Boukunde: The Living Laboratory Featured

July 2019 Written by 
  • Client: University of Pretoria - Department of Architecture
  • Location: Gauteng
  • Status: Completed January 2019

Boukunde building, University of Pretoria, Gauteng

Refurbishment of the Boukunde building on University of Pretoria Main Campus completed in 2019. The building houses the Department of Architecture. The original building was constructed in 1960 by Prof. At Meiring of Meiring & Naude. Major additions and alterations were done in 1973 by Daniel S. de Beer.

The initial brief started out from Prof. Chrisna du Plessis’ concept of a Living Laboratory, and developed into Thomashoff & partner Architects’ approach to create an interactive learning environment where students will have an opportunity to learn directly from their own building. The interactive learning moments can be grouped into three main categories: history, sustainability and textbook/ learning essentials. The tools of communicating important information about the building itself or about building, designing and construction as a technology, range from exposing parts of the existing building to applying new layers of information that describe and label the old and new. Construction methods and materials are exposed and labelled as part of the interactive learning experience. The Building can therefore be described as a live interactive textbook with its own murals and annotations painted on the walls, floors and soffits. As part of the interactive learning and teaching model, Thomashoff + Partners collaborated with artist Marika Pretorius (Mahne) to create educational murals that convey essential information about architecture history, construction, drawing conventions, building regulations and design principles.

In the new Resource Centre (former Reading Room) the interactive social learning model manifests itself through QR codes to all the various materials and ranges used in collaboration with PG Bison, who sponsored all of the materials used for the shop-fitting, and Polyflor, who sponsored all the vinyl flooring in the New Resource Centre.

Serious budget constraints forced Thomashoff + partner Architects to make creative and innovative decisions, such as the reuse of many materials, which gave them the opportunity to demonstrate to the students how reusing and recycling can be incorporated into a refurbishment without hindering the creativity.

All the new services are exposed, allowing the accommodation and reticulation of more and newer services and technologies. The exposed services and structure are not only used as the basis of the new aesthetic language of the building, but simultaneously serve as pedagogical instruments to teach students, with the completely refurbished Resource Centre serving as the Mecca of pedagogical instruments. Tying into this is a sustainable approach to lighting, ventilation, use of materials, and new technology, in an attempt to minimise the energy footprint. Examples of these interventions include motion sensors in the lighting systems, the new displacement ventilation HVAC system, and a new ecologically responsible chilled beam HVAC system. Inclusive design was addressed with the installation of a passenger lift, platform lift, compliant ramps and accessible toilets. These were incorporated in such a way that it does not deviate from the historical fabric, but rather complements it. Studios and other parts of the building were made lighter, decluttered, opened up and improved in order to be used as inspiring social learning spaces. It is also the first building on UP campus with gender neutral toilet facilities.

Giving the building a new life without compromising its respected identity was of utmost importance. This involved respecting the building’s heritage, and not challenging or deviating from the original design, but rather complementing it. The existing structure was therefore exposed and glorified in a new light. As the building was being uncovered and stripped, new ideas evolved as new aspects of the building were discovered and tied into the main concept. One could say that the design actually designed itself through discovery.

Photographs by Cameron Forder from Thomashoff + partner Architects