Winning SA school architecture

The Lebone II College in Phokeng, North West, designed by Activate Architects in association with Afritects, and Vele Secondary School in Limpopo, designed by East Coast Architects, shared top honours at the AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture.

Given the textbook crisis in our country, it is comforting to know that at least our architects are still pulling their weight in building excellent schools. Commendations also went to a third school, Elkanah House high school campus on the Cape West Coast designed by Nic Border Architects, as well as to Richard Dobson Architects for a cardboard recycling project in eThekwini, KZN.

In part funded by Oprah Winfrey, Vele Secondary School is the result of transforming a typical dilapidated rural learning facility into a pioneering South African community resource that firmly embeds learning and teaching to both its natural and cultural heritage.

Before the design for Vele began, future pupils were given cameras and taught to map the area, including their routes to school. They identified hazards – including leopards, baboons and snakes – as well as special sites in the landscape. Their photos inspired the school’s design and the selection of its building materials.

The school installed a digital weather station to create effective solar design and rainwater harvesting strategies. Science labs and IT centres were added and pupils were trained to serve as guides in nearby game reserves. The use of local resources – mainly stone and masonry construction – reduces the carbon footprint and invests in local economies.

Commissioned by Kgosi Lebone II of the Royal Bafokeng Nation, Lebone II College was conceived as a whole new education model comprising accommodation, farming and alternative teaching methods. Activate Architects’s transparent structure aimed to “de-institutionalise” learning to form a set of “village clusters” with central outdoor courtyards and light filtered as if through trees.

The development was designed to position the most demanding aspects of the campus, being the large sports fields and large civic buildings, in a disused sand quarry on the site and to comprehensively rehabilitate the entire quarry site and its immediate surroundings. The reinstated stormwater course forms a wetland feature and water management system on the campus.

See the eight winners of the Corobrik-SAIA Awards for Excellence.