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University of the Western Cape, Life Sciences
Bellville, Western Cape


2011CIfA Award for Architecture
2012SAIA Award of Merit
2012SAIA Award for Excellence


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33°55'52.06" S 18°37'29.29" E

Award for Architecture citation

The Life Sciences Laboratory and Learning Centre is a result of a limited competition for a 'cutting edge' institutional research laboratory complex on the campus of the University of the Western Cape [UWC]. The building has succeeded in establishing a definite presence on the Modderdam Road approach to the campus as per the siting rationale of the Client.

The Learning Centre's low level landscaped roof, shading canopy and louvred facade has breathed new life into the campus. It is an inviting and student-friendly facility with a generous plaza and forecourt approach for pedestrians. The Laboratory Block contrasts as a six storey flexible but functional generic laboratory model with specialized services.

The multi-volume entrance lobby and an external gathering space links the two parts, and is designed to encourage interdepartmental interaction and outdoor relaxation. Above the indigenous treed external space a louvred pergola roof oversails from the lower building to join the two components - albeit a disjointed connection the scale and materiality of the complex is accentuated.

The result is a skilful and competent building complex. The Architects' responsibility to realize the international donor's specific requirement to construct an iconic building, as well as surpassing international standards and benchmark research facilities have been well met. The brief to merge six departments into a single complex, fulfilling the sustainability and environmental requirements whilst also creating pleasant surroundings for students and staff was a difficult task and has been achieved commendably.

(PrArch - The Cape Institute for Architecture. Vol 13 October 2011)

Award of Excellence Citation

The UWC's Life Sciences Department building has two major sections, the laboratory section and the learning centre section, both of which are strategically joined by a central public space. In line with sustainable design concepts, this central public space creatively houses a reception lobby with a 'green' assembly space protected by a shading canopy, supported by tree-like columns.

The six-storey laboratory section accommodates the learning and research component of the department, opportunely housing undergraduate teaching facilities on the lower levels of the building, with postgraduate research and development laboratories on the upper floors. The learning centre is designed to integrate tertiary development into the broader campus and the surrounding landscape. The latter is visually ascended onto a green/living roof, providing thermal mass that is integrated into a landscaping approach that supports a direct response to the local environmental conditions. This encourages bio-diversity, protecting nutrients held in the bio-mass, using permeable surfaces to minimise run-off and increase the retention of groundwater levels, adopting indigenous water-wise plant species.

The six storeys of laboratories have been ingeniously designed to facilitate a direct relationship between the mentors/staff offices along the northern end of the floor and the laboratory spaces along the south, with the postgraduate research and support spaces strung along between these. Communal areas are intelligently tucked at the east and west ends of the floors. This results in a strong continued visual connection along and across the floor, encouraging socio-cultural integration within this facility. This visual line extends to the outdoors; exploiting the scenic surrounding landscape and Cape flats skyline as a backdrop, fostering a culturally adequate environment that promotes a sense of ownership and enriches cognitive development of all end users.

The building successfully illustrates a commitment to sustainability, resource efficiency and environmental responsibility through life cycle costings, resource and environmental organisation and adoption of worthwhile and cost-effective strategies including, amongst others, optimisation of the thermal envelope, waste heat reclamation, harvesting of rainwater and grey water recycling.

No doubt this state-of-the-art equipped Life Sciences Centre ranks the whole development unabashedly on international best practice levels.

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.