Afrikaanse Hoër Meisieskool Pretoria - Hall - Additions
Pieter J MATHEWS: Project Architect
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Afrikaanse Hoër Meisieskool Pretoria (the oldest Afrikaans school in Pretoria) – Additions to the existing hall, Elizabeth C. Steijnsaal
Preserving and celebrating the modern architectural history of AHMP - Afrikaanse Hoër Meisieskool Pretoria.
Commissioned by the then principal Miss Steijn, the original hall was designed by BURG LODGE BURG (now Bild Architects) in the modern architectural language of the day. This was a conscious decision to purposefully not mimic the architectural style of the old buildings on site. With these additions, funded by an inheritance left by Miss Steijn, the architects wanted to continue in this bold tradition and maintain the visionary spirit of designing true to the contemporary architectural spirit while respecting and drawing on the values of the original building. Though the 55-year old hall is not protected by heritage legislation, an NID (notification of intent to develop) was submitted to the heritage agencies due to the architects' passion of preserving the modernist legacy and the memory of this iconic institution. Therefore, using the Burra Charter, contemporary design has been juxtaposed with the existing in such a way that the old and the new are clearly expressed and distinct from each other.
The program called for an extension to accommodate the entire matric class [grade 12] and a new foyer to compensate for the increase in numbers. It was decided to place a new gallery on top of the old hall, thereby saving land and retaining the 60's façade. The architects reverted to a 'strap-on' concept, like Herzog and de Meuron's CaixaForum where the new was added on top of the old. On the exterior a steel channel is used to distinguish the old from the new – during the day a shadow line is formed, while at night a strip LED light pronounces the connection. Inside the existing concrete beam is exposed to indicate this connection where old and new never quite touch. Referring to Scharoun's Berlin Philharmonic Hall, and in keeping with the modernist philosophy, the acoustics, sight lines and ventilation were used as the design generators.
The shapes and materials of the existing building also generated the new facade, with materials used of the same palette, and shapes of new elements, such as the new fire escape balustrade wall being influenced by the existing facade forms. Existing materials were re-used where possible, including the parquet floors and original entrance door, where future generations will pass through just as those from the past. The facebrick used for the service duct contrasts with the existing, but also ties the building to the rest of the school, where a similar brick was used. With the existing organ being moved for acoustical reasons, it was refurbished in dark grey and renamed the Phantom Lady.
Steel was chosen for the new structure because it was the easiest way to connect to the old building. The new structure was added on top of the existing concrete structure, with random off-white sheeting used for cladding. This sheeting mimics the clouds, making the addition almost disappear on a cloudy day, and the light colour aids in temperature control inside. Ventilation louvers also let hot air escape during summer, while they are closed during winter.
The internal staircase has a view window and skylight at the end, illuminating the passage by day and expressing the function at night. It also illuminates a graphic image of Miss Steijn, placed on the wall as one ascends the stair.
Art was used extensively as architectural elements. A new garden surrounds the Bokkie by Elly Holm, while the sculpture Idealisme, by Elza Dziomba, is visible through the new foyer while one stands on Willem Boshoff's Kompasroos. Further down the passage the poem Ontkenning 3, by Fransi Phillips, is visible, the main entrance's door handles were sculpted by Sanna Swart and outside even the school's coat of arms, custom made with bent steel flat-bars, has a sculptural quality.
This project allowed for an iconic and poetic solution to a difficult problem, with the school children experiencing this sensitive design intervention first hand and experiencing how the building has been designed to instil confidence in the future, providing a sense of achievement and celebrating the continuing influence of Afrikaans as an academic language now and in the future.
Some additional information
AHMP has an impressive art collection which led to the idea of integrating art, architecture, history and ritual. There is a link between Elizabeth C. Steijn and the Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns. She donated the Akademie's annual best Afrikaans teacher prize, named after her. Pierneef was the first recipient of the Akademie's first prize and provided one of the first works in AHMP's current collection. To celebrate this, one of the last recipients, Willem Boshoff, was invited to collaborate with the architects. The foyer is used each year for the farewell ceremony when the principal takes off the matrics' caps, thereby symbolically sending them into the wind directions. Boshoff's artwork Kompasroos, which traveled to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington in 2012, was translated into Afrikaans and placed on the foyer floor on which the ceremony would take place. Symbolism, tradition, ritual, art and architecture would meet to give meaning and sense of purpose to this space. And, as Louis Sullivan stated, "No great architecture occurs without a great client".
(Mathews & Associates Architects - 2013)
All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.