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Joburg architecture students show innovation and flair

21 Jan 2016

Innovative thinking is the mark of a fine architect, and it will take innovation to meet the architectural challenges of the future. Accompanying innovative thinking is the ever-advancing technology at architects’ disposal which, when fully utilised, can improve efficiency and further expand on individual designs.

The regional winner of R8 000 was Jaco Jonker, who says his thesis project explores how we can reshape an important part of Johannesburg’s southern reef band, the Nasrec Precinct.

This is according to Dirk Meyer, managing director of Corobrik, who says the many aspects which make up fine design include the principles of sustainability, appropriate built cost and attractive lifecycle costs, technical skill and an appreciation of the social context of a structure in its community.

Meyer says this is particularly evident in South Africa where these various aspects must be deftly incorporated into structures that meet government’s requirements for an ever-expanding urban landscape.

However, he says it is creative flair that sets great architects above their peers as they strive to make exceptional and meaningful contributions to South Africa’s diverse and multi-cultural landscape.

This was evident in the run-up to the 29th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards, he says.

The competition has been held annually for the past 28 years to reward and advance excellence in the profession nationwide.

It starts with regional rounds at eight major universities throughout South Africa. Then, the overall national winner from among the regional finalists is named and presented with a cheque for R50 000 at the 29th Architectural Student of the Year Awards function in Johannesburg in May 2016.

Musa Shangase, Corobrik commercial and marketing director, presented prizes to architectural students of the University of Johannesburg.

The regional winner of R8 000 was Jaco Jonker, with Lance Ho Hip receiving the R6 500 second prize and Kirsty Fick, Julian Almond and Lucille Jacobs sharing third place, while Onthatile Magalemela received the prize of R4 500 for the best use of clay.

Jonker’s thesis is ‘The Plug-In Plantation - Reforestation and Industrialisation of the Nasrec Precinct through the implementation of a new timber mill industry’.

Jonker says his thesis project explores how we can reshape an important part of Johannesburg’s southern reef band, the Nasrec Precinct, to reduce direct and secondary impacts of soil erosion, heavy metal toxins, and rampant water evaporation from increasingly frequent dust storms along the engineered mine dumps in the area.

He says in order to do this, the project envisioned how existing ‘thirsty’ Eucalyptus tree groves in the area can be replaced with more sustainable varieties of Conifer tree plantations. In this process, industries based on harvesting this timber will be generated.

The final architectural programme imagines smaller ‘villages’ along Nasrec road that specialise in the tending, growing, and harvesting of the new conifer tree plantations, accommodating specific tradespeople such as carpenters, tree fellers, and botanists.

The project also explored how these ‘villages’ can become educational training workshops for training people how to use cheap, recycled computer parts and program these mechanical components using the Arduino platform to maintain and upgrade the timber-harvesting mills.

Ho Hip’s thesis is a weather station for Zanzibar. It is entitled Square Kilometre Array and is a data collection laboratory on Changuu Island.

“Nature has a way of keeping us on our toes due to our constant inaccuracies in predicting what she will do next. Weather - in the sense of how we experience changes in climate, is physical and scientific: changes in atmospheric pressure, barometric pressure, water, convection, currents and so on, all play a role in how we experience and measure wind, water, landscape, and so forth,” says Ho Hip.

He says traditionally and historically, architecture has always viewed weather as the enemy, fighting to keep it out, or at bay. In the SKA: Weather Station, the opposite occurs - the building acts as its own data collector, sensing changes over differing scales and periods of time, through voids, cracks and scientific instruments - inviting weather in.

“The SKA: Weather Station is a new form of laboratory, a dialogue between two designers: myself and weather. One that works with rather than against weather and one that allows architecture to tell us a different kind of ecological story,” says Ho Hip.

He chose this topic for his thesis due to an obsession with capturing something that cannot be seen - an intangible presence - and translating it into something that everyone can understand by using architectural thinking and principles to impart a tangible presence.

Onthatile Makgalemela incorporated clay bricks into his thesis, titled ‘Urban Catwalk’, which is a route along the beach promenade of Stone Town, Zanzibar. Along this route there are three pavilions, and material used include lace, beads and more stereotypically feminine adornments, all which were secondary to the core material, clay bricks.

The pavilions are constructed from bricks as it is prevalent in the Zanzibar landscape, and the existing brick patterns in Zanzibar inspired the direction of the project.

“The right choice of materials plays a key role in the architectural process, particularly when one considers the sustainability imperative,” says Musa Shangase.

Shangase says clay brick is a fine example of a sustainable building material which offers a myriad of benefits, whilst adding distinctive aesthetic and textural appeal and the ability to meet unique challenges in design and construction.

“Brick in application can accommodate virtually any shape or form and it is for these reasons that, despite vast leaps in technology, those in construction continue to turn to the trusted clay brick,” he says.

“From an economic point of view, clay brick requires minimal maintenance and provides thermal efficiency which contributes to improved indoor comfort in all temperatures and lower energy costs throughout the life of a building. This translates into the lowest lifecycle costs for buildings and ensures that the first cost is essentially the last cost.”

Shangase says student architects over the decades have discovered that clay brick is a quality building product with a natural propensity to express the craft of architecture in memorable ways as they begin a career that will enable them to enhance the built environment of South Africa into the future.
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