In 2014 the illustrious Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool, commissioned a new music centre to be designed by Mathews + Associates Architects. Currently, the school hosts one of the largest music departments in the country with 240 high school learners who are taught musical theory and may choose to play an instrument of their choice. Furthermore, the orchestra, choir, bands and ensembles allow learners to make music collectively. The new centre will bring all this together and even contribute to this musical and artistic education in a dedicated, vibrant artistic precinct which includes a main hall for orchestral and choir practice (including a recording studio), four acoustically sound classrooms, twenty individual practice rooms and offices and admin facilities for staff.
The complex is situated at the back of the school on a small, ‘leftover’ triangular portion of land between the existing school and the Gautrain rail tracks which run along the school’s southeastern boundary. But it was the challenges of this site which led to the intricately connected design, with urban corridors and courtyards creating intimate public spaces and ‘outdoor rooms’ where students gather between classes. Special care was also taken to design around existing trees to create an instantly established feel to the new addition to this historic school.
In respect to the existing Edwardian buildings, the new centre is built using the school’s traditional materials of red facebrick and corrugated roof sheeting. The various buildings of the centre are connected with an off shutter concrete peristyle which extends across the front facade of the complex while the main facade is clad in red corrugated roof sheeting. This use of traditional materials seamlessly blends the graphically strong contemporary building forms in with the established historical building structures on site.
Poetic spaces and architectural metaphors are a trademark of the Pretoria based architecture firm. A cherished relationship with art becomes tangible in the users experience of their architecture, evident in the design of the Music Centre too. The design elements complement the functional aspects of the building: Rhythmically placed steel columns are reminiscent of a tune leading the user to the entrance of the Arts Campus while a wall of soldier course masonry mimics a choir, welcoming visitors and musicians alike. The new additions, together with the existing school hall, form a generous public square which boasts a steel sculpture by Cape based artist, Strijdom van der Merwe.
Van der Merwe’s focal artwork is an interactive ensemble of 4 oversized circular trumpets, aptly named ‘Kwartet’ (Afrikaans for quartet). Music as playful activity is made manifest in the sculpture. Concentric circles radiate like sound waves from this artwork.
Playful elements further enhance the ensemble – a graphic screen of piano keys adorns the southern façade of the existing school hall, turning the previously unsightly ‘back of house’ wall of drainage pipes into a bright, inviting feature wall.
The intangible and historic are celebrated with a laser cut steel screen placed on the landing of the main staircase to the first floor, a visual representation of the school’s first anthem in enlarged Braille, an embodiment of music, words and history as pattern.
The dialogue between art and architecture produces memorable spaces of meaning which remains authentic in a globalising world. It is the hope of the architect that the building will resonate with the learners, encouraging a greater appreciation of the arts and continuing the school’s proud tradition of creating and nurturing great future musicians and artists.