The Power of Small Ideas: Discover How 2 Innovations Transformed the Iconic Volkskas Building

The Power of Small Ideas
Architectural witness to history gleams in new splendour – Style Aggregator (

My dad is a civil engineer, he worked in construction for many years and started off with Stocks & Stocks. We were sipping cappuccinos over a recent lunch date when he started talking about the Volkskas Building and the power of small ideas.

Stocks & Stocks had been appointed to facilitate the construction. The Volkskas Building in the heart of Pretoria was to be a 132m skyscraper with 38-floors above ground and five basement floors. It was commissioned in 1969 for Volkskas Bank and at the time was to be the highest building in Pretoria. A tall white structure with multi story black boxes protruding from it.

Today it’s called the ABSA building and is the second tallest building in Pretoria, the 19th tallest in South Africa and the 52nd tallest in Africa. It’s constructed out of concrete and stands proudly as a landmark in the center of Pretoria. To obtain the maximum lettable floor space the lift shafts were placed on the corners of the building and the northern facade would include a glass lift that would provide users with a magnificent bird’s eye view of Pretoria.

Back in the day, that must have seemed like an insurmountable task, but an exciting project to be part of, nonetheless. I am sure that there must have been hundreds of laborers and contractors appointed to complete a project of this size, a quick Google search cannot provide the numbers to confirm exactly how many.

The building was not only one of the first skyscrapers in the Pretoria metropolitan area but was also considered to be a showcase project for modern architecture of the times. The Volkskas building was to become a part of architectural history.

We can only imagine how much buzz and excitement there must have been surrounding a project of this magnitude. With hundreds of onlookers standing by in awe watching the face of the Pretoria skyline change with the addition of each new floor. An engineering and architectural masterpiece of note.

Construction is a tough industry. It’s not for sissies. It’s faced with many daily challenges and is definitely a profession that comes with high stress levels.

In an industry such as this would you take on the project management of a site like this, that was already six months behind schedule before you even start? One that was being recorded on the front page of the daily news, about to become a piece of history? Not likely!

Derek did.

The Power of Small Ideas

He recalls some innovative moments on the 14-floor.

The construction of the elevator shafts required specialised shuttering. He comically retells the tale of how the labourer’s would make their way down 14 flights to the basement in search of the exact piece of shuttering they needed. This was a manual process as the elevators didn’t yet exist. Often, they would find it buried beneath a ton of other steel and it would take about two to three hours for them to move it to locate the exact piece they needed. They would then have to carry it up the 14 flights before fitting it in the precise location in the specialised shafts.

He implemented one small change. As the shuttering arrived on site it was color-coded with a spray of paint, indicating precisely for which shaft it was intended. All the shuttering was then packed and stored by colour making identification much easier, and saving a lot of valuable time which could be spent elsewhere.

Hoisting the equipment and material up to the 14th floor of the skyscraper required the help of cranes. There were two cranes erected on the site, each working nonstop for eight hours a day. Still the project was way behind schedule, and they needed another one. A massive cash outlay which had not been budgeted for.

He spent another day or two carefully noting exactly how all these systems and processes were functioning. The steel trucks arrived, and it would take another two to three hours to offload the steel, this delayed the crane’s progress even further.

My dad can problem solve, and he came up with the ingenious idea of instituting a night shift. This would allow the cranes to work 24 hours a day and would also make up some of the lost time on the building progress.

Within a few short weeks the project, which was six months behind schedule when he started, was now six months ahead of progress.

The power of small ideas.

The building was completed in 1976 and still towers proudly in the center of Pretoria to this day.

Volskas Building
Architectural witness to history gleams in new splendour – Style Aggregator (

Everything undergoes wear and tear with age, even historical masterpieces. In 2010 Boogertman & Partners were tasked with the mammoth upgrade project.

The building was protected by the National Heritage Resources Act as “An outstanding architectural achievement of a remarkable architect” and this made the task even more challenging.

The original design concept by “Pauw & Botha Argitekte” also received a Medal of Honor from the South African Institute of Architects and the facade renewal had to be done in such a way, that the silhouette, the structure, the cubage of the building and the aesthetics needed to be maintained.

The solution they decided upon to adapt the facade to current building standards was to replace the existing facade cladding with a modern ceramic solution. This would retain the original look as much as possible.

The new HT coating or hydrophilic tile (HT) was innovative itself, acting like a forest of deciduous trees and decomposing air pollutants. The Style Aggregate describes it perfectly as a “vertical urban forest.”

The HT tiles are also water-loving, rainwater doesn’t run off in big drops but forms a thin layer which infiltrates and removes dirt. This self-washing effect provides a free cleaning service with each new rain shower. Quite convenient I must add, considering it stretches 138 meters up into the sky which limits the available cleaning options you’d otherwise have.

Another remarkable characteristic of this HT coating is the antibacterial effect. It decomposes microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and moss without the use of any chemical products and prevents regrowth.

An innovative solution to maintain an architectural piece of history that graces the heart of the Pretoria skyline.

It’s important to recognise the power of small ideas in the context of larger projects. While they may seem insignificant at first glance these ideas have the potential to create a ripple effect and significantly impact the overall outcome. By encouraging an environment that values and nurtures creativity, where no idea is considered too small, organisations can harness the collective brilliance of their teams. Every innovative thought regardless of its size can spark new possibilities, enhance efficiency and unlock hidden potential.

So let us embrace the notion that even the tiniest seed of innovation can grow into a mighty tree of success transforming the landscape of our projects and propelling us towards greater achievements. Remember, never underestimate the power of small ideas for it holds the potential to shape the course of much larger endeavours.

Read more about Creativity in Ideas Like Shoes

Build a Culture of Innovation & Creativity at Work