The school had its genesis in 1936 on the farm Seven Fountains a few kilometres north of Kokstad. In 2002 the first phase of the adjacent ‘RDP township’ of Shayamoya was completed and the enrolment at the Seven Fountains farm school rapidly grew to about 450. With no financial support from the authorities, the farmer expelled the school from his farm partially demolishing the buildings in the process. The school moved to an abandoned hostel in the township and enrolment increased to 900 learners. The plight of the school came to the attention of Oprah’s Angel Network who agreed to fund the building of a new school. East Coast Architects were appointed in 2004 and because of the opportunities presented by the scenario we proposed a high degree of community participation in the process of design.
The workshops served to ‘flesh out’ design proposals (educators), foster positive relationships (learners) and create a ‘transparent design and construct environment’ (parents and broader community). Since the KZN Department of Education would eventually become ‘owners’ of the school and therefore responsible for staffing and maintenance, the following prerequisites were established:
- the standard departmental Schedule of Accommodation applied
- the budget for construction was capped at the cost of building a standard departmental primary school
- enrolment was capped at 1000 grade R to grade 7 learners
The donors requested that we develop a school building model that could be replicated effectively throughout Africa.
CONTEXT – SOCIAL
Shayamoya Township is home to a largely impoverished and unemployed community with a significant lack of infrastructure suggesting the potential for this project to address the need for community resources as well as the specific needs of a primary school. The Seven Fountains campus is laid out in such a way that several of the school facilities are accessible to the general community after-hours. These include sports fields, computer room, library, adult education rooms (ABET) and potable water resources. In this way, the school serves as a community hub and can be felt to ‘belong’ to the whole community.
The community’s involvement and ownership is embedded in the buildings. This is most acutely demonstrated in the double storey mud-brick building that stands as a focal landmark for the school. It is built of materials produced on site by local workers using traditional technologies and is thereby entirely rooted in this community.
CONTEXT – ENVIRONMENTAL
Climatic conditions are harsh in Kokstad with cold winters and hot summers. Passive and low energy design strategies were employed to create comfortable learning environments that could be sustained year-round with minimal dependence on expensive and environmentally damaging energy sources. These strategies include solar orientation and shading, natural ventilation and lighting, insulation and thermal mass, photovoltaic external lighting, solar water heaters and windmill water pumps.
Water is scarce within the Kokstad Municipal area so a water management strategy was established using rainwater harvesting and on-site storage, grey water recycling to flush toilets and a reed-bed filtration system – mainly to reduce silt.
The dearth of social infrastructure in the newly settled township led to early agreements regarding public access to appropriate parts of the school – sports fields, library, computer labs, ABET classrooms.
The qualitative, spatial and technical decisions about the school emerged from the workshop process and the observations that we made from engaging with learners, teachers and parents. Extensive community participation was invited through a program of creative activity sessions (eg charcoal portrait drawing, mural painting), newsletters and public meetings and the entire labour force was sourced from the local community.
Cost effective, passive low energy and low maintenance design solutions were implemented primarily to reduce immediate capital and long term operating cost:
- Carefully considered solar orientation of the main learning areas means that they take full advantage of the seasonal & daily solar cycles to ensure that classrooms are cool in summer and warm throughout the icy Kokstad winter.
- Covered verandah’s on the south elevations
- Good natural light improves the quality of the visual environment. Glare and heat gain are reduced through appropriately positioned solar shading and light shelves.
- All of the learning and administrative areas are well insulated to improve the thermal comfort levels.
- Window sizing.
- Low embodied energy materials (local where possible)
- Rainwater is collected from all impermeable surfaces throughout the school and stored in an underground reservoir. A windmill pumps this grey water to header tanks from where it is gravity-fed to flush toilets and vegetable gardens.
- Borehole for potable water.
- Monitoring of electricity and water use and thermal performance
- Also the active engagement of both learners and educators HAS manifest in a sense of pride and ownership and reduced levels of vandalism and building abuse.
STRUCTURE, FORM, TECHNOLOGY
During the early stages of our community engagement a skills and materials audit was conducted within the Shayamoya Township. The outcomes of this audit informed our choice of locally available materials and construction technologies.
VARIETY OF TEACHING SPACES
Mezzanine or loft areas in the classrooms provide breakaway spaces for creative teaching and for project work.
Outdoor teaching spaces provide alternative learning environments when the weather is good.
Round multi-purpose classrooms for creative and cultural activities have been built using traditional methods. Specialized rooms for library and computers create an information hub that is located centrally and is easily accessed by the school and surrounding community.
The campus layout responds to solar orientation. Buildings secure the perimeter of the site and a hierarchy of courtyards is established within – discrete play areas for learners of various age (and size!) groups all with visual surveillance from HOD offices or staffroom.
The ‘at large’ community accesses facilities through a series of pathways and gates without compromising school security.
USER BUY IN – MONITORING
During construction and after occupation, the building performance was made explicit to users (learners and educators) and graphic posters are mounted in each classroom explaining the heating/cooling strategy, the window opening regime and other aspects of energy use. Ongoing monitoring of thermal performance and utilities consumption allows the school community to make informed choices regarding use of these commodities.