Size: 760 m²
Cost: R 4 342 338
Completed: Dec 2021
Location: Corner of Polkadraai and Vlaeberg Road, Stellenbosch, Western Cape
SALT Architects is an innovative design studio based in Cape Town, committed to remaining contextually and conceptually relevant in all their projects. Experienced in all stages of a development, from conceptual design to completed construction, the team is behind the purpose-built Calling Academy in Stellenbosch. Let’s see how they helped make education more accessible…
Calling Education is an NPO that was established out of identifying the need for affordable top-quality education as an imperative to South Africa’s restoration. They are developing the most relevant model of providing high-quality education to learners from low-income communities. This level of private education far exceeds the budgets of the majority of South Africans, necessitating a funding model where learners are sponsored for the duration of their secondary education.
The organisation diligently stewards every cent they receive. Therefore, initiating this new building demanded extreme efficiency in providing sufficient space as flexible and economical as possible. In the words of Calling Academy’s principal, ‘we would rather provide top education under a tree, than poor education in the best facilities.’
Located on a bucolic plot bordering the Polkadraai Road between Stellenbosch and Kuilsriver, the first campus to roll out this unique funding model, is Calling Academy Stellenbosch. The site was identified and set aside by the previous generation of surrounding landowners to serve the local farming community, and originally consisted of six existing classrooms, a reception area, and sports field.
As the institution grew each year with the intake of another grade, their accommodation requirements incrementally expanded. However, with severe financial and development right constraints, the campus is continually shaped by needing to adapt to the external factors that are at play with fluid accommodation demands. As such, designing this campus is an ongoing, organic process aimed at maximising the quality of the learning environment, connected to the natural beauty of the site, at the lowest possible cost, while still resonating with their priority of providing quality education over cost of facilities.
The project is an addition of a new section to the original farm school and consists of many flexible functions unified under a continuous tiled roof. These functional spaces include a laboratory, staff room, staff offices and amenities, an additional classroom, and a counseling room. The applied extension needed to create a renewed image for the place without making any changes to the original school. Overall, the brief was simply to provide the required areas mentioned above, at the lowest possible cost, while providing as much value, opportunity, and dignity as possible.
The school has been in operation since 2018, meaning the first group of grade 8 learners was about to enter their final school year in 2022. The additions were needed as a final requirement to ensure sufficient capacity to run a complete secondary school from grade 8-12 effortlessly. Around March 2020, the building project was confirmed as an achievable goal and our involvement commenced, but all the while, the school’s management had to work tirelessly to procure funding.
There were many development right issues on the site. It is bordered by two runoff streams that required environmental investigations and is next to a district road with a very wide centreline setback. There is confusion between the local municipality and deeds office regarding the ownership of the upper portion of the site, which precluded development to the north of the existing school building. The only area that remained available for development, was the portion between the existing school and sports field.
The rural site is not serviced by the local municipality. Therefore, rainwater harvesting tanks for greywater and a borehole water system for potable use were installed for water supply. An upgraded conservancy tank was also installed as a drainage system.
Local manufacturers and products were sourced as far as possible to maintain a low-cost aim. The contractor re-used waste material in the construction of the project (i.e., leftover rebar and the storeroom door). Plus, the sanware was also repurposed from a donation.
Unpacking the design
The new section of Calling Academy Stellenbosch was designed to equip and maximise the functionality and quality of the educational spaces. The articulation of the eastern façade declares a distinct figure to be associated with the institution. Upon arrival, the concrete-block screen with three openings ushers people into the facility through a threshold space that blurs the boundaries between indoors and outdoors. This is seen as the foyer that connects visitor, teacher, and learner spaces. Not only does it clearly express the new front façade of the institution, it also brings clarity for users to orientate themselves around the facility.
Being placed between the original school building and sports field allowed us to start thinking of the new building also as a pavilion overlooking the sports field and its pleasant natural surroundings. The terrace on the south side where the sports field is located was widened with seat-sized steps leading down to the field. This roofed terrace doubles as an assembly, spectator, or overflow space for the adjacent rooms (the staffroom and a flexible classroom). A removable divider separates these functions and, when opened, combines them to form a venue that can accommodate up to 150 people. This venue spills out on all sides to the verandahs, catering to a wide variety of functions. As part of the school’s participation in the local community, it also serves as an event space that is available for the public to rent for private functions, providing an additional income stream to the organisation.
All the spaces are optimised for natural light. At the staffroom, where there is no direct connection to a northern wall for windows, a skylight made of polycarbonate tiles was placed. The natural lighting combined with constructing the ceiling out of OSB board to save cost, provide acoustic absorption, and fit with a palette of raw material use, give the internal spaces a serene quality.
Extended roof overhangs and the use of concrete-block screen walls allow the internal spaces to overflow, creating a variety of thresholds between interior and exterior, users and nature. The floors step down with the natural slope of the terrain, creating the required variation in volume while the roof remains on the same level. Overall, the new additions, levels, and volumes establish a series of courtyard and outdoor spaces for learners to pause, spectate, linger, or congregate.
MEET THE TEAM
Architects: SALT Architects
Structural engineers: AVCON Structural Engineers
Contractor: Steenser Construction
Photography: Nudge Studio