New University Buildings: Future Africa Campus and Javett Art Centre


WORDS Diane de Beer IMAGES Alet Pretorius, Pieter Mathews and Dook

Two striking new buildings at the University of Pretoria manage to both blend into the rest of the campus and make bold design statements.

FUTURE AFRICA CAMPUS by André Eksteen of Earthworld Architects

On a continent that features a vast diversity of cultures and areas of study, the diaspora of African academics has left scientists isolated. This project aims to change that, and instead foster fellowship and collaboration. The brief called for an integrated living/working environment for post-doctorate students from all cultures and backgrounds, with a design that facilitates and enhances trans-disciplinary research within the African context.

The design of Future Africa can be read through levels of permanence: primary forms of concrete and masonry, followed by secondary structures of steel, and finally the lightest tertiary layer created extensively from timber. This internal skin allows for future adaptability of the space. Plywood and laminated veneer were digitally “converted” into puzzle pieces, brought to site and hand-assembled by unskilled labour, which allowed for alternative, more inclusive contracting.

There is so much detail in the integrated design, which includes furniture such as bookcases that offer semi-private areas within the otherwise very open space. Visual connectedness was a strong driver in the decision to have split levels, so all the floors have a relationship with one another. The success of the building is experienced as this connectedness, which extends to the outdoors and the evolving edible garden.

JAVETT ART CENTRE by Pieter Mathews of Mathews & Associates Architects

A public arts centre on a university campus that spans a public road, Javett Art Centre’s design is dominated by a bridge that stitches the two campuses together. It comprises nine impressive gallery spaces: two that house the seed donor’s collection, two learning galleries earmarked for students, and five others for rotating curated exhibitions. A faceted concrete vault is the structure’s standout feature, and contains South Africa’s crown jewels, the Mapungubwe Collection, with the golden rhino as the star attraction.

To fit into its context, the building had to respond to various conditions. “The aim was to create a new building without bling that sits comfortably within the constraints of the various existing buildings,” explains architect Pieter Mathews. It had to appear as if it had always been part of the campus landscape, and to age well. To achieve this, a neutral grey palette was created with honest materials such as galvanised steel, concrete and brick. In addition to the bridge, the canopies are a unique feature and a popular Instagram composition. Constructed from lightweight concrete, the fibre panels tell the narrative of Shweshwe cloth. By placing a gallery on the bridge, art and architecture serve to embrace the city and its inhabitants.

See more projects by Earthworld Architects at and Mathews & Associates Architects at