In April 2015, I was fortunate enough to travel to South Africa as a tutor during the second and final phase of construction for Project Kagiso. The scheme is a Live Build project for Unit 2A at the University of Nottingham. This sees architecture students competing in teams during a design phase in their first term to get the chance to have their designs become a reality and be constructed by the whole unit in the mountainous Limpopo region of South Africa.
The project aims to provide new indoor and outdoor classroom facilities for a nursery in a small hamlet on the far side of Sunnyside, which is close to the town of Maake. The site is remote and sits in a region where poverty is high and resources low. Project Kagiso aims to provide this community with life-changing facilities whilst at the same time allowing the Nottingham students to gain hands-on building experience and the chance to visit a remote part of the world. In many ways, a new dimension is also added to architecture for the students, who gain a more holistic picture of the economic and social hardships faced by the client.
The existing nursery on site is over-subscribed and small, a concrete block with inadequate facilities. It receives no government funding as it fails to meet certain building standards, meaning that the teachers work on a voluntary basis with no means of providing valuable learning resources for their students.
#Don’t play in the toilets
#Don’t play on top of the trees
#Don’t beat eachother
#Always share toys
This university project is unique in the sense that the clients are a fundamental part of it; tea and lunch breaks are broken up by children singing ‘Happy Birthday’, rolling old car tyres around or trying on hard hats for size. They are an intimate part of the build. For the second year students, being able to work with elementary construction techniques and being able to practically piece together the plans, sections and details, which too often seem far removed from the finished product, usually hypothetical in university, are great sharpening tools for emerging designers.
We, as the second phase, inherited a site behind schedule due to unforeseeable setbacks. A lot of hard work was required with early starts, late nights, sweat, sunscreen and unspeakable portaloo conditions.
No trip to South Africa would be complete without going on safari. Kruger National Park is the size of Wales and we got up at the crack of dawn armed with cameras and binoculars to try and scout out some game… and maybe, just maybe, a rhino.
Unfortunately, no rhinos were seen but we did spot three of the big five before breakfast, which was pretty good going! Top tip though: if you do go on safari and it’s a nippy day and you’re in an open top truck, then bring a jumper or three.
One of the best things about the safari was coming across a pack of wild dogs. There are only two packs in the whole park, this being the largest, which make these dogs a rarer find than lions.
Two years prior to Kagiso, in 2013, I was involved as a student in a similar project called Aga Sikolo. I was on the first phase of construction and therefore never managed to see the finished building in person. Fortunately, the Kagiso site was only 40 minutes from the Aga Sikolo site, which is in a small village called Calais. This meant that I was able to travel back and see the school.
I can safely say that seeing the finished project filled with happy, adorable children was one of the most rewarding and humbling things I have seen in my short architectural career.
In the year following Aga Sikolo, the SA3 building, a subsequent project, allowed the nursery to expand its intake for the coming year and finished off a three-year process of Nottingham University’s involvement in creating the Calais campus.
Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve.
One weekend, three of us went on an epic day long roadtrip to Blyde River Canyon, covering 450km in the course of one day. It was spectacular.
The Drakensberg Mountains are the inspiration behind J.R.R. Tolkien’s Misty Mountains and were a constant presence whilst we were in Limpopo. Driving to the canyon involved ascending them and climbing several thousand feet above sea level, only to find the land plateauing and stretching into the distance. The canyon cut into this and showed the difference between the Somali and Nubian tectonic plates, which cause the continent to sit on two distinct levels.
On the penultimate day, with so much still to finish off, we worked into the dark using car headlights to illuminate the site in a desperate bid to finish the project…
The last day was manic. It was a frantic bid to get the project finished and in a usable state to hand over as a functioning school. We worked into the evening with growing numbers of the community turning out to help and see the conclusion. Everyone worked incredibly hard and all credit is due to the second year students who made this a reality.
With the last full day on site being so busy, a small party of us went back the following morning before departing to Johannesburg to see the finished buildings in daylight.
Gumpole columns were used to support a timber truss and purlin roof structure upon which the corrugated roof sat. This sailed above the curving brickwork to allow for cross ventilation to keep the building cool in the scorching summer months. Using this method we built one formal classroom and one more open pavilion which had lower, perforated brick walls which will be used as a covered outside teaching space.
Windows frame the mountains from a number of view points in the formal classroom, which features a sliding door offering some privacy away from the other learning spaces.
The pitched roof channels rainfall into the large gutter and disposes of the water at the rear of the pavilions, essential for the torrential rainy periods.
Cross-bracing was used to stabilise the structures and a structural bookcase was fixed in the formal classroom. This was just one of a number of furniture items we also made alongside multiple tables and chairs, which prior to this the school had not possessed.
In addition to the two classrooms, we also constructed an informal seating area and a central garden space using sand bags filled with earth and then rendered. These help to create an enclosed campus with the garden as the centre point.
Another important element to the project was creating play equipment. At the moment the kids only have old tyres to play with. The students had a separate studio project to design play equipment and a number of these were made on site including a sand pit and tyres with bouncy bungee chords.