Iconic Boukunde revamped

by Ofentse Sefolo
Iconic Boukunde revamped

The Boukunde building, which houses the Department of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Interior Architecture at the University of Pretoria (UP), has recently undergone significant upgrades that enhanced the inherit nature and functionalities of the building’s structure. The building was upgraded to be more appropriate for current learning methodology that has changed over the years since the time of the construction of the original building.

When Karlien Thomashoff from Thomashoff + partner Architects used the opportunity to explain these upgrades and how the building currently functions, you are bound to be pleasantly surprised by their innovative approach.

The entire building was designed with the architecture students in mind. This means renovations weren’t carried out in the traditional sense of the word. It was designed in such a manner that students can use the building to study what architecture and design entail by observing every inch of the building.

For example, current flaws were left in place and new renovations were carried out to demonstrate what the before and after should look like. This was the approach in the entire building – everything was student focused with the aim of teaching what is right and what is wrong. This is where the concept of a living laboratory came to be!

Mural by Marika Pretorius (Mahne) showing various stone and brick bonds. Photograph by Cameron Forder of Thomashoff + partner Architects

Living laboratory

The head of the Department of Architecture, Prof Chrisna du Plessis, initiated the concept of a living laboratory. The conceptual brief started out from this point and developed into Thomashoff’s approach to create an interactive learning environment, where students will have an opportunity to learn from their own building.

“The interactive learning moments can be grouped into three main categories: History, sustainability and textbook/learning essentials,” explains Karlien Thomashoff, Architect at Thomashoff + partner Architects. “Thomashoff’s tools of communicating important information about the building itself or about building, designing and construction as a technology – from exposing parts of the existing building to applying a new layer of information that describes and labels the old and new.”

Examples include exposing different floor construction methods that were used from the history of the building; exposing rebar in the existing concrete walls; exposing and labelling construction joints; and labelling dates and datelines on the walls and soffits.

Detail of upcycled slate window sill and existing off-shutter concrete wall. Photograph by Cameron Forder of Thomashoff + partner Architects.


• Serious budget constraints forced Thomashoff to make creative and innovative decisions and solutions.
• As such, they were forced to reuse a lot of the materials. This gave them the opportunity to demonstrate to the students how reusing and recycling can be incorporated into a building and refurbishment without hindering its conceptual and design creativity.
• It was challenging incorporating new technology into a building that wasn’t originally designed to accommodate this technology.
• Giving the building a new life without compromising its identity.
• Respecting the building’s heritage and not deviating from the original design, but rather complementing it.


• “The building can be described as a live interactive textbook with its own murals and annotations painted on the walls, floors and soffits. It is also the first building on the UP campus with gender-neutral toilet facilities,” says Thomashoff.
• “The uniqueness of the walls, floors, roofs and ceilings lies not in the specifications of the products or materials, but rather in the fact that construction methods and materials are exposed, drawn on and labelled as part of the interactive learning experience,” says Thomashoff.

“When doing refurbishments on existing buildings, especially buildings with a specific architectural, historic, not to mention sentimental merit, we always attempt to intervene with respect. It is important to know when to stand back and how to expose the beauty of the spaces without drawing too much attention to your own intervention and design. You have to be quiet and allow the beauty of the existing building to speak for itself. It is important to base your decision of intervention contextually.” – Karlien Thomashoff from Thomashoff + partner Architects.

Transforming the old into the new

“We had to remove all the dilapidated suspended ceilings in the building, but there were not sufficient funds to replace the ceilings,” explains Thomashoff. “We changed this challenge into an opportunity to plan all the new electrical, electronic and HVAC services in such a way that it is exposed. This allowed us to accommodate and reticulate more services, new services and the latest IT technology. Tying into this is also a sustainable approach, where movement sensors were installed in the lighting systems in an attempt to minimise the energy footprint.”

Atrium and exposed concrete soffit after renovation. Photograph by Cameron Forder of Thomashoff + Partner Architects.

Thomashoff says the new HVAC system is based on displacement ventilation – more efficient and sustainable technology. In one of the lecture halls they also installed a new chilled-beam HVAC system – also a technologically advanced system which is a more sustainable choice due to its low energy footprint.

“In addition to meeting new electronic, electrical and sustainable requirements, inclusive design – which looks at the accessibility of a building by persons with disabilities – needed to be addressed,” says Thomashoff. “A passenger lift was therefore installed, as well as a platform lift and compliant ramps at all level changes. This was incorporated once again in such a way that it does not deviate from the historical fabric, but rather compliments it.”

Products specified

“One of the exciting design interventions was the refurbishment of the resource centre,” says Thomashoff. “Once again, due to a few budget constraints, we initiated a few collaborations with partners in the construction industry. Polyflor donated all the vinyl floors, while PG Bison donated all the materials for the joinery of the resource centre. In addition, Ecophon donated all the acoustic ceiling panels for the resource centre. All these materials were installed and incorporated into the design in a way that supports and manifests the interactive learning concept.

“For example, QR codes were installed on the floors and joinery to encourage students to learn more about these actual materials and how they were manufactured. These collaborations are seen as long-term relationships with the department, involving them in future learning, research and investigations.”

Existing block and lintel floor construction from 1960 left exposed. Photograph by Cameron Forder of Thomashoff + partner Architects.

Intentional construction flaw exposed: kicked-out pan during pouring of concrete left unfinished to educate the students.Photograph by Cameron Forder of Thomashoff + partner Architects.

Take note

1. “In the rest of the building, all services are exposed and used as the basis of the new aesthetic language of the building. However, it also simultaneously serves as pedagogical instruments to teach students about services and reticulation” says Thomashoff.
2. “Artist Marika Pretorius (Mahne) was appointed to paint several murals in the building. These murals portray important technical information in an artistic manner to inspire and prompt students to investigate further.” Says Thomahoff

Mural of classical Doric column in the first year studio by artist Marika Pretorius (Mahne). Photograph by Thomashoff + partner Architects.

The building has lots to offer its students and serves as a great example to other architects and designers who are looking to develop something innovative whilst best serving their students at the same time. This is a building that teaches through visual functionalities that have been embedded in the structure of every wall, floor and ceiling.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to Thomashoff + partner Architects for the information contained in this article.

For information go to www.polyflor.co.za.

Main image: Boukunde: Main entrance.
Photograph by Cameron Forder of Thomashoff + partner Architects
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