Sol Plaatje University Building CX003
Wilkinson Architects, Mashilo Lambrechts Architects, GXY Architects - South Africa
The Department of Higher Education and Training decided to build two new universities, one in Mpumalanga province and another in the Northern Cape. The urban design framework for the Sol Plaatje University was very specific in terms of the urban codes, “build to” lines, a “perimeter block” typology, pre-determined courtyards and street interface on ground floor level. The framework suggested a university that was integrated with the existing urban fabric and respected existing sites. The accommodation requirements comprised of retail space on the ground floor, flat floor classrooms, four raked auditoriums, a health and wellness centre, academic and open plan offices, a Student Representative Council, a gymnasium and flexible multi-purpose classrooms. The architects’ approach was to design a perimeter block building, consisting of simple form with recessive features. Subtle landmarks at specific points were “carved out” of the neutral form, such as recessed balconies on the corners of the building as well as the main entrance. The western façade was dealt with by adding a brick filigree that spans from first to third floor, punctured by narrow slivers, which not only blocks out the harsh western sun, but simultaneously provides constant surveillance onto the main public square. Apertures on the eastern facade were treated in a more sculptural and playful manner, by employing a methodology of very deep recessed openings with varied angled reveals and sills. A central landscaped courtyard is surrounded by a covered walkway, connecting all spaces. One is subtly guided into the auditoriums, by the use of soft curves, which simultaneously express the function of the internal layouts. Brise-soleil walls, selectively placed around the central walkway, provide sun protection and soften the glare but also allow the constant light summer breeze to cool the building. Materials are limited to a light coloured face brick, off-shutter concrete, slate and painted steel. Mosaic tiles are selectively used to emphasize important elements of the building. This palette is a unique reflection of the Northern Cape landscape, inspired by abstract patterns that replicates the internal concentric graphics of black, white and grey of an agate playing against the more harsh light brown of the stone’s outer shell. Accent colours are used internally by incorporating hues of oranges, a reflection of the colour of red dunes of the region. The building adopts strategies of passive design, by the use of small openings, a brick screens, insulated cavity walls, brise-soleil walls, cross ventilation, covered walkways and courtyards. Raked auditoriums are cooled down by means of an energy efficient pressurized displacement system in which cool air enters from a plenum space below the seating, thus forcing the hot air out at a higher level via chimneys. Offices are cooled by means of energy efficient evaporative cooling that only operates limited times of the day. Hot water generation is limited to the gymnasium showers and tea kitchens only, and is provided by a heat pumps and a storage tank and under counter mini hot water cylinders.