3 schools leading in sustainable architecture


by Shaakira Chohan

Sustainability is no longer a ‘buzz’ word. It is, or it should be, an established imbued path of our design, our lifestyle, our ethics.

The AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture is an established accolade that acknowledges the role of this thinking in our built environment. This third cycle of the awards sees an advanced assessment of our built structure, as it sought to review, score and recognize buildings that are more than just sustainable, but rather regenerative. Part of this evaluation criteria demanded that buildings be evaluated post occupancy. Through this process, the end-user experience is really captured, and isn’t the real assessment of the success of a sustainably designed building through the way it is being used?

The panel believes that sustainability goes beyond the paper, as Daniel Irurah, an academic in Sustainable Architecture and adjudicator of the awards described at the opening of the exhibition. He explained how something like community engagement and interaction was just as important a criterion when considering worthy recipients of the award. It is through this thinking and rationale, that engagement with the facilities was judged, including recognition and assessment of elements like furniture etc.

Four criteria were used to measure the degree to which a building or works contribute to sustainable development:

1. Harmonisation

For a sustainable condition to be upheld, in the long run, all activities will add value to the five capital arenas on an on-going basis.

2. People Upliftment

The work must address the dignity of people through the creation of a socio-economic environment that is inclusionary, humane, self-sustaining, and maximizes the financial viability, impact and lifestyle cost efficiency during and post the implementation process.

3. Place making Performance

Enhance the architectural landscape and contextual urban environment. Infuse delight through the built environment.

4. Evolutionary Paradigm

Show how your project performs to design and develop an on-going regenerating future.


The panel describe the hallmarks of regenerative projects as:

  • Paradigm Shift

Shifting from a mechanical/technical/reductionist world view to a living system understanding. Working with whole living entities- humans, places, cities- not just the pieces. Wholes are greater than the sum of their parts.

  • Build to place, not formula

Working from and to a place rather than from a formula- place making as part of ecological systems.

  • Go to the core

Understanding the heart or core of what the project, place and economy are all about and working from it.

  • Learn from nature

Learning to understand the process of nature and working as an integral part of it.

  • Your role

Seeing and developing self, developer, team and served community as playing a meaningful role in regenrative development.

  •  Innovations

What new roles, processes, relationships, worldview shifts and technologies or design systems your project has engaed

(Criteria and hallmarks extracted from the AfriSAM-SAIA Award 4 Sustainable Architecture Call for Entries brochure)


Some of the notable mentions for the awards include:

Lulu Kati Kati – Kate Otten Architects

LuluKatiKati_1   LuluKatiKati_2   LuluKatiKati_3

The Energy Works – Daffonchio & Associates Architects

EnergyWorks_2   EnergyWorks_3   EnergyWorks_1

Pick n Pay on Nicol – Bentel Associates International

PnP_1   PnP_2   PnP_3

Awarded submissions included:

Lebone II College – Activate Architects in association with Afritects

Lebone_1   Lebone_2

Sited in the rolling hills landscape of Phokeng, 20km north-west of Rustenberg, a strong architectural concept of connection to landscape underpins this design, both in its outdoor and indoor rooms through referenced views.

The building commendably explores a contemporary education model with spaces and forms which best respond to the need, as well as the understanding of how to enrich the learner’s daily experience at the college through architecture and space. In this way Lebone College addresses a paradigm shift. The building successfully demonstrates how architecture can be applied in re-thinking the model of learning and teaching with students as the centre of that focus.

The school plays its part in social upliftment by extending its accommodation to act as a community leisure centre as well, and seamlessly blend a range of community programmes into its spaces to act as a regenerative and progressive contribution to its context. Through this diversity of inter-community initiatives anchored by the college, the sense of ownership and belonging to the community is constantly nourished. Implemented strategies also ensure inclusiveness through addressing the needs of students who cannot afford the college fees.

Lebone College applies several strategies to fulfil the criteria of planet rejuvenation such as responsive built form and positioning, indoor-outdoor visual connections, blending the natural and manicured landscapes, water features which double up as stormwater management elements, whilst echoing the natural surrounding environment.

The choice of a disused quarry as the grounds for the college demonstrates the sensitivity with which the designers and the community have treated the site. This quarry has been rehabilitated and incorporated into the college as a great practice of respect to the natural.

The building’s placemaking performance is also commendable with gestures such as the celebration of views to distant landscapes, de-institutionalising the learning experience and designing for social cohesion.

View the project video here:



Elkanah House High School Campus – Nic Border Architects


Like the Lebono College, the Elkanah Campus plays helps in the transformation of its surrounding community who play an integral part in the life of the school.

Sited in the harsh, windswept, sand dune environment of Cape Town’s West Coast, the building offers a welcoming and nurturing environment whilst responding to the unique characteristics of its context through climatic, aesthetic and social solutions.

The buidling successfully addreses its brief for it to play a bigger role than just a school, but rather a community centre, town hall, youth centre, place of worship, and recreational facility.

Also integral to the brief, and excellently executed byt the team, is the buildings ability to enhance and conform to existing site conditions with a vernacular architecture that is adaptable, economic, innovative and environmentally responsible, and to revitalise the pupils and greater community with it’s facilities.

Architect Nic Border believes that it is vital for schools to focus on sustainaibility.

“Schools play such an important role in defining who we are and what we become in life. Schools influence our children’s values, ethics and habits, and continually question what the future generation’s aspirations should be. Sustainability lessons learnt at a young age will be carried through into adult life” (www. iolproperty.co.za)

Click here to view a video of the school and it’s impact:



Vele Secondary School – East Coast Architects

Vele_2   Vele_1

This project, [art funded by Oprah Winfrey, is a great result of transforming a typical rural and neglected school into a pioneering community resource, learning facility and regenrative work of architecture.

As part of the Creating Schools initiative, the Vele Secondary School project based its development on input from the local community.

Pupils were given tools such as cameras and taught to map the area including their routes to school. This mapping process was used to identify hazards, special sites and community perception. The products of the process were exhibited to raise funds and helped to inspire and direct the desing of the building and the selection of materials.

Effective solar and rainwater harvetsing strategies were explored thorugh a digital weather station which the school invested in, meeting the set criteria of planet preservation and helping to reduce the school’s utility bills.
You can watch the video of the project here:


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