NMMU B Ed Foundation Phase Building
The Matrix...Urban Designers & Architects - South Africa
Drawings, plans, elevations
The project proposed a structurally playful building that reformed the previously fenced off connection with the local community through the creation of a public square. The inclusion of the building and greater campus into the surrounding context was one of the primary conceptual drivers. In establishing the spatial massing of the proposed site to hold the space, the design reinforces the creation of a strong pedestrian entrance into the heart of the Missionvale campus, defined by the spire of the main administration building, accentuating the axial link between the square and the campus. The creation of a new campus gateway resulted in the programme of the building being split in two, with a 'Classroom Building', consisting of a central atrium and gallery space linking three levels of training facilities, lecture rooms and computer facilities, and an 'Office Building', which hosts the administration, security and staff facilities. A grand entrance canopy, defining the gateway threshold into the campus and layering the transition between public spaces, links the two buildings visually and spatially. The canopy also provides shelter to a series of concrete ramp bridges that connects the different levels between the buildings. The project however embraces the senses with the expressive and crafted detail found in the 'Classroom building'. The orientation maximizes natural light and ventilation, creating a bright and inviting atmosphere that permeates the triple volume gallery of the building. Serving as the central circulation spine, the gallery links the various classroom, training and computer centres with a range of communal spaces, conversation pits and a generous open atrium at the entrance. This mix of studio and study spaces is further extended to the outside of the building, where generous verandas, external terraces and an embanked grass amphitheatre allow for a range of personal and communal events. This diverse learning environment aims to encourage students to actively engage with their surroundings, and one another. The structural elegance of the design is further highlighted by the inclusion of a heavy hanging fascia beam that spans 65m end to end along the upper edge of the building, pushing the envelope of structural design. Much of the clarity of the structure however resides in the minimised palette of materials employed. While often taken for granted, the inclusion of facilities such as study rooms, computer centres and Wi-Fi are essential to creating a level platform for tertiary education, giving all students an equal opportunity to technologies they may typically not have access to. Particularly in South Africa, poverty and the high cost of learning limit accessibility to higher level education and training. In this regard the building aims to distinguish itself socially, spatially and functionally by creating an environment that is interactive, flexible and comfortable. Although the implementation of the public square has sadly been delayed, the creation of a living public edge presents a great opportunity for future engagement with the local community.