Finding Liberty in Learning


Size: 2,000m² 

Completed: 2020 

Cost: R25 million 

Location: Noordgesig, Soweto 

IYER were the architects focusing on the library as a key installation within the social cluster, whilst Newtown Landscape Architects together with IYER were the landscape architects for the public space elements. 

Noordgesig is situated in Soweto, Johannesburg, at its northern most boundary. The site is identified as a ‘social cluster’ in city planning policy and the intent was to consolidate and densify the cluster in order for it to better serve the broader community and support future densification of the area. The site compromised a library, park, community hall, swimming pool and parking lot.  

The project began with an Urban Design process to develop a comprehensive Precinct Plan. The planning was underpinned by extensive stakeholder engagement that identified the library, park and public plaza as priority projects for implementation. The existing facilities in the social cluster were fragmented, separated from each other by fences and had limited public interfaces. The project’s urban design philosophy was to integrate the facilities into a cohesive social cluster centred on the public plaza. 


An existing library, park and community hall were located on the site, and the library and park were prioritised for upgrade. The project required the existing library to be demolished to make way for the new library. The existing, overgrown parking lot was transformed into the public plaza that interfaces with the new library. 

The brief 

The project was commissioned by the Johannesburg Development Agency on behalf of the City of Joburg to improve integrated urban areas through urban renewal and improved infrastructure and amenities. The development of Noordgesig forms part of the City of Johannesburg’s Corridors of Freedom, a spatial development programme with the aim of “re-stitching the city and creating a people-centered, inclusive urban environment”. The site is also part of the Rea Vaya bus rapid transport system (BRT) and is accessible from two points for pedestrians, creating an opportunity for social interaction. 

The project’s overall conceptual objectives were: 

  • To focus productive land use of city owned land; 
  • To create a cohesive, legible and connected Social Precinct; 
  • To facilitate a visibly improved public environment and develop non-motorised transport 
  • facilities to create an integrated precinct; 
  • To showcase the area’s potential and develop a unique identity for the area; 
  • To stimulate investor and public confidence in this area. 

The scope of works included: 

  • Development of a Precinct Plan; 
  • Development of cohesive, legible and connected Social Cluster including the upgrade of existing, and possible new social and community facilities; 
  • The facilitation of possible mixed-use developments; 
  • Development of public environment upgrade and non-motorised transport facilities; 
  • Upgrade of existing services. 

How the brief was realised 

The Urban Design strategies, formulated by the project team, were complimented by an extensive community engagement process which commenced with an outdoor roadshow presentation to the community, followed by a design workshop and an open day. The conceptualisation of the overall development framework was formulated through this engagement process, taking into consideration the views of the residents and the needs of the client. 

The design intent was to create a public building that was fully cognisant of its role in engaging with and defining a public realm within the social cluster. The building is a two-storey, doubled-winged form that defines both the plaza and the existing park on its two sides. The plaza flows seamlessly into a landscaped reading courtyard which is held by the two boxes. The entrance wing of the building was envisioned as a light structure that resides over an extended public space plane that links the plaza through to the courtyard. 

Build materials 

The intent behind specifying the materials for the building was for them to be aesthetically but also robust and low maintenance. Rheinzink was chosen as the cladding to the floating wing. Rheinzink is a titanium zinc product that is a vital trace element for all life forms making it particularly environment friendly. The product is not coated or phosphate, is 100% recyclable and therefore has an excellent carbon footprint compared to other metal surfaces. Marmoran, a specialist wall coating, was chosen as the primary façade material as it is self-cleaning and lower maintenance than conventional plaster and paint. 




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