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St Cyprian's Girls School - Addition
Oranjezicht, Cape Town, Western Cape




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33°56'28.19" S 18°24'59.76" E

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Award for Excellence citation

This school is situated in the lush and privileged context of Oranjezicht in Cape Town. The site is encircled by the Table Mountain range and has distant views over Table Bay. The original buildings were designed by the architects Kendall and Morris. Over the last hundred years, the school has been developed in a piecemeal, but caring and considered manner. When buildings or groups of buildings are developed in this way, it always becomes a context with a rich frame of reference and significant memories. Such contexts open up the possibility of continuing with their physical development in a similar manner. It is within this spirit that Noero Wolff and later Noero Architects approached this commission.

The site of the school, adjacent to George Street, is irregularly shaped. It has a relatively steep fall towards the north. The site is densely built, consisting mainly a series of courtyard buildings.The largest open spaces are a hockey field, and the entrance forecourt in front of the main building of the school. The successive waves of additions reflect the architectural sensibilities of the time. The older buildings exude a quality of'heaviness' with their thick walls and relatively small windows, nevertheless forming beautifully tranquil and memorable courtyards, while the newer buildings, due to their 'thinner and lighter' construction methods, are mostly just objects in space. The older buildings are predominantly plastered and painted white, while the newer buildings were mostly built using facebrick. Most of the buildings have the same roof materials, namely red tiles.

The school initiated a campaign in the early 2000s entitled 'Creating Future Leaders'. It was this campaign that resulted in the creation of a number of new buildings and spaces. The following alterations, as well as new buildings, have been completed in terms of this endeavour:

1: Creative Centre: This facility has been relocated in the old library and domestic science block.Two classrooms have been created for art education.These are subdivided by a sliding folding screen that enables the two areas, when combined, to be used as an exhibition space. Within this building, a space for drama teaching and performance has also been created. On the eastern, northern and southern facades a canopy has been added, while the remodelled eastern facade now allows for the pick-up and drop-off of learners by their parents.

2: Science Centre: This building has been largely remodelled to create a more updated facility.The building now showcases exhibition spaces, and those passing in the corridors can see into the science spaces.

3: New IT Hub: This is a two-storey circular building inserted into one of the courtyards. The circular form enables the teacher to view all the computer monitors from a central point. It is a small building, and all its fittings and pieces of equipment have been designed to optimise the usage of space. The intention of the architects was to create a spatial experience that would be different from the other teaching spaces. This building has been covered on the outside with pale blue mosaics - the result of this decision is that it nearly 'disappears' against the sky. On the inside, very strong and memorable colours have been used. The building also has small round windows, ensuring a distinction from its immediate context.

4: New Knowledge Centre: A new information and knowledge centre has been created in the old historic gymnasium. Care has been taken not to touch the old building. All the new elements have been made from timber so that they can be removed, should this be required. A courtyard adjacent to the gymnasium has been covered with a translucent roof. Inside this space, three cylindrical seating spaces have been created. These semi-private spaces quickly became highly used social or learning spaces.

5: Molteno House: New additions on the eastern and western facades have been made to this previously rather uninspiring rectangular building. The addition to the eastern fagade has a wavelike form, in order to accommodate the existing trees. The accommodation on this side consists of specialised spaces, as well as extra ablution facilities.The fagade has been punctured with long, thin vertical-strip windows.The extensions to the classrooms on the western side have simple direct openings, with ample sun-shading devices.

6: Loggia: On the southern side of Molteno House, a beautifully designed and crafted loggia has been added. This building attaches itself to a new extended walkway. The open loggia has tiered seating and is partially screened by breeze blocks. It is also adjacent to the main entrance forecourt of the school, and its purpose is to provide a waiting space for the children. The thin concrete roof and the see-through screen render this a delicate and elegant structure.

7: Life Centre: This building has been placed in an open corner formed by two other buildings, one of which is the school hall. It is a double-storey structure consisting of two multi-functional spaces on top of one another, linked by a circular staircase. This impressive building is clearly the piece de resistance of all the buildings created by the architects, is round in shape and has a square, high-pitched roof with a central roof light at its apex. It has been designed with mathematical precision and is an obvious delight to the architects and its users alike. The structure of the roof has been exposed to the top floor. The circular walls have been layered, with an outer skin of terracotta breezeblocks and an inner skin of glass. The interior of this light-filled building is dramatic, while on the outside it reveals a quietly imposing and dynamic quality. Its iconic roof profile has given an immediately memorable quality to the adjacent outside spaces.

8: Dining Hall: As an extension to the existing dining hall, one courtyard has been covered with a translucent roof. Additionally, a wooden floor has been inserted, while the existing trees have also been retained.

Groups of buildings, like those of the St Cyprian's School for Girls, that have been developed over time have created their own 'story' and narrative. Any new addition or demolition would alter the narrative and its associated meanings. The earlier work of Noero Wolff and the later work of Noero Architects has changed the narrative of this school in a fundamental and profound manner. It has also, at the same time, respectfully enriched the vocabulary.

The architects were not intimidated by the school's history, but they instead added to it with confidence. In so doing, they have inserted a new chapter that can act as future inspiration, both for the users and for other architects.

(Paul Kotze - 2014)

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.

Writings about this entry

South African Institute of Architects. 2014. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2013/2014. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 16-19