It can be said that the conception and development of Area & Funeral offices for the AVBOB Group in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, forms part of a concerted effort to develop a recognisable brand in terms of their facilities. An interrogation of the apparent dichotomy set up between commercial and private construction projects was the inevitable result.
Notably, while a clear and directed urban language, largely, yet to be defined; the core service AVBOB provides remains steeped in tradition and ritual. The construction would necessarily traverse the spheres of urbane and humane in its execution as the project brief necessitated an expanded programme. Operating criteria and outcomes set by the client, called for a mixed-use proposal. While this is a typical development model in the industry to date and well supported by statutory councils around the country, the somewhat unconventional mix of functions posed the initial design challenge.
Issues of site and siting became the most informing and binding aspects pertaining to the project. The location stand size and zoning were constraints the design team had to negotiate in order to fulfil the occupational brief. Thus, while the client owned the interior; all edges came to be seen as shared spaces. Traffic engineers informed access, frontage and orientation while civil engineers and landscapers populated the boundaries. Town Planning enabled the desired use and structures were sprouted and often sharply cut to evoke praxis.
Stratified volumes were now bisected by an imaginary median, a divide between traditional customs of burying a loved one with dignity and the clinical business of pursuing fiscal sustainability. A fitting conclusion to days spent negotiating, months planning and years of construction, a chapel on the highest part of the site.
Hierarchy of commercial space uses:
Because no project goes without complexities, the development of this building was further challenged by the fact that the professional team was based in Cape Town. Managing the project from a different city meant that extra attention had to be given to the exchange of information. Good communication and trust in the capabilities of the team was the foundation of a successful completion. Weekly meetings on site meant that all the professionals had to fly to East London to ensure client expectations were met.
The design of the interior spaces evolved largely from the external aesthetic; however, a lot of the decisions were a result of statutory regulations. A balance had to be found for the building to communicate a corporate identity, meeting health and safety requirements and creating a space where clients would feel comfortable.
The material palette consisted largely out of concrete, steel and glass. The application of these materials married with the abstract geometries of the three-dimensional form brought to life a building suitable to be called a head office. The spaces were softened internally with the inclusion of timber elements in waiting areas and carpets in office spaces.