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University of Fort Hare, Commerce Building
East London, Eastern Cape

Aloth Usher (Al) STRATFORD: Design Architect



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33°01'15.02" S 27°54'17.60" E Alt: 47m

The University of Fort Hare (UFH) commissioned the design of an environmentally-friendly building which was completed in 2011. The facility provided much-needed lecturing and teaching space for Commerce students. It was intended that students should enjoy the comfort of modern lecture rooms. Described as a "living and breathing" facility, the design of the new building, put the University at the forefront of sustainable architecture.

The building has six floors, a large 320-seat lecture room and two basement parking levels. An unusual design feature of the building is the naturally ventilated floors, eliminating the need for air-conditioning systems and limiting electricity usage. Six water storage tanks, each with capacity of 10 000 litres were provided to harvest rainwater.

Design architect Al Stratford said the building was an example of the kind of facilities needed to mitigate climate change. "We've all learned that climate change puts pressure on us. We've realised that the building can ventilate itself using the sun and wind energy." Stratford said the self-reliant ventilation system in the facility would work on a cycle of moving air from one part of the building to the other. "The north side of the building is warmed up by 'trombe' walls [hollow and facing the sun so as to form a large solar thermal collector]. The warm air then rises, drawing cool air from the south side of the building. The cool and fresh air then filters into the building, passing through an innovative ventilated flooring system to maintain a comfortable temperature."

On the south facade of the building at each floor, creepers were planted in boxes placed on the south circulation spaces to grow along trellises lined against the walls to help oxygenate the air being drawn in from that side. Rainwater collected from the roof would be stored in the six tanks and then be pumped to the roof to irrigate the plants and to flush toilets.

Reference: Daily Dispatch, 12 December 2011

Submitted by William Martinson, July 2018.