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University of Free State winner Nilene van Niekerk used Freedom of Expression Forum on Constitutional Hill, Johannesburg for her winning architectural thesis at the 29th Corobrik architectural student of the year regional awards

Innovation, while incorporating ever-improving technology, is a standout quality that differentiates design resolutions and helps define architecture as special among one’s peers. Innovation, in sync with context, provides the delight factor permitting architectural design to compete comfortably on the world stage. Technical skill, technological understanding and the ability to create memorable form that draws one in, while treading softly on our planet, is what puts the finishing touches to sustainable architecture. 

The incorporation of advancements in technology, which has greatly assisted architects, increases the efficiency of building designs and revisions, allowing them to meet the growing structural demands. South African architecture continues to take positive strides in this area, while demonstrating an extra creative dimension unique in a country where the shaping of the urban landscape requires an appreciation of the complexities of creating an inclusive built environment. Through innovative designs and ever-developing architectural technology, the country is receiving remarkable designs that benefit the increasing urban population, as per government requirements. 

This was said by Dirk Meyer, managing director of Corobrik, ahead of the 29th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards, which are held annually to acknowledge and reward outstanding talent in South Africa.

The competition involves the country’s eight major universities where the best architectural students are identified based on their final theses and presented with awards at regional events. The winners of each of the regional competitions then go on to compete for the national title at the 29th Corobrik Student Architect of the Year Awards in Johannesburg in May 2016.

Musa Shangase, Corobrik Commercial Director presented prizes to the winners from University of the Free State.

Nilene van Niekerk won first prize of R8 500, second prize of R6 500 went to Arend Jooste and third prize of R4 500 was presented to Laura-Anne Fox.   An additional prize of R4 500 for the best use of clay masonry was awarded to Nadene de Lange.

‘Freedom of Expression Forum’ is Nilene van Niekerk’s winning thesis.  It is a principle of protest against curtailment of freedom of speech reinterpreted as place.  

She says the project developed by examining the Secrecy Bill.  This led to an investigation into the intimidation of journalists by the controversial Secrecy Bill.  

Although freedom of expression and the press are generally protected practices in South Africa’s constitution, the persistent role of the government to protect state information, is a substantial threat to citizens’ constitutional right of freedom of expression. The governments’ attempt to block cellular phone signals during the State of the Nation Address in February 2015 is one of many examples of this imposing threat.

This inevitably influenced the idea of creating a Freedom of Expression Forum within the direct vicinity of Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg.  The tower provides protection to journalists, becomes a pivotal point where classified information can be sent to and archived, as well as establishing a public space that encourages communication.  This is done in the name of fostering the right of freedom of expression within this human rights precinct. 

Best use of clay was awarded to Nadene de Lange for her entry ‘Puncturing the urban wall between dweller and nature’ which is an Urban Healthcare Centre situated in Bloemfontein Central Business District 

The proposed healthcare centre aimed to create an architectural typology that responds well to the existing built environment. Facebrick and plastered clay brickwork is used to continue the existing texture and material language of the built environment. 

Facebrick is used as infill wall panels between the concrete structure and screen walls to enclose the service shafts. The screen walls add a visual, porous layer to the building and simultaneously allow for natural ventilation. Facebrick is a widely-used material in the Bloemfontein central business district and requires minimal labour intensity for installation. The clay brickwork is economically viable and cost effective. 

Shangase said that all of the winners had shown a close affinity with their subjects and that their designs both enhanced and integrated with the communities in which they were sited.

Speaking about trends in the profession he said that Corobrik had noticed a resurgence both internationally and locally in the appreciation of clay brick as a material with important flexibility in design and yet with intrinsic sustainable qualities so appropriate for advancing the affordability of government building projects.

“Whilst clay brick has always been well represented in high-end commercial projects, we are seeing more of it being specified for public schools, hospitals, clinics and affordable housing because of the multiple benefits the material brings to a construction project,” said Shangase.

“Lifetime aesthetics, durability and thermal efficiency are just three of the attributes of clay masonry which ensure low lifecycle costs and satisfy sustainability needs, in addition to allowing flexibility for innovative and aesthetically appealing design. These are important attributes which enable architects to create memorable and relevant additions to the built environment in South Africa using clay brick.”

“Although the constant influx of technological innovation provides architects with a wealth of options when designing buildings, we find they consistently turn to clay brick for construction because of its proven performance.”

Shangase said that the winners in the Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards had shown outstanding maturity, innovation and technical skill in their designs which were a credit to the profession in both local and global terms.