The Karoo Wilderness Center represents a significant shift in perspective and practice, sponsoring and provoking the learning, dialogue, and action necessary to redefine the consequence of human inhabitation on the land. The Center aims to re-establish the connection between the built and natural world as one that is mutually beneficial. Forming an exemplary model of sustainability, the Center generates its own energy, harvests its own water, processes its own waste, and provides thermal comfort using no municipal water or power. Learning from the continuum of life in the Karoo, the architecture of the Center provides a lasting connection to the landscape, and fosters an understanding of the interdependence of ecosystem health, and human well being.
Architect: Field Architecture Location: Karoo, South Africa Project Team: Stan Field, Jess Field (Design Principals), Andy Lin, Erik Bloom, Chris Graesser Structural Engineers: Arup Conservation Management: Wilderness Foundation South Africa Environmental Impact Analysis: Integrated Environmental Management Project Area: 21,800 sqf
The landscape of the Karoo is elemental, in excess of nothing. From its inception, life in the Karoo has been defined by struggle. The minimal amount of rainfall has resulted in a parched condition in which each species of plant and animal has had to adapt, utilizing an economy of means in order to exist. Human inhabitation, a relatively recent phenomenon in the palpably long history of life here, has demanded more of the landscape than it can sustain, bringing it to the brink of irreversible depletion.
Water, its absence as much as its presence, is a critical aspect of the formation and cognitive experience of the Karoo landscape. It is the relative scarcity of water that has determined the physical constitution and adaptations of the flora and fauna to the environment of the Karoo. Exemplified by the Aloe ferox – the predominant succulent found on the site and region – the structure and form of plant species is characterized primarily by strategies to collect and retain water and provide a shield from the sun. These qualities, which are result of opportunistic utility, make the Karoo what it is today, and are expressed through the architecture of the Center.
The reconstitution of local materials through the architecture of the Center provokes an intimate experience of the immediate site. Concrete walls provide thermal mass, as well as critical earth retention. Formed using aggregate from the site itself, the concrete walls extend the colors and hues of the earth through the buildings, recalling the raw material of the ground. Constructed using shallow horizontal pours, each layer is expressed, creating strata that reveal the wall’s method of formation, echoing the geologic striations visible in the surrounding mountains. The curved undersides of the roofs are clad with thin wooden strands that bend to define the cupped form of the roof. Small gaps between each slat allow the imperfections and character of each piece to be celebrated, giving the effect of a hand crafted tapestry.