Afrikaanse Hoër Meisieskool Pretoria – New sports facility
Pieter J MATHEWS: Project Architect
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The brief called for a sports facility that could house a tuck shop, dressing rooms with ablutions, sport viewing venue and entertainment area for staff, parents and supporters of different schools.
The original master plan allocated a site to the side of the sports fields on the western boundary of the school. Although benefitting and interacting with the hockey Astroturf field, this site was out of reach, practically and visually, from the rest of the school. The architects therefore proposed that the most central existing tennis court should be sacrificed, with the new building positioned diagonally across it. This central position would ensure sight-lines onto all the various sporting activities, thereby ensuring extensive use of the building and further validating the project.
The second advantage of this placement would be that the building itself becomes the core of the sporting hub. Visitors would know at first glance where to go as the new design is treated as an object in the centre of the school, as the chairman of the board commented: "like the pyramid at the Louvre". This landmark orientates the users, acting as focal point in the urban landscape.
The building can be reduced into three main parts: the service spaces inside the curvilinear bricked form, the boldly clad roof structure and the surrounding negative/open spaces which the building addresses. The curved brick form gathers space and collects and directs the prospective visitor, resembling Le Corbusier's Chapel at Ronchamp.
Overlooking the hockey fields towards the north, the raised foyer acts as a stage for annual open air musicals, becoming a cultural precinct, with the roof shape reflecting the sound onto the audience. This roof was already used as a film screen, with children sitting in picnic-style on the grass. The stairs of the new building also double up as a viewing pavilion for the swimming pool to the south east, while the social space created in front of the tuck shop becomes a space where people could gather, socialize and attract more people. A well detailed steel balustrade finishes the main slab's edge.
A light steel frame was chosen to create the sculptural form of the roof. This poetic element consists of an inverted truss, much like Piano’s addition to the Lingotto building, with one side cantilevering over the foyer or stage, alluding to the Voortrekkker kappie on the school's coat of arms. At night the roof is lit from below, accentuating the sculptural shape and resembling a floating lantern in the night.
During construction the architects together with the engineers decided that the roof should be put together next to the building and lifted onto the base structure. The day it was lifted school children gathered class-by-class on the neighbouring hockey field, with one of the architects and engineers explaining the whole construction process, design and structure of the roof. This event certainly created some future building designers, with not only the final product but also the construction process aiding in the development of this public school.
Brave contemporary design in public schools is desperately needed as this typology is generally characterized by a traditional 'sameness' and lack of imagination. Therefore this building had to consume its place with a videomatic, dynamic quality that activates the entire sports field and school, sending out a positive message and celebrating a sense of achievement.
(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.