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Tricircle Pavilion
East London, Eastern Cape

David Vaughan MULLER: Project Architect
SMALE and PARTNERS: Architect

Client:D T Hudson Christian Ecovillage Trust
Type:Community Centre
2009BKIA Award for Architecture
2010SAIA Award of Merit


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32°55'53.64" S 28°01'11.75" E

B-KIA Award for Architecture Citation

The design consists of three overlapping circles, one of them a pavilion that serves as a multi-use hall, classroom and church, and the other two comprise a cattle kraal and a herb garden. The project is inside a developing Eco-village and seeks to link sustainability with the Christian concept of stewarding the environment.

While this project has been pared down to the fundamentals, each element is well thought out and is grounded in an ethos of stewardship and a sustainable form of architecture.

The attention to detail has imbued the building with many layers of meaning being extremely relevant to the issues of the day.

The overriding concept informed the selection of materials to the extent that each material is allowed to perform within its strengths. Few materials for this building (eucalyptus for the roof structure and soil for the rammed earth walls) were off the shelf - site sourced materials were the primary building materials. This concept has been taken further, to the hand-made re-use of materials like the door handles and curtain-wall windows made from old railway sleepers.

Careful planning and sensitive design resulted in a cohesive space that integrates with the environment, ensuring a poetic filter of light and wind, solid and void, public and private.

The impact of this project is positive - it is harmonious and honest in its resolution. It is, to borrow from Piet de Beer, "tough, yet sensitive - an architecture of integration, not Venturi's decorated duck".

This project successfully challenges the notion that architecture is the domain of the wealthy. It is a laudable attempt to address what Architecture SA editor Julian Cooke describes as "our greatest need: useful and meaningful buildings with minimum means".

SAIA Award of Merit Citation

This Pavilion is the centrepiece of a green ecovillage being developed on a wooded hillside with spectacular views not far from East London. It turned out to be the most unusual building visited by the panel. The Pavilion was constructed as a multi-use hall, classroom and church. The design consists of three overlapping circles, representing humanity, livestock and agriculture. It was designed with the didactic purpose of linking the subject of sustainability with the Christian concept of stewardship of the environment. Sustainability is represented as three overlapping circles standing for Equity, Economy and Ecology.

The design encompasses the Pavilion as one circle together with two landscaping areas representing a cattle kraal and a herb garden. The Pavilion has a good scale, being placed on a deck/platform with a floating roof. The construction is remarkable in a number of respects. Site-sourced materials of low-embodied energy were used as a primary building material. Eucalyptus grown on the site was used for the roof structure and supporting columns. Using traditional rammed earth construction methods studied during a visit to Morocco, soil from the site excavations was rammed to create independent earth walls to enclose the meeting space. Recycled materials were used for the window frames and wall grounds (rail sleepers), ceiling (packing case timber) and approximately half of the glazing. The sawn timber flooring was obtained from a nearby plantation.

The development of skills and payment of fair wages was considered an important component of the concept of sustainability. Indeed about 80% of the construction cost went to wages, and thus entered the local economy. The total project cost was R1.5 million. Careful solar orientation ensures maximum shading in summer and sunlight on the walls in winter. Rainwater from the roof is collected and stored in a pond that abuts the building, while waste water from the ablution block and kitchen is treated on site and used for irrigation.

The panel was not called upon to evaluate the sustainability of the ecovillage itself, or to respond to the element of faith that had inspired the whole project. All the members of the panel, however, commented on how inspiring it was to find oneself in the simple, naturally made Pavilion, surrounded by nature. The sense of connection with the earth was intensified by hearing cows munch grass outside, before crowding around the water feature to slake their thirst.

Whether the building techniques are easily replicated, and whether the ecovillage itself becomes sustainable, cannot be judged at this stage. Whatever its wider objectives might be, however, the Pavilion already functions as an unusually sympathetic site for special encounters such as weddings and meetings of bodies particularly concerned with the environment. A brave socio-spiritual architectural venture, its construction has resulted from a deep exploration of sustainability, with outstanding effect. Though a number of its technical and some of its aesthetic aspects were questioned by members of the panel, the consensus was that the project in a remarkable and memorable way engages with the issues of profound national significance and merits a national award.

Architect's Notes

Gqunube Green consists of 95 Ha of riverine forest, coastal grassland, mud flats and agricultural land on the banks of the Gqunube River near the city of East London in South Africa.

Gqunube Green Tricircle Pavilion is a multi use hall / church situated within Gqunube Green Ecovillage. The design concept is intended to visually show in a didactic way the relationship between man, and the environment. This is achieved by the devise of three overlapping circles consisting of the pavilion building, a medicinal herbal garden and a cattle kraal which doubles as an outdoor teaching arena.

Gqunube Green Ecovillage is intended to be a mixed income development which showcases aspects of an alternative low energy lifestyle. The developers hold strong convictions that voluntary examples of sustainable living are needed and this is a further didactic role of the village. Too often alternative construction methods are imposed on emerging communities without regard or sensitivity towards the aspirations of these emerging communities.

Central to Gqunube Green is a learning / training centre currently in development that will provide teaching on the many aspects that constitute a sustainable lifestyle. The Tricircle Pavilion will be the main venue for instruction. Other components will be a hospitality centre intended to run as a viable business by emerging entrepreneurs which will provide accommodation to those attending the learning centre courses, farming activities based upon permaculture which will supply the hospitality component and adjacent communities with healthy food and a ministry centre aimed at developing a Christian based approach to Stewardship and care of the environment.

The pavilion is built using locally harvested timber and rammed earth dug from the site. Window and door frames are made from reclaimed railway sleepers, the ceiling from reclaimed packing cases and most of the glazing from reclaimed shop-fronts.

The pavilion is designed so that the mass rammed earth "drum" is in shade during summer and exposed to the sun during winter in order to maximize the effect of solar heat gain and thermal mass.

The roof is corrugated sheet metal which is a material with low embodied energy due to its efficient use of material, long life span and ease of recycling in the South African context. Rainwater is collected from the roof and stored in a series of ponds and dams.

Writings about this entry

South African Institute of Architects. 2010. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2009/2010. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 26-27, 56
Adjudication Panel Tricircle Pavilion, Gqunube Green Ecovillage: in South African Institute of Architects. 2010. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2009/2010: pp 26-27
BKIA Adjudicators Panel Tricircle Pavilion, Gqunube Green Ecovillage: in South African Institute of Architects. 2010. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2009/2010: pp 56