Three South African schools feature in top green architectural award

Three South African schools – two of them in rural areas – have come top of the class when it comes to environmental and green issues.


The South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) has partnered with AfriSam (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd for the biennial AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture aimed at recognising outstanding achievement in sustainable architecture as well as creating public awareness and debate on architectural issues. Remarkably three South African schools are in the Top 10 entries for this country’s most prestigious green architectural award. Projects will be awarded in October.


The schools are Lebone II College in Phokeng, North West; Vele Secondary School in Limpopo and Elkanah House high school campus outside Cape Town.


Lebone II College in Phokeng, North West was designed by Activate Architects and Afritects who won a competition hosted by Kgosi Lebone II of the Royal Bafokeng Nation to create a college for 800 students that would serve as a new education model with accommodation, farming and alternative teaching methods.


The captivating transparent structure aims to “de-institutionalise” learning by forming a set of “village clusters” with central outdoor courtyards and light filtered as if through trees.


The college was built in a disused sand quarry and rehabilitated a watercourse to create wetlands hosting indigenous vegetation. Local artists were trained to create detailed mosaic art on the site that portrays the relationship between the Bafokeng and the land. Solar geysers, storm water harvesting, a black water treatment plant, waste recycling and a feeding scheme from vegetable gardens are all part of the project.


Elkanah House high school campus, Cape Town, designed by Nic Border Architects, has also helped transform its surrounding community who play an integral part in the life of the school.


Its site forms an integral part of the new suburb, Sunningdale, being developed by Garden Cities. Situated in the harsh, windswept, sand dune environment of Cape Town’s West Coast, the buildings had to satisfy the ethos of Elkanah by providing a warm, welcoming, creative, nurturing environment, while responding to the unique characteristics of the West Coast in terms of climate, aesthetics and social conditions.


Its aim was to revitalise the school pupils and greater community with new recreational, wellness, youth, art, IT, theatre and sporting facilities. Primarily a school building, the facility had to play a part role of town hall, community centre, theatre, youth centre and place of worship so buildings are multi-functional. The theatre becomes town hall, lecture facility, community centre, youth centre and place of worship.


The third nomination is Vele Secondary School in Limpopo and designed by East Coast Architects.


Schools play a critical role in the life of communities especially those situated in remote areas. Part of the Creating Schools initiative, the project based its development on input from the local community.


Pupils were given cameras and taught to map the area, including their routes to school. They identified hazards — leopards, baboons and snakes among them — as well as special sites in the landscape. Their photos were exhibited to raise funds, but also inspired the school’s design and the selection of its building materials.


The school invested in 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. Energy conservation and water management are important themes both in terms of global resource implications and the reduction of school utility bills. The use of local resources – mainly stone and masonry construction – reduces the carbon footprint and invests in local economies.

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