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University of Western Cape, Chemical Sciences & Geology Building
South Africa
Drawings, plans, elevations
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The brief was to design a new building for the Chemical Sciences Department, which expanded to a building that would also accommodate the Geology Department at the University of the Western Cape. This project was the second phase of the Science Precinct Development and it was to provide teaching and tutorial facilities for postgraduate students, as well as practical teaching laboratories for undergraduates. The project called for a design response that reflected the language used in the neighboring Life Science Building, which was built during phase 1 of the precinct development. This provided the design team with guidelines regarding building height, roof profile and external façade color selections. ACG Architects and Development Planners were the Project Architects. From the outset, the key challenge was the complexity of the internal program in terms of spatial planning and services. This was compounded by a very tight design and construction timeline which demanded a very effective strategy for unpacking the brief and later combining it into an efficient and user friendly building. The architects drew on extensive research done in Australia on other research laboratory facilities. A considerable effort ensured that the user client requirements, relating to equipment, service, safety, cleanliness, security and accessibility were attended to, and that these strong imperatives did not compromise the sensory experience of the users with regards to light, acoustics and finishes. The brief called for a design proposal that could accommodate gradual growth thus the design team proposed a spatial diagram where rows of labs and teaching facilities are divided by movable screens which allow these areas to grow or shrink as needs change. There was also particular importance placed on informal academic interaction where impromptu academic discussions are encouraged. To promote these, circulation corridors were introduced which doubled as seating and locker areas, as well as break rooms spread throughout all floors. In a building of this nature the incorporation of electrical and mechanical services has a large impact on its energy efficiency and aesthetic quality. The team, on instruction from the client, opted to expose all services which helped to deal with many safety and practical maintenance issues and also allowed the building to show its nature and complexity. Coordinated layouts, painted duct work and different materials in various service lines were used to create an appealing ‘industrial’ look. Bright accent colours were used extensively to demarcate different levels. These can be seen on the wall finishes and on the joinery and furniture, especially in the circulation corridors and student public areas. At night, these colourful corridors create a rainbow of colour which can be seen from the street. The key structuring elements of the design are the corridors which divide the building into three zones. This layout, in addition to the building orientation, ensure that both the southern and northern zones benefit from natural light throughout the day. To bring natural light into the central zone, the team used a combination of high and low level glass panels which run along the corridors.
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