Wasserfall Munting Architects is a Windhoek practice that prides itself in its dedication to the pursuit of design excellence and simple clarity in the architectural solutions it proposes. The Ernst & Young (EY) Chartered Accountants building represents a rather exceptional company. It has been conceived to give expression of an innovative, unconventional building that challenges traditional relationships between culture, environment, structure and space, while accommodating the organization’s progressive working methods.
The architect needed to avoid the stereotypical office solution by resolving the brief in such a way that the identity of EY would be announced within Windhoek urban environment as an expressive building full of style. The site is located in a decentralized commercial node in the suburbs of Klein Windhoek in an area surrounded by hills with low-density residential development. It is bordered by streets on three sides and slopes down to a small watercourse. The views onto the site from these surroundings dictated a sensitive approach to site planning, scale, form, and the use of materials.
The architect considered transparency, legibility, corporate identity, context, access and slope of the site, form and shape, climatic concerns and security as the key design principles from the inception. A strong circulation axis screened on one side from the lower-lying staff parking lot with mild steel sections leads the visitor along a shaded entrance walkway to a reception area where glimpses of the building interior are introduced. On one side the walkway is open which extends to a generous open space embracing the public face of the building.
Inside the building, a clear hierarchy of space from public to private is maintained without introducing physical barriers. At this point the circulation axis terminates in a system of ramps which intersect with the double-volume frustum-like space that forms the heart of the complex.
The company’s philosophy is echoed in the design of both the building’s spatial and office environment through:
▪ The prioritization of a ‘People First’ philosophy: an unusually large proportion of floor area is dedicated to non-work, staff-related functions ( 28% of the total floor area)
▪ The down-play of corporate hierarchy: a deliberate absence of cellular office space unless needed for visual and/or acoustic privacy – partners are seated within the open office configuration, with the cellular offices a series of meeting and quiet rooms on the east side of each office floor
▪ The concept of generic seating: an open-plan office arrangement with a generic, non-dedicated seating configuration – a first-come-first-served principle applies, and at day’s end personal belongings are locked away in lockers. The company’s dynamics are set firmly within a Namibian context where the vernacular architecture served as an abstract for the new building at the request of the client. The vernacular architecture is applied not only in a spatial organisation that emulates the traditional Ambo homestead with all its important ‘olupale’, a centralized circular meeting space, but also in the juxtaposing of old and new, both in the making of form and use of materials.
The central space with its conical shape is truncated in a contemporary fashion but still evokes the traditional shelter. The rigidity of the rectangular office blocks is contrasted with the organic forms of the drum and the curved stone wall. The combination of organic and manufactured surfaces (stone and water versus steel, concrete, and porcelain) and the alternations between opacity and transparency create a dynamic visual and sensory experience.
The truncated cone has a double-skinned ventilated structure that helps to reduce heat gain. The architect used of Rheinzink as cladding (a first for Namibia) which is made of pure zinc and is long lasting and maintenance-free and also meets the most stringent ecological requirements. The building interiors are simple with decorations which serve to reinforce Namibian culture . Twenty-eight light pendants are suspended from the roof of the central space symbolizing the twenty-eight living languages listed for Namibia, and local artist Francois de Necker was commissioned to create a wall-mounted mobile of recycled materials depicting various cultural and economic symbols of Namibia.