Corobrik Recognises 25 Years of Architectural Excellence

Clifford Gouws of the University of Pretoria is this year's winner of the 25th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year event.  His entry Magazine Hill:  A Weathered Continuum concentrates on an abandoned historical military site on Magazine Hill in Pretoria.  He proposes using the site for a brass foundry to recycle spent ammunition shells for use by brass artists .  His is pictured with the scale model of his winning entry.

A project that highlights imagination and intelligent design - a unique, creative ability to combine the two to create a project that nevertheless treads lightly on our earth. This is how Corobrik's managing director, Dirk Meyer, described the project entitled Magazine Hill: A weathered continuum that came up tops in the 2012 Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards. 

This year's event, held at The Wanderers in Johannesburg, landmarked the 25th year of Corobrik's sponsorship of the Architectural Student of the Year Awards. Meyer said that over a quarter of a century, Corobrik had had a front row seat when it came to witnessing the evolution of South Africa's architectural profession and the important role architects play as custodians of our built environment. 

"25 years ago, these awards were created to promote excellence in design and to acknowledge emerging talent among architectural students. Today, the challenges facing architects and ultimately the students who will be the future crafters of our cities' built environments is increasingly complex, demanding a competence in art, tectonics, science, building regulations, socio-economics and finance, in order to come up with design solutions that fit the budget, massage or engage the visual senses, inspire and address the social and environmental issues of the day. 

The standard of entries by the seven regional winners that were considered for this national award confirm Corobrik's belief that South Africa's future architects are more than capable of rising to the challenge while embracing an increasingly stringent sustainability agenda," Meyer said. 

This year's winner, Clifford Gouws, through his project Magazine Hill: A Weathered Continuum' concentrates on an abandoned historical military site on Magazine Hill in Pretoria. The site consists of two underground ammunition magazines, five bomb shelters and ammunition factories - all structures representing an era of unrest in South Africa. In 1945, a mysterious explosion of the Central Magazine scarred the face of Magazine Hill, leading the activities on the site to an early death, trapping architecture in time and abandonment.

The project places contemporary commemorative architecture under the limelight, criticizing the static notion of heritage commemoration through the typologies of museums and memorials. The architectural response focuses on commemoration through everyday use. A brass foundry is proposed to recycle the spent ammunition shells of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), thereby introducing brass artists as a public interface. Where ammunition was once produced, ammunition will now be reduced, exposing different layers of the past by reinstating a connection between architecture and time. 

Gouws took home a prize of R50 000 from Corobrik to add to his regional winnings of R6 000. 

The judging panel comprised President of the KwaZulu-Natal Institute for Architecture, Nina Saunders, Senior Researcher, Sustainable Human Settlements at the Built-Environment Unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research at Pretoria University, Architect Dr Amira Osman and award winning architect Jeremy Rose of Mashabane Rose Architects.

Professor Karel Bakker from the University of Pretoria described the winning project as a strong, adaptive re-use design that recycled an industrial foundry which has a contentious history. "It commemorates an event, conserves embodied energy, revives traditional techniques and provides work opportunities, being simultaneously rich in historic references and extremely contemporary in expression that is contextually rooted. The design creates spaces and makes place for, and provides a rich cultural destination for Tshwane."

He said that, overall, work from students at the University of Pretoria who had received awards was not formalistically or stylistically driven, but derived from a generative process. "There is also a strong tectonic character to the designs. Our students are definitely more concerned with ecological and a sustainability issue which is a heartening sign. The Department places great emphasis on understanding the role of environmental potential in design, and wants to expand its expertise in the sustainable arena."

Commenting on the 25 year long history of these awards, Professor Bakker said that Corobrik had supported design and design teaching at tertiary level in an exemplary way. He said that the role Corobrik had played over the years and the many young designers they had catapulted into the world of competitive design practice attested to this. 

Meyer pointed out that when it came to contributing to a sustainable urban environment with a low carbon footprint, Corobrik had long embraced the challenge. "Our sustainability agenda hinges in no small measure on energy efficiency. The introduction of new extrusion technology and the wider use of natural gas for the firing our products (natural gas nearly halves the carbon footprint of clay brick manufacture) has resulted in significant fuel savings for the drying and firing of products. 

