With a focus on accommodating as many students as possible in constructing additional accommodation at the University of the Witwatersrand, 26’10 south Architects tested an “adding on” approach, which sees the new student housing extensions benefitting from the existing infrastructure, circulation, services and social spaces of the Barnato Hall of Residence.

“Our extension to Barnato does not even have new stairs, but provides the existing residence with a new lease on life by adding a much-needed second lift, adding new communal spaces and improving existing ones,” says Thorsten Deckler, principal at 26’10 south Architects.

Combining new and old
Over the years, 26’10 has refined its approach of combining new and old in several award-winning projects. “We do not see the existing as sacrosanct, nor as something that should be completely remodelled. By adding on in a certain way, buildings gain a new identity made up of both new and old,” Deckler explains.

Two core values guided the architects: “To make design work hard” and to “recognise the extraordinary in the ordinary”, which means that every design decision does more than one thing and that the everyday experiences are enhanced through design. For example, the sound of water from the nearby pond and the views into established trees lend a sense of tranquillity and expansiveness to the introverted spaces of the original building.

A standard red face brick complements the existing buildings and is interwoven with special bricks that are distinctive in colour and shape.

At the time of receiving the commission, debates and protests regarding access to education were raging on university campuses nationwide. “Extending an existing building designed in the late 1980s to resemble a Roman fort and named after a colonial Randlord presented us with an interesting opportunity to test our approach at a large scale,” notes Deckler.

Bridging the divide
Taking on the challenge, principal partner at 26’10, Anne Graupner, developed a concept for a woven brick skin that incorporates the textures and colours of the original building.

“Working with Corobrik was an obvious choice for us and they completely embraced the concept,” notes Graupner. On a visit to various brickyards around Gauteng, Graupner discovered “under-the-tree bricks” – specially shaped bricks left over from previously commissioned ranges that could be acquired at a lower cost.

“Seeing these unique high-quality bricks gave us the idea to create a brickwork quilt using different colours and textures,” says Graupner. In addition, using bricks also fitted the client requirement to use readily-available, low-maintenance materials.

A standard red face brick complements the existing buildings and is interwoven with special bricks that are distinctive in colour and shape. A cream-coloured stock brick, matching the plastered surfaces of the existing building, is interspersed with darker bricks, providing carefully-placed highlights that animate the building. Bricks that were used include Village Antique, Midrand NFX (yellow), Onyx and Agate in a combination of single and double cants and bullnoses.

“Like a tapestry made up of different strands and patterns, the building speaks of the strength and beauty of diversity. We believe this is a fitting image at a time when difference is often used to divide,” says Graupner.

Realising the vision
“In order to translate our design intent into reality, we had to really think it through,” says project architect and associate, Paul Devenish, who managed the project from concept to completion. “We tested patterns at a 1:1 scale using real bricks. We drew every visible brick in the building and made a 1:50 model with our drawings stuck to it to communicate our intent to the bricklayers and the client, who bravely supported us.”

26’10 employed Tebogo Ramatlo, a recent architecture graduate from the University of Johannesburg, to work with the bricklaying teams and to help translate drawings and instructions. Corobrik’s Alex Thobejame, a bricklayer trainer from the Gauteng Building Training School, also worked on site with the bricklayers.

“All involved have undergone a steep learning curve, and we hope to further hone our skills and those of a next generation of bricklayers,” notes Devenish.

“The project has given Corobrik a wonderful opportunity to showcase how face bricks can be used in an innovative way,” adds Musa Shangase, Corobrik’s commercial director. “We were also delighted to be able to assist in training the bricklayers so that the architects’ design could be realised as intended.”

The additional accommodation at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Barnato Hall of Residence will provide 150 students with new rooms.

150 more students housed
The construction of this additional accommodation will provide 150 students with rooms by the end of 2019. Although modest in the face of the national shortfall of 250 000 beds (according to the Department of Higher Education), the project demonstrates an innovative approach for universities to provide high-quality, yet cost-effective, accommodation by extending their existing residences.

26’10 south Architects
Tel: 011 830 0200
Website: www.2610south.co.za

Corobrik
Tel: 011 871 8600
Website: www.corobrik.co.za
Fact sheet:
Client: University of the Witwatersrand
Programme: On-Campus Student Residential Building
Location: University of the Witwatersrand, West Campus, Braamfontein
Project: Extension to Barnato Hall Student Residence
Commissioned: 2016
Progress: Phase 1 completed July 2018. Phase 2 completed 28 November 2019
Built surface area: Phase 1 – 1 940m². Phase 2 – 1 460m²
Construction cost: Phase 1 – R40m. Phase 2 – R35m (all inclusive)
Architect: 26’10 south Architects
Contractor: Lemay Construction
Engineer: Arup