The University of the Free State identified the need for a great number of computers to be made available to students for various academic purposes. Besides the large open laboratories for individual study, there was also a need for different sized group discussion rooms, as well as lecture rooms.

As the building was seen as an extension of the Thakaneng Bridge Student Centre and would form an important part of the future West Campus development, a site in front of the SASOL Library and directly acrossThakaneng Bridge was chosen.
This criss-crossing of services on site, developed into the concept of a building form that would be penetrated by services (electrical, mechanical and data) in both the horizontal and vertical dimension, giving rise to a kind of three dimensional matrix.

The film trilogy of the same name should be cited as a subconscious inspiration. Furthermore, the concept also solved the problem of user orientation in what is basically a large shed for 800+ computers. In another way, the design can be seen as a miniature city with streets, city blocks and a town square, making a large building immediately comprehensible upon entering.

The user thus enters the building from two sides on different levels, arriving in a large double volume space (town square), circulating down the passages (streets), and entering the different rooms (city blocks) on each crossing of paths. The gradient of the site and the need of providing access for disabled users were solved, or rather celebrated, by a system of concrete ramps that snake up the eastern wall of the foyer, animating the space through the movement of hundreds of students. The noisier open laboratories are located on the ground floor, together with the staff areas and the restrooms. On the first floor, the quieter lecturing and group discussion rooms are situated, as well as the examination room with a triangular examiner’s office that cheekily cantilevers into space. Clad with red mosaic tiles, the triangular office emphasizes the east-west pedestrian axis linking the Eastern and Western Campuses, as well as directing the flow of movement to the northern side of the building.

A covered arcade defines the pedestrian path towards the eastern corner of the building, that is carved away to create a lofty corner entrance, with a balcony overhead. The arcade also defines a new outdoor room between the Computer Laboratory and the existing Genmin Lectorium, providing a breathing space for the large number of students that congregate before and after lectures.

The physical appearance of the building is informed by the Thakaneng Bridge’s structural syntax of box gutters and pitched roofs, as well as the plastered walls, sandstone tiles and metal roof sheeting. Internally, the robust finishing continues with black slate floors for the passages and heavy duty carpets in the labs. Walls are mostly white for projections and good light distribution, whilst splashes of colour animate selected areas. The furniture is similarly sturdy and easily adaptable.

The Computer Laboratory Building forms an integral part of the University’s strategy regarding academic excellence, as well as being an important node in the development of the Western Campus.