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What's So Special About The Glass House?

Category General interest

We take a minute to fill you in on the significance of this familiar La Lucia Ridge landmark and how, and why it came about.

Unless you're a Durban based Architect, engineer or Historian, you may well not be aware of the interesting foundations of the Glass House Office Park on La Lucia Ridge.

This iconic building was designed by Architect Hans Heyerdahl Hallen who was born in Durban in 1930 to Norwegian parents and then schooled at Durban High School (DHS).

If you're familiar with Durban from the 1970's then you may recall The Little Top / Beachball on Addington beach which was demolished when the beachfront was renovated in 2009/2010. This was also a Hallen Design which features in many photographs from this era.

Why Was The Glass House So Important For It's Time?

Because it set a new course for commercial office development.

It was probably Durban's first decentralised office building and set a new standard for future commercialised office space. The 4000 square meter building sought to consolidate six of Tongaat Hulett's offices around KZN into one functional space. The corporate head office was described as 'the first of the late modernist corporate headquarters designed for the sugar company'. www.kznia.org.za

(1973 - 1977 Hallen, Theron & Partners)

The "temple in the canefields" was the first building to be developed out in the sugar cane lands of La Lucia at the time. It was designed as a low-rise, 3 storey rectangular envelope with minimal external fabric and and an air-conditioned interior. The semi basement originally housed the computer systems for the offices, but today accommodates storerooms, generators and waste recycling areas.

The Evolution Of An Iconic Building

The building is entered on the diagonal and provides a double-volume core of open space. The exterior features mainly glass walls and glazed, rounded corners, with a projecting aluminium half-round cornice to create shade and control heat. It lis basically a giant aluminium half-pipe and gives the building its unique status and significant presence on the Ridge.

The Glass House is set on two hectares of land and is now surrounded by three other office buildings, including parking and driveway access between them. A coffee shop formed part of the design from the start and still forms an important meeting place for the entire park

During the 1980's the building became the seat of administration of the sugar subsidiary Tongaat Hulett Sugar (the amalgamation of Hulett and Tongaat companies). Interestingly, and not commonly known, is that Hallen grew a Research and Development laboratory wing to the building in 1983, aligned diagonally to the main building and joined via a short pedestrian bridge.

By 2003, the office building had started to show signs of wear and tear. Hand-railings were rusting, garden walls cracked and finishes to the internal space had changed, impacting on the natural light and leaving the space 'gloomy'.

The iconic cornice was in fairly bad condition by this point, with many of the covering pieces loose or missing and and some of the steel trusses rusted. Overall, the Glass House required attention.

A Special Commercial Space With A Future

It was shortly after 2003 that Tongaat Hullet vacated the building and JT Ross purchased the property and the surrounding land. The original Glass House Building was restored and turned into a multi-tenanted space with Multichoice, MWeb, First National Bank, Pernod Ricard and First Technology amongst some of the original tenancies.

Over a period of about five years, a further three office buildings were built on the 2ha site and established as multi tenanted offices, with several of the original businesses still settled there today.

Now over ten years later, restorative repair work has once again been undertaken and a redesign of the internal space is underway to breathe life into the iconic "temple in the sugar cane". With advances in technology and building designs, the space is being reimagined, while retaining it's heritage. An undertaking which has become the signature of the property and development group, JT Ross.

"The temples on La Lucia Ridge have multiplied, but few successors match the power of the Huletts composition, let alone the thoughtful quality of detail. The building is acknowledged as the benchmark and thus did indeed meet with Hallen's expectations of providing the example for development on the Ridge." - Walter Peters, KZ-NIA Journal · Issue 3/2003 · Volume No 28

Author: Robyn Renzow

Submitted 14 Nov 18 / Views 1106