Architecture Developments

WSP helps UCT set a benchmark with SA’s first Green Star rated student living

A view of UCT's Avenue Road Residence in Mowbray, Cape Town.

The University of Cape Town’s R222 million Avenue Road Residence in Mowbray provides 500 additional student beds, an invaluable addition to the university’s student accommodation provision.

The development also set a local benchmark as the first residence in South Africa to achieve a 4-Star Green Star Custom Design rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), for its water and energy savings and full suite of disability features.

WSP’s team in Africa was approached by ERIS and the company worked closely with the full professional team to ensure the successful project construction and that the targeted sustainability aspects were achieved. Their primary services on the project included sustainability consultations, wet services, the lifts, HVAC, and fire safety.

Construction on the development started in July 2019 with completion in October 2020. The building comprises of 3 – 4 storeys and it includes an entrance lobby, security (with a desk, toilet, and kitchenette), consultation offices, a communal lounge, general toilets, 500 student beds (a mix of 144 single rooms and 173 double rooms – and made up per floor to include student bathrooms), student meeting or lounge areas, student tea kitchens, student storage, 2 x Warden’s flats, Warden’s offices, laundry, staff change and mess facilities, cleaner’s stores, a maintenance workshop a building service and a refuse room.

The Residence building is organised around three landscaped courtyards, which allows natural light into the inter-perimeter of the building strips. At the head and tail of each strip, there is a tea kitchen and a set of bathrooms and showers catering to the student dorms.

With multiple communal lounges to encourage social interaction and group learning, the building forms a backdrop to the existing Avenue and Cadboll House buildings along Avenue Road and it forms an edge along Matopo Road.

The Dining Hall is a column-free, multi-functional, 536-seater main dining area which is supported by a foyer, toilets, a prep kitchen, and serving spaces. It is located near the new residence building and adjacent to the existing University House residence, which it also caters to.

Project design challenges

The site of the Student Residence and the Dining Hall is bounded by Rhodes Drive (M3), Rhodes Avenue Road, and Maropo Road within the larger Mowbray precinct, which consists of many buildings, most of which are heritage protected.

Some of the buildings (and parts of others) were demolished to make way for new structures and the placement of these new structures were carefully thought through to enhance and to control vehicular and pedestrian movement.

Project approach and solutions

All the surrounding heritage buildings and features were retained, protected, and incorporated in the overall planning of the site layout. A few of the heritage requirements included the demolition of existing structures as per the agreed Demolition Scope, creating a good interface with the existing Heritage structures, the rear services extensions and courtyard of Avenue house had to be retained and incorporated in the development.

Every area of design and construction of the Residence focuses on sustainable concerns including energy, carbon emissions, embodied energy, water, healthy spaces for people, ecology, transport, and construction management.

Some of these innovative design highlights and sustainability features include:

  • The use of natural light. For example, the way the Residence and Dining Hall have been organised around three landscaped courtyards, as well as the design of the Dining Hall roof and the high-level windows, allows natural light into the space.
  • Sustainable landscaping. The Residence’s external courtyards have been designed to be sunken lounges, with the tree seats, benches, and planters creating inviting spaces in which students can gather to relax and to socialise. A combination of indigenous water-wise and low-maintenance plant and tree species define the space as well as complement the architecture. Additionally, an outdoor gym has been installed as a functional element.
  • Use of low-carbon materials in construction. Materials such as GGBS (Ground Granulated Blast-furnace Slag) were used in the building’s concrete structure to reduce the amount of virgin cement, and the use of recycled steel. At least 50% of all the timber used came from sustainable sources, and carbon emissions associated with construction were reduced by sourcing products and materials from within 50km of the site. All construction activities followed strict guidelines with regards to protecting the environment and preventing construction waste from going to the landfill.
  • Water efficiency. As residences are the university’s biggest users of water, the infrastructure ensures that all sanitary fittings are water efficient, with low-flow showerheads and taps and dual-flush toilets. The taps in basins provided to each bedroom offer a cold-water supply only. A centralised heat pump plant – which includes four high-efficiency 90kW Sirac Core environment-friendly R410a heat pumps, provides the water heating that is circulated to bathrooms and kitchenettes using a ring main system which prevents water wastage from ‘dead legs’ in the system. There is also a partial groundwater system, with a borehole on site which allows the building to continue to operate using ground water in a drought scenario (depending on the water quality). Under normal conditions, it would revert to municipal supply. Water-efficient kitchen appliances and fittings are installed in the industrial kitchen, and water-wise smart irrigation is used to water the equally water-wise planted landscape.
  • Energy efficiency. To keep energy output to a minimum, the design ensures that all bedrooms have openable windows that allow fresh air, natural light, and views to the outdoors. There is mechanical ventilation and extraction to areas such as some of the lounges, the workshop, the laundry and waste room area, and lighting in common areas such as passages and lounges are switched using occupancy sensors.
  • Special considerations. In addition to providing 144 single rooms and 173 double rooms, the building has 12 universal access rooms, six of which offer en-suite assisted living for students with disabilities. The planning for this starts at the road entrance to the residence, with parking in 3.5m-wide disability bays; ramps into the residence for mobility-impaired students; tactile wayfinding; and accessible door handles, window handles and plug points in all rooms.
  • Mobility considerations. The residence is conveniently located in Mowbray with easy access to upper campus, shops, and amenities as well as connections to public transport – and students are encouraged to use public transport (such as Jammie Shuttles), non-motorised mobility and the cycling facilities provided, to contribute to a lower student carbon footprint. Limited parking acts as a further encouragement to do so.