Doing much with little at Calling Academy

Calling Academy Stellenbosch has received acclaim for the school’s design in terms of aesthetics, but the true challenge and takeaways of this project were how it maximised value amidst a lack of resources and an abundance of restrictions.  

 Speaking on the project, Gustav Roberts, director at SALT Architects, explains how they managed to achieve as much as possible with as little as possible. 


 The client’s priority is to provide high-quality education. Low-income government schools often lack the resources to provide top-end education, which Calling Education is driven to change, developing a relevant model for providing high-quality education for low-income pupils in South Africa. Basically, the money was earmarked for education, not for the buildings. “This was an inspiring story of making a true impact on a child’s future,” explains Roberts. 

 Cost-saving strategies 

 To deliver this project with the limited budget available was a challenge, especially as not all the funding was in place prior to the starting of construction. Roberts says: “It was a case of using what you have to achieve the best possible results.” 

  • Maximum flexibility: Making the staffroom, new classrooms and outdoor areas multi-purpose allows for flexibility.  

One of the cost-saving strategies for the project was to keep the footprint as small as possible, with large overhangs to create different thresholds and overflow spaces.

When used in combination, the space can accommodate 100 people, which can be used for functions or to generate revenue for the school by leasing it out over weekends. The spill-over space onto wide verandas acts as external foyers, secondary spaces or as a function venue. 

  • Cheaper materials: The selection of materials was key in saving costs, with concrete blocks used for the walls, power-floated surface beds serving for floors and a pine roof structure with concrete roof tiles.  

The ceilings were Oriented Strand Board (OSB), which provided an attractive finish and assisted with the building’s acoustics. “The use of familiar, affordable materials in a beautiful way shows that opportunity and achievement are not limited to something’s monetary value,” says Roberts. 

  • Repurposed and recycled materials: Roberts stressed that the relationship with the contractor is very important for this type of project.  

By having the contractor “buy” into the project and share in the common goals of making it a success, many obstacles were overcome. The contractor even donated material demolished on other projects. All the sanitary ware were also gifted to the school by a corporation who were replacing their sanitary ware during a renovation of their offices. 

One of the cost-saving strategies for the project was to keep the footprint as small as possible, with large overhangs to create different thresholds and overflow spaces.

  • Small footprint, big overhang: The project was optimised by keeping the building footprint as small as possible, with a usable roofed outdoor space.  

Positioned as a pavilion next to the football field, the covered assembly area accommodates the whole school. The seating-sized steps create a sports venue.  

 Design principles 

 The distinctive facade of the school may, at first glance, not seem to fall within the cost-saving ambit – however, it fulfils a different function. Roberts explains: “The concrete block facade portrays the values and identity of Calling Education.” 

  As expressed by the client, the financial model for the school enables the highest possible government subsidy, but the rest of the school’s budget relies on fundraising. The design was cost-effective, while still presenting a reputable image for investors. 

Optimising value 

 The innovation, beauty and efficiency of the architecture exceeded in reflecting the highest quality and competence to staff, pupils and visitors alike. “The architecture is about optimising value. Yet it does not compare to the value Calling Academy cultivates in pupils who would have had no prospect of hope or employment in life to now becoming thriving hopeful individuals equipped to create their own opportunities,” concludes Roberts.  

  • The building cost was ±R3,4 million in 2021. 

  • Including the external covered areas, it equated to approximately R4 700/m².  

  • Only walled-in areas = R8 900/m². 


For more information, contact SALT Architects: 

Tel: +27 21 203 1551 



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