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University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, School of Architecture - Shepstone Building
Durban, KwaZulu-Natal

Leslie Thomas CROFT: Architect



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29°52'05.50" S 30°58'47.58" E

Transcript of the wording on the wall behind the bust of Denis Shepstone after whom the building was named:

Knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem
Administrator of Natal
Chancellor of the University of Natal 1949-1966

Extract from Graduation Address 21-5-59


The Denis Shepstone Building provides accommodation for nine departments. They are :- Accountancy, Architecture, Building, Business Administration, Education, Educational Psychology, Economics, History and Political Science, Quantity Surveying. In addition, provision has been made for parking nearly two hundred cars within the building. It is possible for the building to be extended to the south to link up with the Science Complex and also to the west over the car park.

In approaching the design of the Denis Shepstone Building, three points of principle were kept in mind.

The first was the need for the building to be flexible enough in its structure and services to accommodate a variety of university departments and their specific needs. Changes are continually taking place in education and provision should be made for them and for natural growth. Inflexible buildings may impose a restraint on desirable changes in education. The physical accommodation should not hinder but rather should assist the process of education.

The second principle considered was the need to reduce construction time. No university building programme ever seems to be up to date and five to seven years can elapse between the time when the need for a building is formulated and the time when the department concerned moves into its new accommodation. Generally this lapse of time is considered to be too great.

The third principle was the need to be economical. No university has sufficient funds for all its requirements, and there is no good reason why a few departments should be housed in palaces while others less fortunate remain in over-crowded sub-standard buildings. A good average standard of building, functional, imaginative and economical eases out the extremes. Reduction of building time results in reduction of overhead costs of building. Another aspect of reducing construction time is that with the continual rise in the cost of building, it is more economical to build at a steady rate.

A fourth principle was the need to relate the building to the campus In terms of circulation of pedestrians and vehicles and to relate the building to its neighbouring buildings aesthetically. A university building should fit into a pre-determined plan so that it will satisfy particular requirements and immediate needs, permit development and growth and have a satisfactory relationship with the whole university campus.

The above principles have been borne in mind in designing a building to provide the accommodation required, and to provide it in such a way that it is comfortable in terms of the natural and artificial environment.

The building has been designed on a module of 1 ,2 metres. This module was selected after considering the various accommodation requirements, offices, teaching spaces, laboratories, workshops and car parking and also bearing in mind existing standard sizes of materials.

The structure which was selected consisted of pre-cast pre-stressed concrete beams and slabs supported on in situ reinforced concrete columns. This system required the minimum use of wet concrete on the site and allowed for maximum off-site fabrication.

The use of this structural system in a modular building went very far to meet the first three design principles, flexibility, speed of erection and economy.

Services such as water supply, drainage and fire mains are provided in vertical ducts, which alternate with circulation routes throughout the building. Toilet blocks are adjacent to ducts. Each duct is adjacent to four building units and every building unit is served by a duct so that services can be provided anywhere in the building.

Electric power and telephone services are provided in skirtings which run lengthwise through the building on each level.

Air conditioning is provided by running ducts horizontally in the ceilings through holes provided in the secondary beams from air handling rooms to offices and teaching spaces. Refrigeration is by a chilled water system from a central refrigeration plant.

The fourth design principle, the satisfactory relationship of the building to the other buildings on the campus was met by the choice of the site.

The main considerations affecting this choice of site were the need to concentrate academic departments on the campus/to cut down waste of time between lectures, and generally to get a higher density of student population in the established campus area. The Durban campus largely follows King George V Avenue along the Berea ridge. The site selected was immediately west of the prestige buildings, Howard College, Electrical Engineering and Chemistry which form a "wall" of buildings on the ridge. The steep slope of one in three on the west of the ridge formed a barrier to westward development previously. In choosing this site a challenge to beat this barrier was accepted. The new building has been designed to step down the site and to link the ridge and the lower main car park. It has nine floors, although at no point is it higher than three storeys.

An important aspect of the building is the main stairway and escalator passing through the building from east to west. This links the main car park, which can be enlarged, with the greatest centre of student activity, namely the Students' Union, and the area in which the future University Library is to be built. By providing the escalators to carry members of the University from the car park up six floors, it is expected that the major car park will be more readily used.

A consideration was the need to provide lecture theatres and seminar rooms for general university use and in excess of what was required only for the departments occupying the building. These are provided on Level 6, the upper concourse level, and on this level nearly 2 000 students can be accommodated at one time in lecture theatres and seminar rooms. This level is connected by ramps to the rest of the established University campus. The main concourse on Level 6 provides covered space, protected from sun and rain, in which students can meet and talk while waiting for lectures.

Since the ridge runs north and south, it is inevitable that the greater part of the building is facing west, and this presents design problems in connection with sun control. On the west, the office and other accommodation is protected by sun screens over balconies which do not obstruct the view. Direct sunlight will only enter the offices after most of the occupants have left to go home. In mid-winter however it is unavoidable that the sun cannot be fully controlled during the last half-hour before sunset and it is necessary to use curtains to keep out direct sunlight.

On the eastern elevation heat resisting glass has been used to keep down the build-up of heat in the early morning, particularly in the summer. Direct sunlight is not so much of a problem on this elevation.

All offices as well as all teaching places, such as lecture theatres and seminar rooms, are air conditioned.

(These notes and the images down the right hand side of the page are reproduced with the kind assistance of Michelle Jacobs, Chief Librarian, Barrie BIERMANN Library, UKZN)

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.