Architectural insight into sustainable social design

by Tania Wannenburg
Architectural insight into sustainable social design SPACEMATTERS

The Tubatse Community Centre is not only sustainable in terms of its design and the materials used, but also in a social way – serving to uplift the community in the long term.

The rationale behind the design of the community centre in Tubatse, Burgersfort, which was completed in 2014, goes beyond using sustainable building practices and locally sourced materials to also focus on community engagement, skills transfer and long-term upliftment.

The Humana Child Aid Tubatse Project involved members of the community in the planning and construction of the centre, and today employs full-time staff members as well as volunteers. Serving as an outreach to about 3 000 families, the centre offers a library, computer room, a hall for events, a crèche and a kitchen for cooking classes.

The landscaping was designed to harvest as much rainwater as possible, and together with the installation of a borehole supplies water for fresh produce in the large vegetable garden for the project.

Passive design
In Limpopo, heavy storms are prevalent during the summer and temperatures often reach the high thirties, while in the winter there is incessant sun and temperature averages at around 18°C during the day. Also taking water and energy scarcity into account, Space Matters had to come up with a design that would ensure a comfortable building interior without requiring heating and cooling equipment.

According to the architect, Dr Dustin Tusnovics, the entire design follows a sequence of open and enclosed spaces that allow for natural ventilation and passive cooling through thermic acceleration of air under the roof, as well as for passive heating.

The 1.100 m² cantilevered Klip-Lok roof provides shade, allows airflow and prevents solar gain in the summer, but its height and generous overhangs had been designed to let in the sun during the day in winter. With a 2% inclination, water collected from the large roof is used for irrigation purposes.

The floating roof rests on a light gauge steel smart beam grid, supported by gum poles that form a series of triangular shapes and add playful logic to the structure. These poles also define the limit between shade and sun, as well as between nature and build.

With the intention to reduce the use of cement, the original design envisaged a sandbag construction system, but due to a series of difficulties, 75% of the building was built with 280mm cavity walls of conventional bricks with plastering.

In addition, a timber facade was installed on the northern side of the building as a sun screen.

Fluidity of the space
Underneath the roof cover, each room is a functional unit that is grouped around the inner courtyard. The arrangement of open and enclosed spaces creates a dynamic but intimate place with a variety of areas suited to both individual and collective use. Cast walkways in the landscape underline the connectivity of the spaces and define areas and shortcuts for users of the centre.

Colour contrasts
The cheerful green facades together with the blue hall and purple staircase wall create a lively contrast with the reddish-brown soil and sunny surroundings. Inside, the walls are painted light grey to slightly soften the bright sun and all the ceilings are white to keep the rooms light. The hall has an open ceiling that follows the shape of the roof and allows ample natural light and airflow.

The challenges of a social project
Seeing himself as an idealist, Tusnovics describes this project as an “incredible experience” after having understood what voluntarism means in a remote and destitute community in rural Limpopo.

Despite the difficulties of dealing with untrained labourers and workers whose livelihood depends on the little cash they take home each week, to bogus companies, even a bankrupt supplier and many empty promises, the project has been realised against all odds.

Most importantly, almost two years after completion, the sustainability of the project prevails and the community still benefits.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to Dr Dustin Tusnovics from Space Matters Architecture & Urbanism for the information given to write the article.

Construction team
Client: Humana SA
Design: Dr. Dustin Tusnovics from Space Matters Architecture & Urbanism
Builder: Construction Resource Development Centre (with community involvement)
Roof: MiTek
Engineer: Richard Bailey

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