Designer schools

Since the fall of Apartheid, and more specifically the coming into effect of the 1996 Constitution – which guarantees the right to education – improving schools has been one of the government’s top priorities. They are most certainly putting their money where they mouths; the Department of Education currently receives the biggest allocation of government budget.

With a national drive such as this, it is little wonder that new schools are popping up and that many of the country’s top architectural firms are involved with the design of public education institutions.

Meyer and Vorster is one of them. Their most recent project, the Northpine Technical High School in Brackenfell, is an example of high quality, low maintenance architecture that combines clever design with practicality.

The building is no-frills and understated, but incorporates all the necessary features to allow the school to shine as a beacon of educational excellence: hall, library, laboratories and trade workshops amongst others.

The configuration of the school complex had its origins in the traditional enclosed courtyard notion – it was designed as a “citadel” similar to an enclosed city to create defensible space. Not only does this protect learners from the harsh South-Easterly winds during breaks but is also create a safe space for them to play and interact.

Sustainability and climate control were key factors when considering the design; multiple features manipulate sunlight and the distinct roofshape harvests rainwater for use on sports fields and food gardens.

In South Africa, property developers often seem to perceive good design as discordant with profit. It is encouraging then that despite limited funds, progressive, sensitive architecture is nevertheless being applied to the development of institutions as fundamental as educational facilities.

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