The winners of the Gauteng Institute for Architecture (GiFA) awards have been announced after a judging process that took several months, and covered a wide spectrum of different buildings and structures ranging from a taxi rank in Diepsloot to a new and imposing head office for Alexander Forbes in Sandton.

GiFA’s president, Daniel van der Merwe, said: “The winning buildings were chosen because they push the boundaries in terms of originality and contribute to the public realm while being easy to navigate and provide a rich spatial experience.”

According to Van der Merwe, the entries highlighted a number of interesting trends emerging in the architectural field. These include:
• A tendency among clients to expect architects to do more with less primarily because of economic constraints and dwindling environmental resources.
• Greater flexibility in finished buildings so that they can accommodate a number of different uses.
• The diversity of architectural approaches within a region that is in itself extremely diverse, with some areas where beauty and privilege prevail and others where hardship and deprivation are still strongly evident.

Van der Merwe says there was clear evidence in the alterations and additions market of how financial constraints are having an impact on the building sector and, more importantly, how architectural excellence can still be achieved even if budgets are modest.

The awards were sponsored by PPC Cement, HBS, Hulamin, Caesarstone, NeoLith, Distell and South African Décor and Design, and were presented at a gala event held at The Forum, Turbine Hall, at the end of October.

Brixton Studio-home
26”10 South Architects and Urban Designers created a studio home in Brixton from a historic corner shop that had lost its veranda. The corner shop was converted into offices for an architectural practice and a house for the architects themselves. The offices and residence share a garden court, a dining room that can also used as a boardroom and a scullery area. The small children’s bedroom can be combined into a single larger play area with loft spaces in the roof void. The property is in a tight urban environment, has corrugated steel cladding (reminiscent of the tin-and-iron houses built in Johannesburg in the early 1900s,) and a roof terrace. The alterations were done at a cost of R1,2 million. The judges were unanimous in conferring the Architecture Award on the Bixton Studio-home.

Taxi Rank Number Two in Diepsloot
26”10 South Architects and Urban Designers were responsible for Taxi Rank Number Two in Diepsloot, which is located at the entrance to the neighbourhood. It is distinguished by its protective urban wall, which accommodates a series of stalls for informal traders, providing the interstitial space between a busy street and the hustle and bustle of people negotiating their routes.

The architects opted for an elegant, robust steel portal frame system, which provides light and shade. The use of graphics and the bold orange colour – which was “smuggled” past a conservative client – adds vibrancy to the stark landscape surrounding it. Taxi Rank Number Two received an Award for Architecture.

Reformed Church in Benoni
The Arc du Ple Group was asked to provide a new entrance lobby and an additional 200 seats for the church. The addition comprises an articulated double-storey “box” that takes its architectural clues from the existing bell tower in terms of its geometry and use of materials. At ground level the new lobby acts as a spine connecting one entrance on Miles Sharp Street to another leading into the garden court. Cylindrical stairs articulate both ends of the lobby and provide access to the new seating area above.

The structural steel beams support the upper storey, while masonry buttresses in the shape of crosses function as rich sculptural elements on the eastern facade. The original heritage elements – old corner stones and a stained glass window – were incorporated into the new addition. The judges were impressed with the simple elegance of the design, the expressive qualities of the structure and how much had been achieved within a very limited budget.

SEED Library at MC Weiler Primary School, Alexandra
SEED was designed in response to the urgent lack of a school library at a primary school in Alexandra. The client wanted to provide a low-cost, semi-permanent and easy to assemble space, which would serve as an interim facility until such time when the budget would allow for a more permanent structure.

The building achieves this by using two perpendicularly stacked shipping containers with the bottom container housing the library and the first floor providing private spaces for group work or individual study. The roof of the lower container is used as an outdoor reading area, while a deck at ground-floor level provides a stage for school assemblies or performances. It received an Award for Architecture.

Wits Art Museum
Designed by Fiona Garson and Nina Cohen, the Wits Art Museum is a clever insertion into three existing buildings: the ground floor and basement of the old Wits dental clinic, the ground and upper storeys of Lawson’s Corner, and the old Shell garage on the corner of Jan Smuts Avenue and Jorrissen Street in Braamfontein. These disparate spaces are seamlessly joined by a series of ramps so that visitors get glimpses of the exhibition spaces. The original architectural character of the buildings has been preserved. The curving mezzanine floor within the original garage has been retained and now looks over a lively café.

The once-hidden sculptural V-columns in Lawson’s building are now exposed in the main exhibition space. Large plate glass windows at ground floor level allow passers-by to engage with museum exhibits inside, while visitors inside the museum enjoy views of the city. The museum has an uncoloured, screeded floor, with white plastered walls and ceiling soffits that create a backdrop for the exhibits in the museum. Elegantly detailed glass display cases function as balustrades on the upper floor levels. New screening elements have been added to the facades. The judges decided that the Wits Art Museum is worth of an Award for Architecture.

African Identity in post-Apartheid Public Architecture: White Skin, Black Masks
This book by Jonathan Noble makes a valuable contribution to the study and practice of architecture by exploring five important post-apartheid public buildings: The Mpumalanga Legislature, the Northern Cape Legislature, Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, Kliptown in Soweto and Freedom Park in Pretoria. It describes how they have been designed and constructed, how they look and what they might mean.

The book also reveals some of the shady aspects of architecture such as backdoor deals, haggling with clients, the negotiations with politicians and the roles of the architects creating these places. It is carefully grounded in theory, but demonstrates the rigorous levels of academic research. It receives the GiFA Book Award.

House Kleine Schuur
Nabeel Essa was asked to alter and provide additions to a heritage house in Parktown, initially designed by Herbert Baker and later altered by FHF Fleming. The house sits on a ridge overlooking Wits University and was originally designed for a cartoonist who worked for Rand Daily Mail. The additions rework this charming historic home and bring it into the contemporary world accommodating a workspace, bathroom and improved access to the children’s bedrooms. 

It is the study, built on the southwest side of the Baker House, that stands out. The elevated and partly cantilevered glass cube forms a viewing platform that looks south towards Wits and east at the Baker House. A billboard-sized mural in this room references the cartoonist’s work. The judges were unanimous in conferring an Award for Architecture on this project, for a work that is intelligent and sensitive and successfully respects both the building’s historic character and the demands of contemporary life.

The Alexander Forbes Building, 115 West Street, Sandton
Paragon Architects has designed a modern office building that has transcended the merely utilitarian. In giving 115 West Street an Award for Architecture, the judges were unanimous in agreeing that all aspects of the building’s design – its form, the quality of its public spaces, the opportunities for colleagues to interact within it, its light and its careful detailing – contributed to its overall success as an iconic building in Gauteng’s financial hub of Sandton.

Library and museum for King Edward VII School
King Edward VII School (KES) is more than a hundred years old and recently the school raised money to convert an old and disused gym, consisting of a large void two storeys high, into a library and museum. The design by architect Joy Campkin-Smith of Studiojoy+ was to divide the volume into two levels with a mezzanine floor that follows the walls around the interior, leaving a central void. The bottom floor comprises bookshelves that are used to divide the adjacent space into intimate seating areas. The upper floor has a counter running around the outside edge that functions as a balustrade and a desktop for computers.
The renovation is sensitive to the heritage elements of the building and the redeployment of existing materials in new ways. For example, the old floorboards were removed – for the structural steel insertion – and then repurposed as countertops. The new library is ideal space to encourage the reading of books. The judges believe that the King Edward VII Library and Museum is a worthy recipient of an Award for Architecture.

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