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Heideveld Primary School
Athlone, Cape Town, Western Cape




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33°58'03.44" S 18°33'17.61" E Alt: 18m

Colesberg Circle, Heideveld.

Award of Merit Citation

Buildings with educational purposes may be some of most important that any society can construct. It is within this building type that many of our attitudes towards not only education, but also how we view others, can be seen and made concrete. Education is an expression of a belief in a positive future that can be concretised now. Architecture cannot be the sole means of the educational process, but it is an important component thereof. The way in which we design for education, sadly, also shows up our societal fault lines. In South Africa we have generally not been very good at designing buildings for education - specifically not for public education. The large discrepancy between public and private education is partially symbolised by their physical infrastructure. It is thus very inspiring to see a public school that embodies the best possible intentions and design focus.

The problems faced by the architects Meyer & Associates could not have been more complex. They had to build this structure on the site of an existing school, without interrupting its educational activities. The previous school was built 40 years ago as a 'temporary' structure. In order to construct it, temporary and mobile units were brought onto the site, while the old building was demolished to make way for the new.

When viewed in sequence, it should be noted how much more efficient the new design has been in terms of land use. School buildings in South Africa are notorious for their inefficient use of expensive and scarce land. To achieve this efficiency, Meyer & Associates used the age-old perimeter block principle with open and roofed courtyards. In their design, the architects created a well thought-out 'face' and public interface with the school's immediate community. The sports fields have been moved and consolidated to form a buffer and put distance between the noisy Duinefontein Road on the eastern edge of the site. On the side of this important but busy road, the school, as societal institution and symbol in the community, has been 'marked' with a vertical and brightly coloured water tower.

Scale, orientation and identity are all important elements in educational buildings. Most users, namely the school children, are small in relation to the buildings they occupy, while orientation is important for group formation and social interaction. For this purpose, the architects created a hierarchy of shared and individualised spaces. Each of these is well defined, while enabling social interaction and surveillance. To facilitate orientation, colour and graphics have been used. The covered courtyards have become outdoor play spaces, which are perfect for use when the weather is inclement. There are also a number of carefully considered physical elements that assist the small users of the building to successfully negotiate its scale.

The same efficiency and care that are evident in the way in which the land has been utilised extends to all other elements such as energy usage and sun protection. The robust but sensitive detailing and the quality of the workmanship should also ensure the building a long life span.

In the rather bleak, featureless and sometimes depressing topography and environment of the Cape Flats, Meyer & Associates, in collaboration with the client, have created a school building that could, as a prototype, inspire all public education authorities within South Africa by providing them with a benchmark.

Writings about this entry

South African Institute of Architects. 2016. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2015/2016. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 32-33