University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, K-RITH Tower Building
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The Medical School of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where this building is situated, is on the outskirts of the traditional CBD of Durban and not too far from the harbour area. The urban environment here can be described as hard, gritty and tough. Most parts of cities are normally like this — not being too accommodating to a more humane way of life. The built fabric of the Medical School with its mostly orthogonal layout seems to continue this largely no-nonsense and utilitarian approach.
The K-RITH facility has been placed within this already densely built-up area. Suddenly, a different approach was introduced with this building, namely a building designed as if people mattered! The way that the building has been placed as well as some of the functions that have been accommodated in it, is clearly aimed at creating a place that can socially and intellectually bring the campus together. The K-RITH Building physically links the Medical School and the Doris Duke Medical Research Institute buildings. The large glass and well-lit atrium become the symbol and celebration of this social function that the building has to fulfil. This space is the 'heart' of the building as well as the new focus of the campus. All the functions relate to it and most of the functions are in visual contact with it. This element is clearly the masterstroke of the design.
The building houses mostly state-of-the-art research laboratories. These laboratories, built to exacting standards, are where some of the leading research on TB and HIV is conducted. KwaZulu-Natal is the epicentre of these dreaded diseases and it is only fitting that this world-class research facility should be placed right here.
When the leading international thinking is surveyed on the design of research and teaching laboratories, it is reassuring to note that this building fulfills all of those requirements. The best laboratories in the world do not represent science and research as outside of normal life and as an activity fulfilled by non-humans, or robots for that matter. The best laboratories now reflect that science is conducted by normal human beings with normal human relations. It is not conducted outside of normal life, in fact, it makes normal contemporary life possible and is, therefore, an inherent part of life. Science, like art, as a human expression is thus mostly the two sides of the same coin. This is precisely what the K-RITH building designed by FGG Architects is doing, it combines science, art and the normal social interaction of people in a celebratory manner. There are many larger design considerations as well as smaller details where the eye and the hand interact directly with the building that attest to this careful and considered approach. The forms employed in this building are dynamic and fluid. In this way, it is a welcome counterforce to the rest of the campus. It can easily be argued that the forms employed express a new energy and thus, hope for a better future. Maybe the best part of the design is that it conforms to all aspects that are accepted as international best practice in the design of research laboratory facilities, and yet FGG Architects have not made a song and dance of this. They have just done their work as best they could in a humble manner, and for this they deserve the profession's respect.
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