In the recently presented 2009 IPSA Awards of Excellence (featured in the previous issue of Landscape SA), The Office Plant received a gold award for the Zurich Insurance head office in Johannesburg. They were also awarded the IPSA trophy for the Most Innovative Interior Landscape Design.

The contemporary design and minimalist feel of the building set the tone for the interior plantscaping, which was undertaken by The Office Plant. John Simone, Managing Director of The Office Plant, worked together with Jacqui Wessels of Collaboration, the interior design company Zurich has dealt with for many years, as well as Sarah Brothers of Facet Interiors. Wessels introduced a horticultural aspect to the design because “the correct plantscaping greatly enhances the image of the interiors and adds life to the open plan areas and enclosed rooms.” Brothers was responsible for the design aspects of the public spaces ncluding the atriums, lobbies, bathrooms, main boardroom, the executive area on the 5th floor, main boardroom and executive dining area on the 6th floor. She introduced the internal planting for its calming effect in an office environment.

Orchids have been placed in the executive suites and main lobby and are replaced regularly.Green, blue and red beaded aloes in stainless steel containers have been placed on different floors, and match the colour scheme on that floor. The aloes are made by Zimbabwean beaders as part of a social upliftment programme.

Mix of elements

The interior plantscaping is a combination of live plant material and striking beaded aloes in stainless steel containers. In the entrance lobby, two floor evel planters contain Dracaena refelexa specimens, four in one planter and three in the other. The structured form of the plant works well in the minimalist environment of the building. Also present in the entrance lobby is a grouping of Philanopsis in glass bowls at the main reception desk. They have a life span of approximately two months in the office environment and need to be replaced on a regular, ongoing basis.
The executive floor has two circular atriums, mirror-images of each other, above which are skylights to allow additional light penetration for the Wild Olive trees. Brothers wanted stark trees and a simple groundcover to create a contemporary feel, and originally selected Leopard trees to accomplish this, but as these are not suited to an indoor environment, Simone chose the Olea africana. “These are also not usually used for interiors, but they have been pre-conditioned and placed in liners and as a result their growth will be limited,” he explains. As a certain stem caliper was required, the planting of the Wild Olives in the 55cm Styler liner proved to be a challenge, especially as the depth in the atriums was only 50cm. Each atrium contains 18 Wild Olive trees which are artistically arranged in a bed of bark chips and underplanted with Mondo Grass.

On each floor, the walkway leading to the open plan office space is enhanced with a row of stainless steel planters containing beaded aloes in either red, blue or green. The colour of the beading matches the main colour scheme of the screens and artwork on that particular floor. The containers have been placed in strips of white pebbles which reflect attractively in the high gloss stainless steel planters. The look is crisp and clean.
The beaded Aloes were supplied by Obbligato who employ Zimbabwean beaders (based in South Africa) as part of their social responsibility income generating programme. They work on a freelance basis. Says Angela Bax of Obbligato: “We develop patterns for the plants we want made and this helps to keep them standard in size. The beaders then add their own interpretation to make them into attractive works of art. Plants are customised to suit the different projects and we have produced giant proteas and aloes, amongst others.”
Simone says: “The decision to use the beaded aloes was a process that evolved with regard to colours, ranges and finishes. The longer-leafed Aloe was chosen to provide balance in the tall containers.”


Simone originally wanted to bring in the soil for atriums by crane but this was not possible and bagged soil was eventually brought in and carried manually up five flights of stairs. “Fortunately it is a bark medium and fairly light,” he says.
The main challenge was to plant the Oleas in the shallow circle and acclimatise them (and the Mondo grass) to indoor growth. The Oleas are susceptible to Sooty Mould and a second set of these trees is waiting and ready to be brought in should those initially installed not survive (most have been in the atrium for 10 months already). Light levels are also a concern; despite the presence of a skylight over each atrium, there is still insufficient sunlight and no free-flowing air.

Precise planning

The entire process was very well organised and the order for containers placed six months in advance of the installation. “Everything was carried out very effectively under the guidance of Zurich’s property manager Barry Reynolds. Lifts were allocated and a strict schedule had to be adhered to. It was really a pleasure to work like this,” explains Simone. Reynolds comments that although there were many aspects to take into account, it was a relatively simple programme and logical from an installation point of view. “I called all the suppliers together and provided them with the work programme on a computer spread sheet. The Office Plant was in fact at the tail end of project and it was important for all the ducks to be in a row. It’s really just in my nature to plan things in an orderly fashion,” he says.

Reynolds was not personally involved with the interior design brief and the ideas for the plantscaping came from Collaboration and Facet Interiors. However he gave them ‘a relatively free hand’ and only intervened where he felt something was not appropriate from a work and work station point of view (these are all open plan and divided by screens). “The interior planting is an integral part of our office environment and has elicited a very positive response from staff members. The fact that The Office Plant received a gold award and trophy for the project says it all,” he states.

Judges’ comments

When assessing the installation for the 2009 IPSA awards, the judges commented that Zurich was an outstanding project in which live plants, planters and beaded plants were combined to produce a striking impact. Simone says that the project was very gratifying in that he was able to use and bring in all aspects of plantscaping covered by The Office Plant.

Text by Karyn Richards. Photos by Connall Oosterbroek of Roots SA