Neither to replicate nor ridicule

The Edenglen Primary School Resource Centre is immediately noticeable when viewed against the staid and conventional architecture of the rest of the school buildings, a ‘style’ which is evident in almost every school across the country.

The architect, Kuba Granicki, qualified from Wits in 2004 and worked in several firms before opening up his own practice. He is currently heading up the design team at Grainwave, a company that specialises in shop fitting and custom furniture and is also involved in a new architectural think-tank called the AOJ (Architects of Justice). Granicki was a past pupil at the school (as were all his siblings), and by chance, he came across a notice in the school’s newsletter saying that the school was looking for an architect. “The school needed a library, and the following week’s discussions led to the incorporation of an audio-visual classroom and a separate computer centre,” he says. “We designed first, believing that the budget could be found later.”

According to Granicki, Di Rademan, the principal of the school, was very responsive, and played a vital role in both the design and the fund-raising for the building. Where the previous regime wanted everything run at optimum affordability, Rademan has instilled a new sense of pride in the school. “It’s all her,” he says. “She saw the need in the school and went for it.”

“When we presented to the governing body, we said we would aim for Beijing,” explains Granicki “We started the design a year before the Beijing Olympic Games when there was plenty of press about their crazy stadiums. So we adopted their approach. Whenever we worried about the price or size of anything that we were proposing, we simply said out loud, ‘think Beijing’ and just kept pushing for what we believed was right, instead of settling for what had been done or what others were currently doing.”

But there was more to his interest in the project that first meets the eye. “I got involved because I’d had a crush on the old library teacher,” laughs Granicki. “I was aghast when I discovered that the library had been converted into a computer lab and that for several years the school hadn’t had a working library. That, for me, was the biggest driving force behind this project.”

Adapting to the site

The site, formerly a playground with a lapa which was occasionally used during big netball events, had one or two constraints which led to the building being ‘bent’. “Orientation had to be taken into account the entire time. We knew where the building should be. We had already identified specific site constraints, so we designed with the solar orientation, as well the existing school fabric in mind,” says Granicki. The building is a little over 700m² of useable space with a ground coverage of around 400m². The design was constrained by one building line and the presence of underground services. The existing school infrastructure is orientated north, while the sports fields and netball courts are square to the site boundaries. The new building is situated where the academic merges with the sport, hence the angle of the building

The building, built in 18 months and predominantly painted white or finished in facebrick, relates back to the existing structures in some of its finishes. Although the flush finished brickwork is not as ragged as the old buildings it still communicates with them. Ramps add a playful aspect to the building, but at the same time provide wheelchair access. “The primary function of the school is not special needs, but this may set a precedent for best practice in schools,” he says. The new building is also linked to the old school building via a bridge at the first floor level.
The ground floor of the resource centre features a tiered audio-visual classroom which was designed to seat approximately 120 primary school pupils without chairs – within the fire safety grades and the capacity of the air conditioning system, notes Granicki. “It is becoming harder and harder to find teachers that are competent, but all children understand digital media,” he says. “It is not the intent of the school to replace teachers, but with the technology that is available, such as smartboards, ADSL and PVR, why not use it as a supplement?”

The room couldn’t be vented with windows without creating glare, but the enclosed space serves to immerse the pupils in the experience. Acoustics-wise, the walls are carpeted in blue, the school colour, and as Granicki says, “a hundred little bodies with blazers on give fantastic acoustic absorption!”

Due to the size of building, Granicki was forced by the council to include a bathroom core – boys, girls and paraplegic facilities – which separate the AV classroom and the computer centre. In the 22m x 15m space, 40 computers are housed, and a large, non-opening window which allows the room to be flooded with natural light offers views of the school. Projectors and smartboards are also included and the air-conditioning system provides a comfortable environment for the pupils while also combating the heat of all the machines, keeping them dust free and prolonging their life span.

“The computer room was designed on a university spec,” says Granicki. “I didn’t want to plan for a classroom of just 30 work stations – I would rather have 5 or 10 work stations unused than have kids sharing. Furthermore, a resource like this becomes so valuable if well-managed. The classroom was designed to accommodate adults too, and in the future the school could run evening classes for the previously disadvantaged.”

Security-wise, the large glass window is manufactured from laminated safety glass. Internal passives and window beams police the building while an automated roller shutter door blocks off both of the downstairs classrooms when not in use.

Practicality and panache

The second level of the building houses the library. “The library was actually designed first, and that dictated the rest of the design based on smart decisions and practicality,” says Granicki. A clerestory window, instantly noticeable, is overhung to minimise heat gain, and vertical window strips create privacy while not totally closing off the library from the rest of the school. “I am quite happy that it excludes the sports field,” he says. “The building turns its back towards the sports fields, not shunning sports, but rather promoting academia. While both are important facets of a school, the resource centre is focussed on academic achievement,” he says.

The clerestory window gives even, natural light, making electrical lights almost redundant during the day, and it also minimises direct sun on the books in the library. The upstairs area includes a small breakaway room with a box window overlooking the street, 138 running metres of book shelves which allow space for growth, and wall seating which opens up for storage. “We wanted to make the space as efficient and versatile for group work as possible,” explains Granicki.

Due to the size of the library a fire escape became necessary; Granicki used the patio as an emergency spill out space from which access to the fire escape became easier. Stainless steel balustrades and aluminium windows and doors were then used – despite greater initial costs, maintenance will not be an issue down the line. The overhangs of the building house the aircon units which are unobtrusive and decoratively covered.

When asked which elements he considers most important in his work, Granicki says, “It’s a balance. In architecture, no single element is more or less important than another. As architects we have a social responsibility to create great spaces through thoughtful design. This building had functional requirements to meet, yet with a little out of the box thinking the building achieved a lot more than was originally thought possible.”

And when asked what the experience of working on the building was like, especially at a school which he had previously attended, he laughs and says, “Educational… It was incredibly rewarding to have a chance to give back to the community. It is three years since I did the design and I am completely comfortable with it. This is one project which surprised me. It’s a cohesive whole – we let the building be what it had to be.” And what it is, is a building which this Model C school can be justly proud of – a shift in architecture for education and a building which is harnessing the technology available, not shunning it.

CAPTIONS:
Edenglen Primary1.jpg: Edenglen Primary School Resource Centre puts a new spin on typical school architecture.
Edenglen Primary2.jpg: The computer room houses 40 Mecer computers with minimal cables present.
Edenglen Primary3.jpg: The workspace in the library can be manipulated for presentations and group work.
Edenglen Primary4.jpg: A link between the buildings bridges the gap between the old and the new.
Edenglen Primary5.jpg: The resource centre turns its back towards the sports fields, not shunning sports, but rather promoting academia.
Edenglen Primary6.jpg: The building, built in 18 months and predominantly in white and facebrick, relates back to the existing structures in some of its finishes.
Edenglen Primary7.jpg: Stainless steel balustrades and aluminium windows and doors were used for their maintenance-free properties.
Edenglen Primary8.jpg: The building is a little over 700m² in size with a ground coverage of around 400m².
Edenglen Primary9.jpg: The clerestory window allows for even, natural light, making electrical lights almost redundant, as well as minimising direct sun on the books in the library.