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Hopewell Visitors Centre
Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape

KOOP DESIGN: Architect

Type:Community Centre
2013SAIA EC Award for Architecture
2014SAIA Award of Merit


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33°52'56.81" S 25°22'41.89" E

Award for Architecture Citation

This project falls within the tradition of pavilion buildings, with a limited accommodation but strong presence. The well-conceived and beautifully detailed structure has echoes of the Barcelona Pavilion, but reflecting in its making and choice of materials the ecological concerns of the twenty-first century. The palette of materials is restricted to a minimum – timber, steel and glass with polished concrete finishes using aggregate from surrounding ground, thereby creating a visual continuity between the natural surrounds and the made building. As a pavilion it takes its cue from its legacy with the interplay of visual and connected internal and external spaces. The building is finely detailed and crafted and well-made. The project provides a benchmark for both the design and construction of the residences which are to follow, while being a piece of jewel-box architecture in its own right. The project is conferred a regional Award for Architecture.

Award of Merit citation

The landscape in which this small building is situated is characterised by majestic views and deep ravines, with the distant horizon line of a high mountain range. Whatever man builds here will be small by comparison. When the architect's response to this magnificent and somewhat intimidating site is analysed, it would seem that he (Richard Stretton of Koop Design) was inspired to react with a design that has all the hallmarks of thoughtfulness and infinite care in order to create a building of great sensitivity and delicacy. The larger-scale site consists of a memorable valley section, enclosing the building and visitor below the horizon line. Within this setting, the building virtually disappears, while the interaction between nature and man remains the dominant sensation.

In keeping with the careful approach to this project, the building was placed on a previously disturbed site. The accommodation was divided into 'served' and 'serving' spaces. A clear spatial and material distinction was made in order to set the two types of accommodation apart. The serving accommodation is located inside a 'heavy' form built from stone, like the base of the building. This form interlocks with, but is made distinct in section and plan from, the 'light' glass and timber-frame structure housing of the served spaces. The stone structure houses the ablution facilities, kitchen and sales office, while the glass and timber structure accommodates the sales office. In keeping with this distinction, openings in the stone structure are kept small and to a minimum, while everything is done to maximise the view of nature in the 'light' structure. The window surrounds in the stone structure are made from thin steel plate (in an open homage to similar details developed by Designworkshop: SA), creating a distinction and crispness of detail between the two elements. The load-bearing structure of the glass pavilion is constructed from twinned SA Pine columns.The thin strip of light between the two members of these twinned columns emphasises the lightness of this structure even more. In this part of the building, the view is paramount. Nothing is allowed to distract from it. Even the sun screening and exhibition panels are designed in such a way that they emphasise 'lightness' and the viewers' relationship with the dramatic qualities of the site.

This pavilion-like building is ultimately inspired by a 'less is more' ethic. However, not in an inhumane machine-like manner - but where the site, the materials sourced from the site, and those materials imported to the site are used in a sparing and minimalist way in order to exalt place and time.

(Paul Kotze - 2014)

Writings about this entry

Herholdt, AD (Editor). 2013. Coastal Contemporary : Architecture of Nelson Mandela Bay : 2000 - 2013. Port Elizabeth: DOT Matrix Publications. pg 94-95
South African Institute of Architects. 2014. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2013/2014. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 50-51