The Magagula Heights township is around 30 km south of Johannesburg. With an estimated 50,000 inhabitants it is one of the smallest and poorest townships in the metropolis of Johannesburg. The S²arch NGO has been building the ITHUBA Skills College since 2008. It is situated fifteen minutes walk from the settlement. The aim of this initiative is to provide the young people in the townships with a good education and to provide a path out of the vicious circle of poverty and violence. This education project was extended by also setting up a primary school for 6 to 14 year olds. The Department of Architecture at the University of Art and Design Linz worked on the 'ITHUBA Primary School' master plan together with BASEhabitat. The master plan has eight classrooms and administrative buildings. Together they also implemented the first two classes, IPHIKO. Over the following years, international architecture schools designed and built further buildings based on the ITHUBA Primary School master plan. The school grounds are home to a colourful collection of different types of architecture.
IPHIKO means 'wing' and is the first implementation of two classrooms from the ITHUBA Primary School master plan. The design comprised two primary classes, a kitchen, a workshop, toilets, and a sheltered garden courtyard for the younger school children. The classrooms designed in the master plan, were based on educational reform principles. It provides areas for small groups to retreat and quiet zones for reading and doing handicrafts, as well as space for conventional lessons. Particular value was placed on the reference to outdoor areas as well as on space to learn and play in covered areas.
The main aim was to create a building suitable for the climate with a comfortable indoor climate that doesn't need heating or air conditioning.
When building in the Southern Hemisphere, the main direction of the buildings is to the north (17°NNE). Situated at a sea level of 1,800 m, the nights there are cold in summer and freezing in winter. The building's openings and roof react to the path of the sun to optimise the temperature and light situation in the classroom. To form an introverted classroom, the windows to the north are higher set to provide for daylight and heating in winter. Conversely, the windows to the south reach up to the roof and are open to the garden. As winter still offers nine hours of sunshine, we tried to get the most out of the sun's energy.
The construction is quite simple. Slim reinforced concrete supports provide a structural scaffold that is filled with a lightly compacted mixture of straw and loam. The straw-loam mixture is tamped between the shuttering walls, compressed, and plastered when dry. This yields 30 cm deep outside walls that are well insulated. Solar heat also provides a comfortable indoor climate in winter without requiring conventional heating. A significant advantage of using straw-loam in the construction is that they are widely available around Johannesburg and that they can be recycled without using any extra energy.
The dimensions of the load-bearing elements such as foundations, supports and beams are optimised to reduce primary energy needs and to keep costs to a minimum for both financial reasons and reasons of sustainability. Due to negative experience with both the quality and sourcing of wood in South Africa, the roof of the IPHIKO classroom pair was supported using a material-saving iron framework. The framework beams that the students welded on site allow the roofs to overhang, protect the cob parts of the building from rain, and make the facility seem light and airy.
The slim steel construction separates the roof covering from the thermal surface. The roof's rear ventilation and the wide and subtle roof overhang provide efficient protection from overheating in the summer. In winter, the large windows collect solar heat the design thereby makes sure that the sun can get into the windows of the classrooms in winter. The classroom roofs were also insulated to minimise temperature highs.
Comfort and beauty
The clay plastering and the sloping ceiling in the classrooms provide a high quality of sound. The clay walls and plastering also regulate the humidity in the classroom. Cross ventilation is possible. Using clay for walls and for plastering allowed the people in the area see the material in a new light. The common prejudice that it is a material used exclusively by the poor was forgotten as soon as the walls had been plastered; they looked both stable and beautiful. The further development of the use of clay, the reduction of expensive, non-renewable materials and the high integration of the local community, led to widespread identification with the building and an awareness of this new kind of construction was created and is being reproduced in the village.
South Africa is one of the main exporters of iron beams and profiles; straw and loam are readily available in the local area. This construction method can be easily transferred to smaller buildings and housing.