Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre: when the thought counts

By Patrick Gwitirwa of VMG Consulting Engineers*

The Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre was constructed purely through donations and it features a quiet, efficient HVAC system to match the solemn beauty of the carefully thought-out architecture.

DPS mainImage credit:  Hannes Uys

Located at the corner of Jan Smuts Avenue and Duncombe Road, the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre (JHGC) is one of Johannesburg’s most awe-inspiring locations, taking the stage to join its sister centres in Cape Town and Durban as part of the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation (SAHGF) as well as being a member of the Association of Holocaust Organisation, comprising over 300 institutions worldwide.

The SAHGF was founded in 1997 by the Cape Town Holocaust Centre board of trustees in response to the Holocaust being incorporated into the national high school curriculum. Since inception, the vision of the SAHGF has been to raise awareness of the evils of genocide, with focus on the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda through their educational tours, workshops, and educator training, to name a few.

The JHGC broke ground to their new building in 2012 and officially moved in mid-2016. The breathtaking architecture designed by Lewis Levin and the building design envisioned by JHGC for their new building, are seen on the building façade and experienced upon entry to the building. The stature of this building is further intensified when learning of the thought behind the design aspects, such as the railway tracks on the wall that symbolise the parting of ways of loved ones during the genocides, and that this entire undertaking was constructed, and is being maintained, purely upon donations from the public.

Silence is key

The design and construction of the new building were to match the JHGC requirements — a building in which little to no outside or air-conditioning noise could be heard. The silence within the centre would allow the audience to carefully view and reflect upon the exhibition, considering the severity of what had occurred, and the lessons gained to shape a better future.

The HVAC system was met by two main challenges: developing a ducting network that would fit into the aesthetics of a ceiling-free, exposed design, all the while ensuring near silent performance under peak loads.

To prevent the noise from traffic on the busy Jan Smuts Avenue, the building was developed using sound insulation (between the double-bricked walls) and double-glazed windows. The double-glazed windows would further allow thermal insulation against convective heat losses from, or heat gain to the building from the ambient conditions, and due to its laminated glass panes, it would allow for a reduced heat gain through solar radiation. This sound and thermal insulation would not only serve to ensure the desired mood within the building, but also allow for the comfort of those viewing the exhibitions, along with the staff who are within the building for extended periods of time.

HVAC installation

Adding to this, a heating, air-conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) system was installed to ensure a greater level of thermal comfort to those within the building. The areas of focus for the HVAC system were to be in the offices, the temporary exhibition, the permanent exhibition, and the seminar rooms.

The system installation began in 2013 and concluded in 2015, seeing the air-conditioning units and ducting being procured and installed in different years. The development of the HVAC systems was constructed under an optimistic schedule, as a set schedule could not be compiled because of the donation-based funded approach. This saw the installation being prolonged over the course of the three years.

The HVAC system was met by two main challenges: developing a ducting network that would fit into the aesthetics of a ceiling-free, exposed design, all the while ensuring near silent performance under peak loads.

Due to the architect’s meticulous attention to detail to the overall design, the HVAC ducting exposed in the offices and exhibitions could not be constructed using galvanised sheeting, wrapped by an insulation layer with double diffuser outlets (as per industry norm). On numerous occasions, a scheduled 15-minute meeting with the architect would turn into hours’ worth of brainstorming to find the best solution to this challenge. In the end, the exposed ducted system chosen was one constructed by stainless steel (with unexposed ducting to be made of galvanised steel). The obtrusive nature of the double diffuser outlets resulted in it being substituted with rectangular cut-outs along the duct length and covered by perforated plates. This ensured a clean finish to an elegant design.

To cater for the staff in the office area, two 400mm-diameter air supply ducts were installed, each duct supplying the left and right office zones. To install a third duct for return air would not fit the overall design and as such, the return air fan was situated in a wall opening located between the supply ducts. Much to the same manner, the return air fans in the permanent and temporary exhibition are situated in roof and wall openings next to the supply air duct, respectively. The supply of conditioned air to the seminar room is through eyeball outlets, each powder coated to suit the interior design.

