Healthy Buildings in Focus: Aurecon achieves first WELL certification in Africa for Exxaro head office developed by Growthpoint Properties

The flagship Exxaro head office in Centurion is the first building in South Africa to achieve Silver Level WELL certification for Core and Shell by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). This demonstrates a strong commitment from building owner Growthpoint Properties and the professional team to support health, well-being and comfort via the built environment.

“We realised some time ago that occupants’ health and wellness will become a critical component in commercial buildings. Therefore we made an investment to upskill our teams to achieve the first WELL-rated building on the African continent. With the latest Covid-19 crisis on hand, there will be an increased emphasis on the design and operation of buildings for occupant health and well-being,” comments Martin Smith, Technical Director and Service Leader for Mechanical and Sustainable Design at Aurecon, which is currently rebranding as Zutari.

Aurecon aligned the building design with Green Star and WELL certification requirements

The IWBI, based in the United States, is leading the global movement to transform buildings and communities in ways that help people thrive. IWBI administers the cutting-edge WELL Building Standard, the first global rating system to focus exclusively on the ways that buildings and everything in them can improve occupant and visitor comfort, drive better choices and generally enhance health and wellness.

In February this year, the IWBI announced that it had surpassed the 46.35 million square metre mark of buildings registered and certified globally under the WELL Building Standard, with 4 000 projects in nearly 60 countries. The WELL rating scheme was launched in October 2014 after seven years of research and development by leading physicians, scientists, and industry professionals.

The standard was developed by integrating scientific and medical research and literature on environmental health, behavioural factors, health outcomes and demographic risk factors that affect health with leading practices in building design, construction and management. The standard underwent a comprehensive three-phase expert peer review process, comprising scientific, practitioner and medical review.

Engineering, design and advisory company Aurecon collaborated closely with Growthpoint Properties and the rest of the professional team, including AECOM as quantity surveyor and structural engineer and AMA Architects to align the building design with the requirements of the Green Star rating system of the Green Building Council of South Africa.

“The question arose as to whether or not we could extend this process to include WELL certification,” explains Yovka Raytcheva-Schaap, Associate and Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) Consultant at Aurecon.

“We needed to rigorously consider the requirements of the WELL certification scheme we were working with, and to align the design at the very beginning of the project, as there were 26 pre-conditions to be met for such a certification, many of which had physical impact on the architectural and mechanical services elements.”

Raytcheva-Schaap elaborates: “As we were developing the design in accordance with the Green Star requirements, we also started unpacking the requirements for WELL certification in parallel, and what we could do to leverage the Green Star design to allow for compliance with the WELL Building Standard.”

In conjunction with an IWBI representative, a number of equivalent requirements between the two rating schemes were confirmed, such as ventilation, volatile organic compounds reduction and the thermal and acoustic performance of the building. The rigorous assessment process undertaken incorporated input from the entire professional team and developer.

A key consideration was to achieve the certification with a focused effort and limited risk for the client, especially as this was the first time that a WELL certification had been attempted in South Africa. The learning curve embarked upon has now equipped Aurecon to bring the experience of designing healthy buildings to other projects, current and future.

Stressing that Green Star and the WELL Building Standard are complementary, Raytcheva-Schaap highlights the main difference between the two as being that the former focuses on environmental performance, while WELL centres on occupant health and comfort. “It is the first global rating scheme that looks specifically at how buildings are designed to promote the well-being of their occupants.”

Another major difference is that the WELL certification scheme is a performance-based scheme, meaning that the project was subjected to a site performance verification for its compliance to targeted criteria within the different categories of the scheme, namely Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind. Extensive on-site testing of air and water quality, and assessment of intervention implementation, was carried out over three days by IWBI representatives.

While significant strides have been made to date to ensure that buildings are environmentally-friendly, WELL is the first rating system to look in-depth at how design and construction enhance the occupant experience. This dovetails with the current trends of agile workspaces, with the WELL Building Standard even having a feature entitled ‘Beauty and Design’ that pays particular attention to the aesthetic, social and contextual connection of building design.

The ESD team at Aurecon forms part of the Built Environment Unit. It collaborates across all building disciplines, from mechanical to electrical, wet services, civil and structural engineering. A major focus is modelling the energy, thermal and daylight performance of buildings, both as a design tool and to facilitate certification such as Green Star and the WELL Building Standard.

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