At the recent DAS CPD Conference held in Cape Town, Jozanne Louw and Roelof Rabe from Roelof Rabe Architects gave a presentation about The Biomedical Research Institute which is currently being completed at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at their Tygerberg Campus.

The brief: renovate and enlarge

The brief was to renovate and enlarge the existing Fisan Building at the Tygerberg Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences to accommodate current users as well as projected growth. Together with LTS Health – a specialist in the field of laboratory designs with an extensive needs analysis process – they embarked on an in-depth needs analysis to determine the forecasted growth from 2013 up to 2030. The conservative analysis showed the need for an additional 16 000m².

The brief also included a new state-of-the-art automated -80 Degree Celcius storage facility and a large BSL3 facility. The BSL3 facility will be the largest BSL3 laboratory in Africa when it is completed in October 2022.

Proposal: new building

The proposal was to add a new building in front of the existing Fisan and permanently move some of the research divisions, including their anticipated growth areas, into the new building. The spaces in the existing building could then be vacated and upgraded as a second and third phase.

Work to continue uninterrupted

As most of the existing laboratory and research environments operate on a 24-hour basis, it was of utmost importance that the sequence of the works is planned properly and integrated into the design to minimise the impact on current operations.

The new building must link with the existing buildings and address the green areas around the complex. The end-goal was to have a total combined complex functioning as one world-class facility.

The original building was built in 1974. Construction on this project commenced in 2019.The project is currently in the third phase of construction, is due to be completed by the end of 2022 and should be fully operatorial by February 2023.

Research throughout the world

Roelof Rabe Architects travelled to various countries and their hospitals and research institutes to ensure that they do proper research to apply what was needed and expected at Tygerberg. They compiled a list of world-class facilities across the world that were worth investigating and visiting. Joined by a delegation of decision-makers from Stellenbosch University, they embarked on three separate self-funded fact-finding missions to visit these world-class buildings.

Centralisation of services to consider growth

Centralising the functions means centralising the services. It had to be interchangeable to take growth up to 2030 into account and with technology changing so fast, some environments could grow into others. Laboratories can grow into office areas and vice versa. Bioinformatics for instance is one of the fastest-growing sectors in biomedical science.

Together with the industrial engineers, a grid was developed that will work for offices and laboratories. The aim was also to maximise the flow of people and take cognisance of the public/private hierarchy. Complex process-driven architecture can be seen as the human-facing building avatar or shell that meaningfully hides critical building services.

Collaborating modular design

Modular design was collaborated and managed by using full building information modelling (BIM) systems by all consultants, including Revit and Navisworks. These tools made it possible to design and build such a complex building. The detailed Room Data Drawings were where they came together to coordinate all the services.

Lesson learnt

Complex process-driven architecture must be focused on the functionality and longevity of the design. Continued collaboration between the end-user, client and operation and maintenance team helped with the successful achievement of the original brief.

Designing modular “pockets” allowed for the optimisation of services as well as future growth.

Planning for mitigating a future pandemic must be on the agenda of every public health agency, school board, manufacturing plant, investment firm, state legislature, food production and distribution.


Complex process-driven architecture can be beautiful, but the functionality and longevity of the design were essential. Healthcare buildings must be operational to change lives and to have them operate at capacity, they must be maintainable. Because of the type of work taking place inside, including a biosafety level laboratory, sustainable design was taken to the next level and a four-star rating was achieved by the design.

Three key concepts lead to the success of the project:

  1. The mechanics of collaboration.
  2. The economics of modular design.
  3. The detailed RDD sheets.

Roelof Rabe Architects

Roelof Rabe Architects is situated in Tyger Falls, Bellville. They offer Professional Architectural Services, Sustainable Architectural Design, Development Planning, Architectural Graphics, Architectural Guidelines, Interior Design / Space Planning, Research and Furniture Designs.

For more information, contact Roelof Rabe Architects:
Tel: +27 21 1690

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