Situated on the University of Mpmalanga Lower Campus, the building provides 10 large specialisedteaching laboratories, a number of post-graduate and research laboratories, raked and flat teaching venues and staff officespaces.
Mpumalanga is a tropical region in the eastern part of South Africa, iconic for its beautiful undulating lush natural landscape and mountainous terrain, with steep slopes and rocky outcrops providing a challenging environment to build in. An existing unused parking platform on the university campus was identified as the extent of the site, a welcome constraint that mitigated surface challenges and guided the edges of the building to limit the impact on the natural environment.
Thedesign intent of the Science Research Facilities for the University of Mpumalanga was to challenge the conventional learning practices of science within academic institutions which are mostly highly regulated and inaccessible to the curious eye.
The building programme has been spaced over separated buildings, punctuated by courtyards of various sizes that ensure the building is breathable, light and takes advantage of the climate and natural landscape of the Mpumalanga region,furthermore balancing the enclosed laboratories and open space.
The envelope celebrates the programme of the various laboratories through generous transparency in the facade whilst still sensitively responding to the climatic and functional requirements of an effective laboratory workspace. By dispersing the building programme across the site, new intermediate zones are created through courtyards, lingering thresholds and exposed service rooms, all connected by open covered walkways that wrap around the main courtyard.
The programmatic arrangement of this building along the circulation spine exposes the entire procedure of the working nature within a laboratory, which in turn visually opens up the scientific discourse to the public realm.
The exteriorprogramme takes advantage of the visual connections of the laboratories by providing generous walkways and defined courtyard spaces to encourage people to linger and potentially learn through visual engagement. The courtyards nestled in between the laboratories have been designed as open terraria that exhibit the thriving micro-ecologies of Mpumalanga. A strong groundwater source uncovered during the construction phase is guided through the main courtyard through recessed channels on the ground, further reinforcing the powerful presence of the natural context.
The material palette is a selection of honest materials; a warm toned facebrick, off shutter concrete and glazing ensuring the envelope remains in line with the broader campus aesthetic. Terazzo floors continue the sentiment of honest, hardwearing materials throughout circulation routes, while the doors and joinery made up of locally sourced hardwood timber lend a warmth to the crisp white laboratory interiors.