South Africa's top thesis students for 2014 to compete at the 28th corobrik architectural student of the year national award unveiled

The Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year award is to take place on the 22 April 2015 commencing 18H00 at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton.

The annual Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Award is the country’s premier event to highlight the creative and technical talent of the cream of South Africa’s architectural students and to drive the advancement of design excellence nationally.

As climate change looms larger on the world stage, the environment and sustainability have become a key part of design and material specification. Add to the mix the diverse composition and aspirations of the rainbow nation and it is clear that the challenges facing the country’s architects of the future are becoming increasingly complex.

University of the Free State

Representing the University of the Free State is Marius du Plessis for his thesis, “A Journey from the Centre of the Earth,” which is a national geothermal research and educational centre, in Village Main, Johannesburg. In his thesis Marius aims to answer the question: “How can development be seen as true progress if something is damaged in the process?”

By definition conservation implies preserving something for the future.

Du Plessis says, “”geothermal energy can contribute by protecting our environment from drastic changes in order to save the depleting resources for our future generations. Geothermal energy is thermal energy generated and stored in the earth. Given the nature of a geothermal research and educational centre, it inevitably becomes a comment on alternative sustainable energy sources. Sustainability is a journey and a process that cannot be achieved within a short period of time. It is a way of life, a way of being and a way of constantly becoming – a path of continual improvement.”

University of Cape Town

Simon Henstra’s strategy is that existing buildings be extended upwards and outwards, and by transferring the development rights of the neighbouring erven, unlock and utilise the existing unused airspace.

His thesis entitled “Inner-city palimpsest: building the city above the city’’ proposes a building of 42 residential units and 650m2 of office space be constructed above existing buildings in Long Street.

Henstra ‘s dissertation emerged from a fascination with the rich urban and architectural fabric of dense inner-cities. There is a vast amount of airspace above the existing city which is being underutilised and underdeveloped.

The paper explores a method of place less dependent on the ground plane, and able to occupy the underutilised airspace above existing blocks; densifying the city, and expanding its capacity, while maintaining the unique sense of character and rich urban fabric which is a product of generations of small steps in development.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Alexandra Wilmot’s thesis is entitled, “Eco-nnection” in which she integrates the systems of a disconnected urban environment through the design of a photographic museum for Port Elizabeth.

Wilmot believes the increasing concern for sustainability in architecture has often failed to adequately address the social aspect of the issue. Herproject examines the nature of spatial segregation in the post-apartheid city and aims to produce an architectural proposal to provide a strategy for physical connectivity and social integration in a segregated environment.

The proposed site sits within a city threshold, situated in Port Elizabeth’s historic city centre, at the crossing of two primary commercial corridors – Govan Mbeki Avenue and Cape Road, amidst the cities’ primary transport interchange and highway flyovers. The existing residence, office and commercial activities on the site are integrated with the proposed museum activity. Looking to photography as a medium for social change, exhibition spaces interact with pedestrian movement routes, facilitating the communication between users from the northern townships and southern suburbs.

The result is the integration of a segregated urban ecosystem that will begin to mend the ruptures of the past that are so deeply inscribed in the space of South African cities.

Tshwane University of Technology

Graeme Noeth’s passion for astronomy fueled his thesis which is the design of an international school of astronomy & astro-tourism centre to be sited at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland in the Northern Cape.

Noeth says, “Architecture represents the symbiotic relationship between earth, man and the sky. The proposed building aims to introduce a unique facility that would benefit the field of astronomy worldwide.”

The proposed School of Astronomy acts as a light filter, while it investigates the relationship between architecture and the Cosmic Landscape. The design proposal is based on available research and experiments, documenting the solstices, stars and various cosmic bodies- as well as framing these objects in the cosmic landscape.

In addition to tourists visiting, SAAO Sutherland receives regular school visits so the proposed design will cater for 120 tourists per tour and can accommodate about a 100 students and 20 lecturer’s/guests.

