- Engineer Wet Services: Aurecon
- Fire Consultant: Aurecon
- Concept Initiation: Andrew Makin, Paul Wygers
- Concept Design Development: Mark Horner, Janine Beauchamp, Andrew Makin
- Detail Design Development & Construction Delivery: Mark Horner, Janine Beauchamp, Pauline Hayward, Michael Flanagan, Ursula Brunner, Mariska Peel, Mongezi Ncube, Susan Glossop
- City: Kimberley
- Country: South Africa
Text description provided by the architects. In 2014, Sol Plaatje University [SPU] opened its doors as the first new University in South Africa’s democratic era. Strategically close to the Square Kilometre Array Telescope [SKA], its initial intake of 135 students is expected to grow to 7 500 within its first 10 years.
Located in Kimberley’s Inner City, a progressive Urban Design Framework seamlessly incorporates existing civic, public and education stock with new purpose-built University buildings, positioning tertiary education as an integrated part of Inner City life. Perhaps it’s heart.
Designworkshop was successful in a two-stage architectural competition towards conceptualising and delivering a Student Resource Centre as the functional and physical centrepiece of University life, including library, teaching, study, and social space.
The key question we explored was what this emerging typology could optimally be and enable in the South African reality of a globally integrated world.
Ancient images of knowledge-sharing are of people gathered around elders, thought- leaders and gurus, in Public Space. Depending on where and when, this could be by the side of a river, under a tree, in a public square or on a street-side. This is learning and knowledge generation in a social setting. Within society and indistinguishable from it, learning is enabled by the practical and perceived reality of life as it’s experienced, often on a platform of traditional cultural practice.
When information was recorded in writing, the emblematic image of learning is often the quiet study table surrounded by books. This is the dissemination of accumulated knowledge, most commonly recorded outside of the direct experience and as a more linear and one-directional transmission abstract from specific cultural settings. The ‘neutrality’ of science.
The SPU Library and Resource Center integrates both, at the same time. It’s a social place where people make themselves available to wide-ranging incidental and planned interchange in the course of daily life, both in physical space and online, with and without books, collectively and in solitude, directed and enabled by mentors or among themselves.
It is at the same time a tree, the side of a river, a public square, and a street.
Centred on a raked public forum, the ground floor is an extension of Kimberley’s pavements, paths, squares and gardens. It’s a public space sheltered from the cyclical hot and cold extremes of the arid climate.
Ascending from public to private, each additional floor is another ‘public square’ accessed from its perimeter to enable 3-dimensional exploration of a continuous knowledge-scape.
Solid grass-reinforced moulded mud forms typify South Africa’s interior vernacular brakdak construction. The Library scales this heritage up into a 22cm thick freestanding concrete shell rising up to 36m high and lifted off the ground to reveal a single hollowed-out volume ascending upward to its highest point overlooking University Square.
The inverse of Kimberley’s iconic Big Hole diamond mine, the building is a distinctive sculptured object, arising from the endless horizontality like a koppie, brakdak house, or mine shaft. In a single material, concrete is structure, enclosure, climatic attenuator, flexible use-enabler, extended tradition, and noble experience.
In everyday university life, the building is a refuge, a 24 hour winter lounge and summer verandah.
In a world of scarce resources, it is highly energy efficient, allowing in the right amount of natural light with significantly mitigated heat-gain or loss, the internal temperature further moderated by hot and cold water pipes embedded into concrete floors.
In the City, it’s a landmark of democratic learning, social and cultural exchange, and a generator of economic potential which always comes from empowered knowledge and ideas.