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Corobrik Helps Build Landmark Western Cape School

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Corobrik and the architectural team from Revel Fox & Partners Architects and Planners who designed the Bongolethu Primary School in Philippi in Cape Town agree on one thing using the simplest means to best advantage, combined with a rigorous concern for order, harmony and proportion can bring a significant measure of stature and grace to even the most modest architectural endeavours.

Christie van Niekerk, Corobrik Manager Western Cape, said that the Bongolethu Primary School had proved a landmark project not just for the 1 300 children who are currently enrolled there but also for pupils across the province who would benefit from the many lessons learnt and milestones that were reached during its construction.

An out-of-the-box design approach coupled with quality building materials such as Corobrik Kirstenbosch Travetine face brick had delivered a low maintenance and comfortable learning facility with the longevity to serve children for generations to come, he said.

Revel Fox & Partners Architects and Planners spokesperson, Mark Meyer, explained that the design of the Bongolethu Primary School is the latest in an on-going attempt to develop a consistent conceptual model for new schools in the Western Cape. In addition to speeding up delivery and conforming to a standard brief and strict budget, this standard model addressed the similar contexts and challenges faced by most children in the area. These include the harsh climatic conditions in the Cape Flats and social ills associated with the informal settlements from which many of the learners come.

Meyer said that a self-critical review of the work at previously completed schools proved to be fruitful when designing Bongolethu Primary School. Given the palpable need for a statement of social dignity and permanence and the need for a protected and protective learning environment, architects came up with a contemporary re-interpretation of the mediaeval cloister.

The school comprises a central focal element flanked on either side by cloistered courtyards. The central building addresses the street and contains the main entrance, the assembly hall, administration, staffroom, media and computer centres as well as other shared facilities. It is independently accessible for community use.

The courtyards, with their inner encircling verandas tie the repetitive classroom modules into a unified whole, secure from without and sheltering within. The courts and verandas and their linking staircases and galleries form positive, interactive gathering spaces which add to the interest and diversity conducive to a responsive learning environment,“ Meyer said.

For cost reasons, the structural system and formal language was kept rigorously simple. Sustainability issues were addressed with the emphasis being on providing ample natural lighting and cross-ventilation.

Finishes are limited to affordable, low maintenance materials - red Kirstenbosch Travetine face brick and painted bagged brick externally, plaster and paint internally, vinyl and power floated floors, aluminium windows, unpainted galvanised metalwork and sheet metal roofing. Detailing, although robust and straightforward, was nevertheless intended to add interest and texture. This included the use of Corobrik Firelight Satin facebricks as accent bands and edging and painted bagged brickwork above facebrick that either terminated at 900mm or 2100mm.

Meyer confirmed that the selection of Corobrik products hinged on the fact that they are hard wearing, required little maintenance but still had aesthetic appeal.

Van Niekerk added that the use of face and clay brick went far beyond aesthetic value. Positive characteristics include affordability, longevity, structural strength, flexibility in design and application, natural sound proofing qualities, incombustibility, natural resistance to fire, solidity and security. The enduring natural earthy colours and textures of clay face brick walls significantly reduce maintenance costs.

He said that overseas studies confirmed that clay bricks promote healthy living which was particularly important in a school environment. The inorganic qualities of fired clay and mineral properties that guarantee a nearly pollution free indoor air quality is particularly relevant in a classroom environment where there is greater exposure to respiratory infections. A natural propensity to absorb and release humidity from the atmosphere provides a good moisture balance inside buildings and protects against mould growth which is widely recognized as a contributing factor to sick building syndrome.

However, van Niekerk said a further important attribute of clay brick was its thermal performance properties. Scientific research has demonstrated the propensity of clay brick structures to be warm in winter and cool in summer this supporting comfortable learning conditions for longer and cutting energy usage for artificial heating and cooling.

The entrance of Bongolethu Primary School in Philippi in Cape Town. The school was designed by Revel Fox & Partners using Corobrik's Kirstenbosch Travertine face brick mixed with plaster and paint to achieve an uplifting bold aesthetic. The choice of finishes was appropriately affordable the low maintenance face brick to window level promising a low maintenance solution over the schools life.

The central courtyard enclosed by classroom modules offer security and shelter from wind. The concrete screed floor is used as a sports field.