University of Johannesburg

Harold Johnson’s thesis is entitled, The ‘Dark’ City: Critical Interventions in Urban Despair which is a journey through the epidemic known as ‘bad buildings’ in inner-city Johannesburg.

It began by observing and documenting the depressing cycle of violence, abandonment and exodus. It tracked statistics; delved into the relationship between those on the first rungs of urbanisation and those who’ve slipped below; it investigated the city’s responsibility towards its own housing infrastructure and what happens when that falls away.

Over time, the inability of traditionally-trained architects to meaningfully contribute or intervene in such situations began to dawn. As a result, other means of researching and designing were employed, these included engaging contributors in photography, film, research and sociology and collaborative techniques with the inhabitants of ‘Dark City’ to determine what architecture is in these places.

Johnson said, “The journey forced me to unpack normative definitions and question the validity of over-used notions such as ‘community’, ‘intervention’ and ‘informal’; questionable terms which shroud the reality of Johannesburg’s inner-city vertical settlements but conversely, our ability and willingness to engage with them.”

University of KwaZulu-Natal

Representing UKZN, Brigitte Stevens thesis explores the significance of the cosmos to death through space making principles of the Shembe. She proposes a cemetery complex to ‘Celebrate Life’ in the City of Durban. The project uses a Shembe principle of ‘reclaiming lost space’ through the adaptive reuse of the existing Nicol Square parkade.

Stevens says that it is often thought that architecture represents the values of the society that create it, and the great pieces of architecture represent cohesive, powerful societies. In many of them power is the result of some sort of greater belief systems.

In South African society, colonization interrupted what might have been our ‘great African connection’ between architecture and larger forces of influence.

Stevens proposed introducing a symbol into the centre of the city, which will demonstrate the relationship between African spirituality and South African society, and redefining the identity of the Durban as an African city.

University of Pretoria

Walter Raubenheimer’s thesis is entitled Redefining industry: Architecture as a constructive extraction.

The effect of the decommissioning of the Cullinan diamond mine and the resultant mining ruin within the scarred landscape was investigated. The objective was to question the current mining rehabilitation strategy by proposing an alternative architectural solution that regenerates the post-industrial scarred environment while providing opportunities for new spatial and sensory experience.

It was discovered that the roots of Vetiver grass, currently utilized for the remediation of kimberlite tailings, can be extracted to produce an essential oil used as fixative in 90% of perfume. An essential oil extraction facility forms the first component of the design, providing economic incentive for rehabilitation by generating revenue for the local community. The existing crusher building is reprogrammed as a hydroponic greenhouse for growing essential oil crops. A cider-making facility forms the second component which re-establishes the heritage of brewing within the mine while providing social incentive for rehabilitation.

The historical relationship between industry and landscape is inverted. Instead of depleting resources, as the historical industry did by mining carbon in the form of diamonds, the redefined industry provides the scarred landscape with new resources and nutrients while reinserting carbon back into the environment rather than extracting it.

University of Witwatersrand

Sarah De Villiers’ thesis, ‘Idea Bank’ proposes a spatial platform whereby business ideas can be bought and sold at this new type of financial institution, sited adjacent to Alexandra.

De Villiers says currently many ideas for new businesses, products or services abound in Alexandra. Examples of recent projects include proposals for smarter solar-generated geysers, and door-to-door bread service which overcomes street inaccessibilities. These would be the type of products and services presented on the proposed ‘idea trading floor’. Projects would be crowd-funded by investors in Johannesburg, diversifying their portfolios into fast emerging markets.

De Villiers believes that sustainable practice in the environment is becoming increasingly dependent on society’s financial access. She believes everyone in Alex has intellectual capital to offer, and solutions to give against difficult spatial circumstances. The Idea Bank offers a system whereby ideas receive a monetary value, which offers new currency for growth and upliftment. Her thesis spells out the working mechanism including how ideas are protected, funded, manufactured, marketed and the inventor ultimately rewarded.

The national winner, to be chosen from these eight institutional winners, will be announced and presented with a certificate and cheque for R50 000 at the 28th National Architectural Student of the Year award function in Johannesburg.