A responsive, forward-thinking building pushing “green” boundaries.
about this project
How does the architect respond to visions of ‘world class’ or the ‘iconic’? These are ideas we needed to engage with in this instance of ambitious architecture. Our response to this call from the competition brief was in the form of an urban context appropriate, compact courtyard building (a ‘campus within a campus’) on the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) Second Avenue Campus.
The building position and form is prominent (and highlighted by its single simple use of face brick) and it then takes a lead as to the future vision for the existing institutional styled campus. Then, there is a commitment to sustainability through passive environmental design. Next is its consideration to a healthy interior – exterior relationship through a courtyard feature as a policy to advocate for well-being, rest and enjoyment. Most importantly, its spatial arrangements and interior treatments are what sets it apart as forward-thinking. Its multiple volumes signify layered learning, it lets in plenty of natural light and the interior is soft and neutral. For students enrolled at NMU business school, using the campus is an everyday fixture. That is why, we believe, this well-considered building is a big win for the world of tertiary education.
a more in-depth look at this project
This project is a result of a competition winning entry to a design competition for a new Business School for the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).
The Client’s brief called for an approximately 5500m2 ‘world class’ and ‘green’ building that would not only enhance the Business School’s reputation but also that of the Second Avenue Campus. Our starting point was to give recognition and physical expression to the values of the Business School – sustainability, integration, dignity, safety, security and efficiency. From this a primary spatial decision developed of locating the structure in a way that minimized negative impacts. To achieve this, the building was positioned not on the open playing fields (that was preferred by many) but rather on the already degraded existing parking area. The parking was then relocated to the rear of the site. This decision allowed for a range of positive long-term benefits and started to align the Campus with its recently approved Development Framework.
As a typology, the courtyard building seemed a naturally urban campus and advantageous type, allowing for a powerful, sculptural building in the round that responded to its four different sides appropriately and also allowed for a private, controlled outside space in the centre. Related to this is the deliberate decision for the building’s exterior to take a monumental (and defensive) ‘mass’ appearance of a civic nature, reminiscent of the excellent Nelson Mandela University South Campus complex.
The Business School is largely an introspective building – looking inward to the courtyard and public foyers, but also giving glimpses out to longer distance bay and ocean views. The north elevation responds to a new access driveway and the busy Second Avenue, the west to the new parking area for the new Business School, the south to the existing Campus structures and the east, the most open and light of the elevations, responds to the sports fields and sea views. It is this east elevation that is the welcoming new face to the new Business School and the Second Avenue Campus that one faces approaching the Campus from Second Avenue from the east. This elevation is composed of monumental columns that support the lightweight fourth floor. On this elevation, the new Business School’s café is also visible that allows visual connections into the building and form the building out over the campus.
Where the exterior is severe and minimal, the interior and courtyard are spatially more diverse, with a variety of volumes, ‘space beyond space’ and multiple and unusual light sources. The finishing of the building also reflects this design intention – the exterior is of a single face brick with flush jointed tinted mortar to match the brick, where the interior is more varied with a range of lighter neutral colours and textures. The courtyard is to be planted with creepers that conceal water tanks and five round feature gardens representing the five floral biomes that are in the NMBM area. It is intended that the courtyard become a well-used and well-connected space for use as a short cut to different parts of the building, overflow space for events and activities in the foyers and café and as a breakaway space between classes.
The forward-thinking Client intended for this building to be consciously sustainable and Green Building accredited. This has manifested itself in the aim for this building to be awarded a Green Star 4 rating and assist the NMU realigning its building program and existing Campuses to its environmental ambitions. Much of this is attended to in the design by passive environmental design decisions including orientation and window positions, massing, insulation and material choice. The building is deliberately neutral to the west to avoid western glare on windows and block westerly and south westerly winds. The exception is the wind lobby experienced as a void on this elevation linking parking to building. Large sloping glass sections to the north and western sides of the courtyard allow light into the classroom foyers and the southern internal elevation steps to allow northern light deep into the building, especially in winter.
We hope that the building becomes a well-used spatially interesting and useful building that live up to the expectations and ambitions of its competition inception.
This project was awarded the Eastern Cape Institute of Architects Regional Award for Architecture in 2015.