility than just churning out once-off projects.

Besides enabling South Africans to become internationally qualified as energy professionals through the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), at the EnTF we are passionate about making sure companies get started correctly so they can continuously benefit from optimal energy management. Which is why we believe ISO50 001:2011 Energy Management System standard is the only way to go – whether it is for Certification purposes, to ensure that continuous benefits from energy efficiency improvements are gained. We offer workshops where we have skilled staff to get you going towards ISO50 001 in three full days, in which all your key staff participate and so understand the journey your company needs to be on to become truly sustainable.

Maximum savings targets for sustained long-term return

This approach provides the client with enough information to make informed decisions to implement an energy management policy and plan according to a standardized approach. This in order to set and meet maximum energy savings targets and achieve sustained long-term and maximum return on any energy efficiency and renewable investments. After the session the client will have a clearer understanding of:

  • What needs to be done on the site to achieve optimal energy management
  • Where energy could be saved at significant energy use areas
  • Estimates of what energy savings could be expected
  • What needs to be further investigated for more accurate energy saving targets
  • Who needs to be trained and to which level
  • Which services would need to be outsourced
  • Which services could be catered for in-house
  • How much needs to be invested in the short, medium and long-term
  • Which technologies and retrofits need to be considered
  • Which incentives and rebates could be pursued
  • What is required to continuously save energy

For course dates for next year, please click here.

Source: The Green Times