New Pavement Lab

NPL - East Elevation_Day shot #1

University of Stellenbosch Engineering Department 

Size: 2475 m²

Completed: 2022

Location: Stellenbosch, Cape Town

The New Pavement Laboratory (NPL) as it was known during the design and construction phase, is a new building for the University of Stellenbosch Engineering Department, specifically the Civil Engineering Faculty. It is now known as the PGRL (Pavement and Geotechnical Research Laboratory).

The building is positioned on the north-east corner of the site which was formerly a rather uninspiring student car parking lot and large delivery vehicle route in the corner of the north-east section of the engineering campus. This side of the engineering campus not only has spectacular views of the Jonkershoek and Stellenbosch mountain ranges, but is also the side of the campus where most pedestrians from student housing enter the building complex and filter through to the rest of the Stellenbosch University campus. 

With the requirement for heavy industrial type use in most parts of the building, the foundations and site preparation were of utmost importance. Stellenbosch sits on a mostly river stone substrate which had to be partially removed and filled to very strict client requirements meeting G7 and G5 compaction strengths. 

NPL North Elevation Evening shot 4


Our client was Stellenbosch University Facilities Management with the end user – who would be occupying and running the building on a day-to-day basis – is the civil engineering department. There were university standards and space norms to follow supplemented and fleshed out by extensive end user client meetings to tailor the brief for laboratory spaces to their needs. 

The civil engineering department had previously occupied a space on the same campus in a building which had not seen major upgrades or maintenance for quite a few years. So, just imagining how their new space would work in a way that would improve operations, test results and enjoyment of the spaces was a process to get their and our heads around. Just because something had been done a certain way before didn’t necessarily mean it was the best or most efficient way to do it in the new building. 

The siting of the building was based on a few very important factors – existing infrastructure, large delivery truck routes which had to be maintained, existing slope of the site for drainage, minimising loss of student parking and mature trees, the requirement for diffused and not direct light, plus a link on the first floor to the existing building. This all proved a challenge, but was ultimately overcome by applying rational design thinking which created a visual bookend to a large site and set the architectural character for future developments and renovations to existing buildings on site. 

It is hoped that this building will activate the previously dead ‘rear end’ of the site whilst denoting it as a major gateway to the complex and broader pedestrian ground level thoroughfare. The building is industrial in look, construction and finish. It is designed to be hard-wearing, perfectly suited to its client requirements whilst maintaining an edge of refinement and detail which must always form part of a considered and thoughtful architectural intervention.

Realisation of the brief

This new building for the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Stellenbosch, forms part of a campus renewal over the next eight years, and is a space that operates as a laboratory, but with processes akin to a heavy-duty factory with a considered and detailed design approach. 

Both soft and hard, rough and refined. 

The new pavement laboratory building has been designed to make efficient but creative use of stock standard building methods and materials. The building is a two-storey structure with cavity brick exterior walls, supported on a concrete slab with pad footings to columns and perimeter strip foundations. The roof structure is an innovative imagining of a standard metal south light structure in the way that it slopes in two directions, effectively removing the need for complicated box gutters – which is always the waterproofing downfall of this sort of construction – whilst still providing an excess of ambient soft south light prized in galleries and ideal for the laboratories. 

Finishes are kept to a minimum – bagged brick or polished, and off-shutter concrete and metal cladding. These build materials have been chosen to deal with the harsh interior environment of crushing, vibrating and large-scale concrete, bitumen, and asphalt testing. Whilst the materials are robust, they have been used in a way that elevates the space from what can be a sterile industrial aesthetic to a more artful and considered end-product. A limited colour palette is in large format areas. Selected primary colours decorate the surface mounted service runs, thereby making something which is usually hidden within walls and ceiling voids into something celebrated and decorative – an inverted Pompidou centre. 

The building will form part of the engineering faculty of Stellenbosch University both as a much-needed extension but also as a signature piece of statement architecture right at the entrance to the rest of the campus which should set the standard for engineering buildings and what they can be. 

Meet the team 

Client: Facilities Management Stellenbosch University

Architect: KMH Architects

Structural engineer: Edifice Consulting Engineers

Quantity surveyor: Ann Roese Quantity Surveyors

Fire engineer: STAC Consulting Engineers

Data engineer: Transport Telematics Africa

Mechanical and wet services engineer: BVI

Civil engineer: SMEC

Electrical engineer: GIBB

Principal agent: Alywyn Laubscher & Associates

Photographer: Johann Lourens Photography


Tiling: The Tile House – 021 506 3020

Polished concrete flooring and lab workbenches: World of Decorative Concrete – 083 397 4141

Lighting: Regent Lighting Solutions – 021 552 7622

Sanware: Lixil Africa – 086 121 2121

Roof and vertical cladding: Safintra – 021 981 3130

Windows and Shopfronts: Westcoast Glassmen – 021 552 4862

Bricks: Corobrik – 021 888 2300

Joinery: MNM Interiors – 021 418 3158

Signage: Kontra Signs – 021 946 1300

Fire Doors: Allandel – 021 531 3791

Cladding: Aluplan – 021 701 2002

Ceilings:OWASouth Africa 021 531 7511

KMH Architects

@ kmh_architects

NPL East Elevation Day shot 1 scaled

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