To ensure near silent operation of the air-conditioning system, the supply ducts to each room are lined with 10mm-thick sondal high-density foam rubber as an acoustic damper. This sonic liner provides low thermal conductivity, ensuring minimal heat gain from the surroundings to the ducted network, and low surface friction, resulting in only a small increase in the supply fan size than what would have otherwise been installed. The return air fans in each section were sized to be large enough to be able to create negative pressure within their vicinities, to allow for air to be drawn from the furthest parts of the rooms while maintaining acceptable noise levels.

Three air-conditioning units were chosen to service the building. The air-conditioning unit supplying the temporary and permanent exhibition is a Daikin rooftop packaged unit with a cooling capacity of 72.6kW and a peak flow rate of 3 917ℓ/s.

Four Daikin hideaway units were chosen for supply to the offices and seminar rooms, each with a cooling capacity and a flow rate of 13.4kW and 650ℓ/s, respectively. Each unit was purchased and is maintained using the donations received, and as such, Daikin units were selected for their high efficiency and reliability, ensuring minimal operational and maintenance costs for the JHGC.

A different scenario

The rooftop packaged unit was sized to cater for three possible scenarios:

  1. Permanent exhibition open (100% heat load), temporary exhibition closed (0% heat load).
  2. Permanent exhibition closed (0% heat load), temporary exhibition open (100% heat load).
  3. Permanent exhibition open (50% heat load), temporary exhibition closed (50% heat load).

Scenario 1 and 2 assume that the other exhibition is closed and that maximum occupancy has resulted in their respective rooms. Scenario 3 considers a diversity factor of 50%. This takes into account that both exhibitions are open at the same time and that neither would see maximum occupancy for lengthy periods of time, as people are assumed to move between the two sections. Of these three, the scenario with the greatest heat load was used to size the ideal rooftop packaged unit.

Efficiency matters

Using a diversity factor of 50% ensured that the capital expenditure on the units was not unnecessarily expensive. Furthermore, a unit chosen and operated based on peak loads in both exhibitions would increase energy usage within the building. In actuality, the diversity factor significantly reduces overall energy consumption. To improve upon the energy efficiency, the packaged unit makes use of a variable frequency drive (VFD), which regulates the compressors to meet the desired indoor temperatures by measuring the temperature on the return air and comparing this to the desired temperature, rather than having the system work at 100% all the time.

Two further energy-efficiency designs were implemented, the first being the zoning of the office area into two sections, with a supply duct servicing its respective zones as previously mentioned. This is done as one zone receives sunlight before the other. Should this zone need it, it may be cooled independently, which ensures that the second zone does not receive unnecessary cooling. The second design feature is attributed to the thermal insulation effects of the double glazing, allowing for the building to experience less heat loss/gain through the window areas. This reduces the amount of cooling/heating needed to maintain comfortable indoor conditions.

A final design feature to note is the collection of the condensate that results from the cooling of air in the air-conditioning units. This condensate is piped through the walls where it is used to top up the reflection pond situated at the front of the building, playing its part to reduce operational costs to the JHGC.

*With contributions by Nigel Pengelly (VMG), Vishal Patel (VMG), and Ian Duncan (Shamrock Air).

List of professionals

Owner / Developer  Holocaust Centre
Architect / Designer  LL Architects (Lewis Levine)
Green consultant  Richard Waller
Project manager   LL Architects 
Consulting engineers Electrical Monty Miller Associates Consulting Engineers 
Mechanical VMG Consulting Engineers 
Wet services Pinheiro Construction 
Civil / structural  BSM Baker 
Contractors  Main building Pinheiro Construction
HVAC&R Shamrock Air
Wet services Pinheiro Construction
Electrical  Daniel Trollip 
Product suppliers Fans Donkin Fans
S&P Fans 
Rooftop packaged units Daikin
Ducting Macsteel
Stainless steel ducting Sepeni



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