The revitalization of an abandoned mine shaft in Johannesburg wins a place for Dylan Watkins of the University of Johannesburg in this year’s Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards.

Achieving sustainable built environments with low impacts on the natural environment is becoming a universal goal. Energy usage in buildings is under the spotlight. Water wise projects are most likely to get the go ahead. That’s why an in-depth understanding of the environmental constraints and impacts of technologies on architectural solutions is emerging so important for students of architecture. It is the resolution of environmental issues that can be expected drive architectural expression that will shape tomorrow’s buildings and the creation, extension and redevelopment of our towns and cities.

After 26 years sponsoring the Architectural Student of the Year Awards, Lauren Moll  of Corobrik, said that Corobrik had seen many changes in architectural expression and anticipated that the growing consciousness and responsibility towards addressing the environmental imperatives will lead to architecture being increasingly grounded in the environmental resolution and that this will manifest itself more evidently in design. Passive solar design concepts, bio-mimicry and ‘living’ building fabrics that set out to manage and use the suns energy and water vapour are set to rise in prominence in tomorrow’s architecture. Tomorrows leading architects will therefore not be just great designers but will be well rounded in the technologies for achieving sustainable architecture. We have been witnessing the movement towards this in the student’s thesis projects in recent years and this years projects suggest students of architecture are increasingly up to speed and pushing the boundaries of design.

He said this year’s regional winner Dylan Watkins and his project Shaft # 2 as well as runners up Marc Sherratt and Francois Mercer and winner of the prize for best use of clay masonry, Rachel Wilson, demonstrated that future architects were embracing the  sustainability agenda with environmental issues achieving equal status with functionality and aesthetics.  

Dylan Watkins has Re-scripted the future of Johannesburg’s third landscape through architecture of the ‘Terrain Vague,’ a term for abandoned spaces or former industrial areas.

He identified Shaft No. 2 an isolated and historic site situated between two mine dumps on the southern periphery of Johannesburg Central Business District as one of these third landscape conditions.

Watkins said, “I propose that architecture is used as an instrument for remediation; more specifically of existing situations, scenarios and spaces in the built environment which are noticed but overlooked.”

This dissertation attempts to pioneer an architecture uniquely developed from the 3rd landscape. The site, Shaft No.2 is grounded within a large urban context, surrounded by existing urban systems. The aim is to assimilate a hybrid architecture which integrates nature, people and architecture into a new urban ecology to revitalise the site as a socio-ecological urban system where architecture is an interface for exchanges, resulting in ecological observatories as the main architectural programme.

The architecture will not only aid in the process of re-script the 3rd landscape, but also become a platform for exchange where knowledge can be obtained and shared through the tracing and recording of the landscape and climate influence.

Marc Sherratt’s entry is entitled Replenishing biodiversity at Melville Koppies Nature Reserve. 

This dissertation’s research problem is diminishing biodiversity in the urban context of Johannesburg. The particular focus is on the endemically endangered Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) and how architecture can facilitate its conservation through educational and site-specific awareness on Melville Koppies. 

The building is a rehabilitation and breeding centre for the Cape Vulture designed to disappear into the ancient landscape of Johannesburg’s past, Melville Koppies. The architectural idea is a “building as a cliff face”. Due to the important discovery that the on-site electricity pylons were needing replacement the architecture reused these vertical lattice towers as horizontal elements to create journey of birth to release.

Francois Mercer’s thesis CultuREscape is : A suburban cultivation school addressing the rehabilitation of a waste landscape in Roodepoort.

Mercer says, ‘This dissertation explores my own neighbourhood – Roodepoort.  It examines consumerist lifestyles which dominate the area and proposes an building to showcase new modes of living.  She proposes a cultivation school and a ‘hackerspace’ where residents of Roodepoort can learn to live sustainably and collaborate. The school recalls Roodepoort’s history as a farming area and celebrates the area’s spirit of place.

Rachel Wilson’s ‘Identity Tower’ re-scripts Newtown, Johannesburg as an echo of the larger inner-city strategy.   Originally a town where clay bricks were made by the working class and used in construction my aim was to revert to the original history by using clay bricks to maintain Newtown’s identity. 

The fusion of traditional clay brick paving with the undulating soft landscape expresses the history and future identity of Newtown, represented in the Identity Tower.

The awards, which offer a R8 000 prize for the winner, a R6 000 prize for second place, a

R4 000 prize for third place and a R4 000 prize for best use of clay masonry took place at the University. Each regional winner is entered into the national finals in March next year where the winner will receive R50,000.

“These awards were created to promote quality design and to acknowledge talent among architectural students and Corobrik would like to believe this awards programme has promoted discourse and debate towards what constitutes really good architecture. Corobrik has for a long time regarded the role of the architectural community as key to defining the ultimate integrity of our built environment and for creating time honoured spaces that people feel comfortable to be in, are uplifting and relevant to those who use or witness them,” Moll said.

Dirk Meyer, managing director of Corobrik said that achieving energy-efficiency that was central to the new National Building Regulations SANS 10400-XA:2011 defining the energy usage of buildings required that architects revisit the passive solar design concepts and techniques of yesteryear and where it may be appropriate enhance these with new technology able to add value with economic payback. As an example SANS10400-XA recognizes the role of thermal mass, thermal comfort and energy used for heating and cooling defining a minimum R-value of 0.35 for masonry walls, however thermal modeling shows how the incorporation of higher R-value insulation materials between the brick skins moves clay brick walls towards optimal thermal efficiency and comfort, supporting low life cycle energy costs and low total life cycle costs. 

Meyer said that energy efficiency was integral to Corobrik’s sustainability agenda. “Lower embodied energy values have been achieved with the introduction of new extrusion technology that has resulted in fuel savings for the drying and firing and delivery of products of products. This technology and the wider use of natural gas for the firing our products (natural gas nearly halves the carbon footprint per gigajoule of energy used in clay brick manufacture) is driving Corobrik’s embodied energy reductions,” he explained.

He added that Corobrik bricks continued to present designers with the opportunity to achieve sustainable buildings of quality with due sensitivity to environmental imperatives. “Corobrik provides clay bricks with embodied energy values in line with international best practice for the technologies employed as well as with thermal performance properties that support superior thermal comfort and lowest operational energy usage outcomes. A number of generic factors underpin clay bricks’ environmental integrity  namely durability and longevity, reusability and recyclability, inertness that ensures no release of VOC’s or toxic fumes to impinge on air quality, incombustibility, natural sound insulation qualities, inorganic quality that is not a food source for mould and maintenance free qualities that incur no future carbon debt.”

Captio Dylan Watkins is pictured proudly displaying his Award received in the University of Johannesburg regional finals of the Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year.

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