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University of Witwatersrand winners incorporate water purification, cremation, transport logistics and a youth centre into the winning thesis entries for the 29th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards

The social complexities of a developing country cannot be ignored when blending all the ingredients that go towards achieving world class architectural design that has a profound sense of place and is relevant to its environment. Consequently, innovation is an essential attribute for modern architects as they employ their technical skills to create aesthetically appealing and functional built structures that will endure into the future. 

These were the words of Dirk Meyer, managing director of Corobrik, ahead of the 29th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards which have been held annually for almost three decades to encourage and reward innovation and technical excellence amongst the country's most promising architectural students.

The competition begins with regional competitions at eight major universities throughout South Africa and culminates in a national award ceremony for the overall winner in Johannesburg.

“We expect new and distinctive ideas from the students, in addition to a high standard of technical skills, creative flair, a good grasp of sustainability issues and a clear understanding of the role a built structure is expected to fulfil in its environment,” said Musa Shangase, Corobrik Commercial & Marketing Director as he presented prizes to the regional winners from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

“The winning students have accomplished this with aplomb,” he said.

At the award ceremony, Vedhant Maharaj was the regional winner of R8 000, Amit Nanoo was awarded second prize of R6 500, while Jessica Grobbelaar won third prize of R4 500. A R4500 prize for the best use of clay masonry was also presented to Joanne Kridiotis.

The eight regional winners automatically qualify to compete for the R50 000 national prize which will be presented at the 29th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards in Johannesburg.

Winner Vedhant Maharaj’s winning thesis is entitled YANTRA which are infrastructures of the sacred and profane located on the edge of the River Ganga in Varanasi, India.  YANTRA proposes a water purification infrastructure for an ecological life force which has become hazardously polluted. The project responds to the biomedical requirements of the treatment infrastructure and also designs it into the rich socio-cultural fabric of one of India’s most sacred cities. 

The built form mediates the relationship of different water cleaning technologies ranging from the mechanized and scientific to the natural. These are composed into a sanctuary which is programmed in accordance with the daily rituals and requirements of water in the city. The building adapts itself into the vernacular urban fabric and becomes a seamless and expressive addition to Varanasi’s sprawling stepped river promenade. 

Through a carefully designed sociological, political, ecological and scientific response the project promotes the interaction of people with infrastructure at a local scale, offering an innovative approach in redefining infrastructure’s role within India’s new national identity.

In second place Amit Nanoo’s thesis is entitled The Existential Theatre.  

This thesis primarily deals with the Hindu cremation ceremony, and perpendicular to that, the everyday rituals which constitutes daily life, along the Ganges River, in Rishikesh, India. Through an existential and ontological theoretical exploration, the doorway, bridge, step and Lota (vernacular Indian pottery) become signified objects which are arranged to form the existential theatre. This constitutes the reincarnation of architecture: a hybrid pedestrian bridge with supporting cremation infrastructure. 

Parallel theories of rationality and irrationality, solid and void, boundaries, the structure of time and nothingness, are explored to theoretically contextualize the semiotics of the architecture, as well as acting as design drivers.

Jessica Grobbelaar received third place for Alrode Train Terminal: Mobilising the invalid landscape.    In this dissertation she explored the notion of how space relates to human and place identity within the context of the buffer zones established under apartheid, with a particular focus on the divide between Alberton and Thokoza. The thesis attempts to revalidate the spatial divide by proposing a train terminal in industrial Alrode.

By situating the proposed Alrode Train Terminal (ATT) within the invalid landscape, a bridge and operating connection between the two polarized communities is offered. An exploration of the idea of identity and the effects of the invalid landscape can take place while simultaneously addressing a practical challenge for our rapidly developing city.

Best use of clay brick is awarded to Joanne Kridiotis for Altered States, a youth centre and safe house for at-risk adolescents in Westbury, Johannesburg.

This thesis stems from the escalating use and trade of illegal drugs, and its impacts on impressionable youth. The proposes the design of safe spaces of addiction recovery, assisted community re-entry and the opportunity for youth to engage in alternative mental and physical outlets. The use of clay bricks becomes an integral part of the design as an attempt to create a vernacular architecture for Westbury’s vulnerable youth, expressing familiarity, texture and warmth. 

As the project involves vulnerable youth in a residential township, brick is incorporated in certain areas of the design in order to create a ‘homely’ atmosphere. By using brick at select moments (in the medical centre, media centre & throughout the transitional housing units) not only does the design respond to its residential surroundings but creates a place that is familiar to the youth. By incorporating the warm textures of brick and the memories of safety and ‘home’ that it evokes, the children will have a physical and mental connection to the place, creating a ‘legible’ architecture that they can identify with. 

Shangase said that clay brick masonry brought a myriad of benefits to a building project including low maintenance, durability, long-term life performance and energy efficiency, reducing the heating and cooling costs of buildings, along with providing a healthy and comfortable living environment.

He said that another major advantage of clay brick was its capacity for both recycling and reuse which was the case during the rejuvenation of the 90-year-old Lion Match factory in Durban, an Amafa heritage site, where a combination of bricks from the demolished sections were used along with carefully selected new Corobrik bricks to blend the old and new buildings seamlessly. 

Replacement of old bricks which are no longer manufactured is also a specialised requirement which Corobrik is called upon to fulfil. In the refurbishment of the167-year-old Government House in Pietermaritzburg, a national monument, for use as UNISA’s regional campus, Corobrik created special dies to manufacture bricks to match the handmade salmon pink bricks typical of the 1900 period. 

“Clay brick’s versatility and aesthetic qualities make it ideal to enhance and harmonise with any environment for ultra-modern projects as well as the sensitive renovations of landmark period buildings,” he said.