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UCT students seek to rehabilitate the environment

11 Feb 2016

The social complexities of a developing country cannot be ignored when blending all the ingredients that go towards achieving world-class architectural design that has a profound sense of place and is relevant to its environment.

Matthew Mills won the regional finals for his entry titled ‘Transurbance: a walk about the river’ in which he addresses social, economic and environmental issues that exist within the industrial landscape.

Consequently, innovation is an essential attribute for modern architects as they employ their technical skills to create aesthetically appealing and functional built structures that will endure into the future.

This is according to Dirk Meyer, managing director of Corobrik, ahead of the 29th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards, which have been held annually for almost three decades to encourage and reward innovation and technical excellence amongst the country's most promising architectural students.

As he presented prizes to the University of Cape Town regional winners, Christie van Niekerk of Corobrik, said they expect new and distinctive ideas from the students, in addition to a high standard of technical skills, creative flair, a good grasp of sustainability issues and a clear understanding of the role a built structure is expected to fulfil in its environment.

He says the winning students have accomplished this with aplomb.

Matthew Mills was the regional winner of R8 000, Sophie Zimmermann was awarded second prize of R6 500, while Clint Abrahams took the third prize of R4 500.

A R4 500 prize for the best use of clay masonry was also presented to Clint Abrahams.

The eight regional winners automatically qualify to compete for the R50 000 national prize, which will be presented at the 29th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards in Johannesburg in May 2016.

Matthew Mills won the regional finals for his entry titled ‘Transurbance: a walk about the river’ in which he addresses social, economic and environmental issues that exist within the industrial landscape.

Mills says the cities in which we live are designed to be technically enhanced, but consist of functionally isolated systems that bear no relevance to the living environment.

“Paarden Eiland exemplifies a disconnected and disjointed environment. The focus of his project is on a portion of Salt River, which runs through Paarden Eiland and reaches its mouth surrounded by industrial factories,” says Mills.

The solution that emerged consists of a long linear path that moves over and under transport barriers such as highways and railway lines, utilising the often dead residual spaces to provide a pedestrian connection to the shore,” he says.

“The continuous path creates moments in which observation, interaction, play and discovery can take place. It forms a weir in the river, bringing floating debris to a recycling centre, where it can be repurposed into usable components that restore the river.”

The architecture attempts to merge landscape, building and infrastructure into one, creating a design that can rehabilitate the environment.

Mills says it is his belief that the design will be able to shift its users’ understanding of the environment, to one where technology and nature can exist not only harmoniously but also symbiotically.

Sophie Zimmermann’s ‘Embodied Relevance’ explores the potential of existing concrete frame structures. Her thesis explores the case of the Christiaan Barnard Hospital. The concept design allowed the building to be repurposed while retaining the majority of the embodied energy of an otherwise destitute building.

In third place is Clint Abrahams with his entry titled ‘High Streets: Constructing the public realm in low income areas’.

Abrahams sited his thesis in Delft, a low income area 25km from Cape Town CBD, due to the unique street energy he believes is reminiscent of areas such as Observatory. However, the energies in Delft are brought about by the informal activities and not institutional use. The dissertation design explores how institutional buildings can also aid positive street making conditions in the same way the informal use does.

He says clay brick is incorporated into the thesis as the building trade in particular brick masonry supplements the livelihoods of many households in low income areas. These trades are often practiced outside to build up wealthier areas.

Abrahams says this is reminiscent of how apartheid planned towns remain subservient to wealthier towns. Masonry work is then practiced in an ad hoc manner and is not representative of the creativity and skills of local labour.

“These skills that are practised elsewhere should be brought home. By using clay brick in a creative manner it challenges the mundane use of clay brick of traditional institutional buildings in these areas. Brick is use as enclosure, screening, ground cover as well as craft in the design and pays homage to the informal way it is used in the area,” he says.

Van Niekerk says clay brick masonry brought a myriad of benefits to a building project including low maintenance, durability, long-term life performance and energy efficiency, reducing the heating and cooling costs of buildings, along with providing a healthy and comfortable living environment.

“Clay brick’s versatility and aesthetic qualities make it ideal to enhance and harmonise with any environment for ultra-modern projects as well as the sensitive renovations of landmark period buildings,” he says.
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