Out of the park

The new addition to the Oxford Parks Precinct in Johannesburg, designed by GLH Architects, makes a strong but elegant contribution to the unfolding development. 

5 Parks Boulevard is the fourth building GLH Architects has completed in the Oxford Parks precinct in Johannesburg. It occupies a site adjacent to one of their earlier buildings, the Ikusasa building at 7 Parks Boulevard. 

Oxford Parks has been planned as a certified sustainable precinct with the aim of extending the sustainability of individual buildings into the public environment and its infrastructure.  It’s urban vision also involves preserving and extending Rosebank’s distinctive walkable character and its densely treed urban context as it links the edge of Rosebank and Dunkeld with Illovo Boulevard, a pedestrian-friendly commercial strip to the north. It intentionally ties into the surrounding urban fabric, eschewing booms or barriers in favour of mid-block walkways that flow through the development, squares and public spaces between the buildings, giving it a permeable character and comfortable human scale. As a mixed-use development, Oxford Parks includes commercial, hospitality and retail components, with residential suites planned to follow. 5 Parks Boulevard opens onto one of the prominent intersections within the precinct – designed to function as open spaces or piazzas – requiring a certain architectural presence. 

The building consists of a ground floor plus four additional levels. It is slightly elevated on a podium with a large terrace, which is “on the street” but not “in the street”. The terrace will be activated by the office tenants and retail on the ground floor, which is arranged around a triple-volume atrium. The open terraces overlooking the sidewalk and intersection will thus be populated and busy, contributing to the public realm. The distinction between public and private space, however, is subtly conveyed by the transition the pedestal marks from street level to elevated terrace, without necessitating visual barriers. This way, the building activates the street edge and provides passive surveillance, contributing to the safety of the public spaces and promoting an active street life within the precinct. 

The building’s most prominent façade, raised to accommodate the voluminous atrium, faces onto the intersection with a landmark grandeur, imparting clear identity. A distinctive façade feature slopes elegantly towards the building entrance, drawing the eye and bringing the façade down to human scale with a certain dynamism, while making for a welcoming, comfortable entrance experience. At the far end, the building ties visually to the adjoining building, also designed by GLH, while maintaining a separate identity. 

Despite its stature, the façade elements are simple and minimalistic, expressed in natural materials. The curve on the street-facing front is complemented with columns and soffits in natural concrete, allowing the flowing line full expression. The vertical elements between the fenestration are architecturally strong, but clad in a timber-textured finish that softens their appearance, with reference to the context of the surrounding urban forest. Balconies and a fourth-floor terrace overlook the dense tree canopy of Rosebank, with views extending to the north and west. 

The building is positioned at a slightly oblique angle from the street, creating additional interest and dynamism in its relationship with the streetscape, once again contributing a level of variety and interest to the public realm. The western façade faces a site where a residential block is planned, so the façade here – which includes fewer windows, both minimising the effects of the harsh western sun and providing privacy for future inhabitants – is staggered to break down the scale and keep the presence of this front unimposing. 

The glass on the façade has been painstakingly selected to provide maximum clarity while managing glare and solar gain. This clarity improves visual comfort for the building’s inhabitants and a sense of unmediated connection with the environment outside, which has a palpable effect on the user experience and contributes to a general sense of wellbeing fostered by the views and the natural quality of the light. Nevertheless, the windows reflect the surrounding jacaranda trees, almost as if they were picture frames, further softening the façade and emphasising the environment. 

The interior of the atrium reprises the curved line on the building façade in various features, including the balconies, feature lights and floor pattern, bringing a gentleness to the interior environment. In keeping with the sustainable ethos of the precinct, 5 Park Boulevard features a wide range of sustainable features, going to some lengths to push the envelope. It has been designed with the intention of achieving both a 6-Star Green Star Rating and a Net Zero Carbon rating. 

While 5 Parks Boulevard remains a simple, unfussy presence in the Oxford Parks precinct, its grace and elegance make a strong contribution to the unfolding development, moving its progress as a visionary, sustainable urban realm a step further along its journey. 

Professional team

Client: Intaprop Architects: GLH Architects Mechanical engineers: Adaptive Resource Engineers Electrical engineers: RWP Consulting Engineers Structural engineers: Pure Consulting Engineers Fire engineers: WSP in Africa Wet services engineers: Izazi Consulting Engineers Quantity surveyors: Agora Africa Project managers: Morta Project Management Landscape architects: Insite Landscape Architects Sustainability consultants: Solid Green Consulting 

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