CUT STUDENT SUPPORT CENTRE
The Student Academic Support Centre forms part of the southern edge of the open space that is envisioned to form the ‘heart’ of the Central University of Technology’s (CUT) campus in Bloemfontein: an urban gesture that will also serve as a fitting culmination of Park Road.
As part of the architectural ensemble that will define this open space, the new building therefore had to offer some continuity with reference to the existing urban fabric, while adding a measure of variety in order to enliven the edges of the planned urban place. Consequently, the design of the building was guided by various contextual influences. The northern facade is dominated by a contemporary ‘stoa’ with columns that continue the ‘giant order’ dictated by the existing adjacent library. The new Centre is also carefully placed so that it preserves and ‘frames’ the axial vista culminating in the gable of the historic Management Building to the south. Additionally, the triple volume atrium, that houses the main vertical circulation of the new Centre, lines up with the ornate gable of the Gym Hall to the west.
The Student Academic Support Centre is primarily a place that provides students with a place to pause, reflect and study. As such, the program aims to engage with the multifarious ways in which knowledge is obtained and transmitted on a campus. Therefore the new Centre provides a variety of academic support areas: from formal study spaces and reading rooms, to more informal group work areas, balconies and coffee shop-sized tables for discussion work. From the focused research conducted in the post-graduate cubicles, to the open computer labs that grant access to the world of knowledge beyond the physical confines of the campus. Yet, one of the most fruitful aspects of the traditional campus experience is the chance encounters between students and staff outside the classroom. Therefore a variety of stairs and fixed seating areas populate the edges of the building. Furthermore, it was decided to create a more ‘transparent’ ground floor (especially on the north and east edges) with the secluded study areas ‘draped’ over them.
The material and climatic strategies reiterate the programmatic approach. The dimensions of the site necessitated an east-west orientation. In order to minimise solar heat gain and enhance thermal efficiency, cavity walls were used on the eastern and western facades and all openings are glazed with reflective glass. The cavity walls are constructed of light-coloured bricks that match the neighbouring library, and are cantilevered over the more extroverted glazed facades on ground floor, in order to protect them from direct sunlight. On the ground floor, a more traditional red brick is used in order to visually offset it from the secluded study areas above. In order to enliven the eastern and western facades, and articulate the various programmatic zones, a variety of brick bonds were used and vertical strip windows were staggered in an irregular way across the façade. These windows allow shafts of natural light into the interior in an effort to ‘dissolve’ the rigidity of the standardized furniture layout in some of the large study areas.
The new Student Academic Support Centre therefore constitutes a contextually appropriate response that provides a wide variety of ‘study places’ to the students of the CUT. A building that offers the more traditional moments of secluded pause and reflection, but also engages with its surroundings, in order to encourage the chance encounters and serendipitous exposure to new ideas that constitute the subtle background of academic growth.
* In joint venture with: Tomane Moteane Architects