Clarens Primary School
Education could be viewed as any country's most important activity. Without a good educational system, there would be no future. The same would be true for the buildings that enable these educational systems. As a building type, its long history has provided many inspiring examples. When patterns are set over such a long time it is always good to also critically re-evaluate them to understand what innovation would be required to keep the architectural form in tune with contemporary educational methods.
The background story of how this building came about in this particular form is illuminating and is at the core of what has been realised in bricks and mortar. The architects were appointed with the directive from the client that they had to fast track the process, using standard plans adapted to fit the site. In response, the architects convinced the client that the old apartheid and barrack-type schools were not acceptable anymore. They proposed that a school prototype that they had developed be used; one which they had already built on two different sites in other parts of the country. In this configuration, the nutrition centre was placed in the middle with the classrooms and other support functions radiated out from this point. The client agreed as long as it remained within the budget. This was the building that was eventually built. The old three-classroom sandstone building on the site that had heritage value was re-purposed as the administration centre. In a similar manner, an existing off-the-shelf structure was refurbished as an assembly hall. It is impressive to see just how much innovation the architects could develop to create this place of learning. With their proposal, they could mostly break the typology of this type of school that had so many bad associations in South Africa. The building possesses a certain amount of playfulness, but there is also a serious focus on maximising a quality experience in education. The focus is on the interaction within the learning process in all the forms that this might take. The building relates well to its context and has a certain robustness despite its limited budget.
Here in the Clarens Primary School there might just be another architectural typology for educating the nation and that deserves to be taken seriously.
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