Architects show way to the future of NMMU buildings

MOSAIC MOTIF: The colourful and striking Bachelor of Education foundation phase building at NMMU's Missionvale Campus has been designed by Matrix Urban Designers and Architects
MOSAIC MOTIF: The colourful and striking Bachelor of Education foundation phase building at NMMU’s Missionvale Campus has been designed by Matrix Urban Designers and Architects

AN OPEN competition for the design of two new Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) buildings has yielded outstanding results, according to Port Elizabeth architects.

The plaudits have been received after an exhibition of the top five designs opened at the Athenaeum Gallery last week.

The exhibition also showcases the “romantic” new NMMU alumni building design, developed by lecturers and architects Andrew Palframan and John Andrews.

The Eastern Cape Institute of Architects (ECIA) supported the exhibition.

“The contest was a novel approach to stimulating creativity and healthy competition in the architectural sector,” the ECIA’s Debbie Wintermeyer said.

The top five designs submitted for two new NMMU buildings – the life and physical sciences building on the university’s south campus and the Bachelor of Education foundation phase building at the Missionvale campus – have put architecture and education, and the interface between the two, on the agenda.

NMMU has been on a building spree over the past two years, recently completing two new buildings, the sports arena on south campus and the new business school at the Second Avenue campus.

The exhibition opening saw the winners – Matrix Urban Designers and Architects (B-Ed foundation phase building) and a joint venture between DMVMuse Architects (life and physical sciences building) – taking the public through their conceptual design and interpretation.

According to the brief, the Missionvale BEd building of about 2575m² – comprising a series of classrooms, micro-study areas, a library, offices, resource centre, storerooms and computer lab – had to “humanise pedagogy”.

The design needed to accommodate a “vibrant research, scholarship and innovation culture” and create an environment conducive to teaching excellence, experimentation, experiential learning and holism”.

Architects Neil Fisher and Professor Albrecht Herholdt designed a building onto which future developments could hinge, while playing with light, movement and colour.

The building itself will create a new pedestrian entrance to the campus.

“Taking the lead from the existing buildings on campus, the Matrix tried to tie into the landscape by using the same brick and metal sheeting with some offshoots,” Fisher said. “We incorporated mosaic panels with an African motif to anchor the building in the landscape and also created enclosed walkways and an entrance canopy which collectively form a gateway to campus.”

Fisher said the cutting-edge new lecture halls would “hopefully enhance concentration”.

At the life and physical sciences building the university wanted to emphasise warmth, creativity, reflection, symmetry, flow, technology and sustainability as central to the design while making the sciences more accessible.

DMV-Muse Architects’ Phillip Loots and Dal Venables seized the brief to completely change the culture of laboratories and expose what usually happens behind closed doors using glass and easing movement within the building.

“We wanted to change the building into the face of the science faculty, so we took the elements of Brutalist-use of concrete already present on campus and echoed it within the building, while moving from rigidity to flexibility and exposing the activities going on inside to the outside, in an effort to demystify the science culture,” Loots said.

The building makes use of natural air-flow, rainwater harvesting, solar reflection and embedded power regeneration, all aimed at promoting the sciences within a sense of architecture. The building includes classrooms, laboratories, offices, conference rooms and study spaces over an area of 2290m².

The new Alumni House on south campus is placed to the west of the pond on campus and is a multi-functional space for the Alumni Trust operations, events and social engagement.

The competition and exhibition mark the first time a collection of architectural works of this nature for NMMU has been showcased in Port Elizabeth, architect Neill Kiviet says.

“There is a high degree of architectural skill and design resolution on display here as well as a positive response to the challenge set by NMMU.”

Wintermeyer added: “This exhibition is a display and celebration of quality and architectural skill, and is also a celebration of the use of a design competition as a non-traditional method of procurement by a progressive client, who, by undertaking this work in this way, is making a positive contribution to our city.”

ECIA president Tim HewittColeman said: “The ECIA puts a lot of effort into promoting, recognising and acknowledging excellence in the built environment through programmes like this exhibition.

“We do this because we know that this makes our profession more competitive and improves PE architects’ ability to be relevant in an increasingly innovative world”

The exhibition runs until April 19 at the Athenaeum Gallery in Central. – Herald Reporter

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