He said that the intrinsic qualities of Corobrik clay products presented designers with a unique opportunity to achieve eminently sustainable buildings with due sensitivity to environmental imperatives. "Clay bricks with embodied energy values in line with international best practice and thermal performance properties that supported superior thermal comfort and lowest operational energy usage outcomes are part of the deal. In this latter regard, extensive research and thermal modelling both in South Africa and Australia has demonstrated how double skin clay brick cavity walling, with different levels of resistance appropriate for the climatic zone, outperform alternate lightweight building technologies, providing more enduring solutions, superior thermal comfort, lowest life cycle energy costs and lowest life cycle costs."

Meyer added that a number of other generic factors further underpinned clay bricks' environmental integrity, for example their durability, reusability, recyclability and inertness. Clay brick does not release volatile organic compounds or toxic fumes to impinge on air quality. 

Biomimicry specialist and founder of biomimicrySA, Claire Janisch, who was the keynote speaker at last night's ceremony, pointed out that, after 3.8 billion years of research and development, it was time to embrace the fact that nature's plethora of organisms remain the consummate architects.

"With growing pressure for the built environment to be both eco-friendly and sustainable, there is increasing pressure for architects, designers and landscapers to provide green solutions. Biomimicry is the practice of learning from and then emulating nature's genius. Whatever the challenge, the odds are high that one or more of the world's 30 million creatures, has not only faced that challenge, but has an effective strategy to deal with it. Biomimicry provides a practical approach to architecture that can contribute not only innovative, sustainable designs but also awaken new ways of viewing and valuing nature," she said. 




The judges' critique on this project :

Judges: Jeremy Rose, Nina Saunders and Amira Osman

Five criteria were used to assess the finalists. The judges' critique is as follows:

Magazine Hill: A weathered continuum by Clifford Gouws.

The project is outstanding in terms of its spatial qualities and tectonics as well as the presentation techniques. It was also assessed as being very good with regards to its theoretical premise (grounded in current paradigms of architectural thinking,) its transformative potential (restructuring of spatial economy and stitching together a disconnected and fragmented urban environment) and in its consideration of the environmental, social and economic complexity of sustainability. In addition to the application of energy efficiency measures and water reuse, the project also considers the implementation of a 'green' programme of SANDF through an urban agriculture intervention and consideration of suppliers and recycling opportunities.

The idea of 'unification' was central to the project and was considered in terms of the relationship between old and new, architecture and time, aging and weathering, public and military. The project critiques the 'static notion of heritage commemoration' and rather seeks to apply commemoration through everyday use. This is suggested through using the abandoned military site for brass artists (using the massive quantities of discarded ammunition from SANDF) and as a public interface.

The visual presentation (movie, drawings and model) is of very high standard. The thesis document is of a solid academic standard, beautifully designed, well researched and comprehensively structured. The project was considered to be consistent in it application of theory with the spatial intentions carried through from the larger scale to the detailing. The technical resolution is of a high standard.



Additional information on the winning project:


University of Pretoria

Winner: Clifford Gouws
Title: Magazine Hill: A weathered continuum


This dissertation is rooted within a process of unification, a personal struggle to understand the fragile relationship that exists between architecture and time. The proposed historical military site (Magazine Hill) forms a comprehensive construct of different layers of time and influence. This mysterious and abandoned site consists of two underground ammunition magazines, five bomb shelters and ammunition factories, all structures that represent an era of unrest in South Africa. In 1945 a mysterious explosion of the Central Magazine scarred the face of Magazine Hill, leading the activities on the site to an early death, trapping architecture in time and abandonment. 

The project places contemporary commemorative architecture under the limelight, criticising the static notion of heritage commemoration through the typologies of museums and memorials. The architectural response of this dissertation is thus focused on commemoration through everyday use. 

The proposed programme forms part of the conceptual premise of mediation, unifying different opposites inherent in both Magazine Hill and the South African context. A brass foundry is proposed to recycle the spent ammunition shells of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), thereby introducing brass artists as a public interface to Magazine Hill. Where ammunition was once produced, ammunition is now reduced. This programme could form mediation between the public and the military; exposing different layers of the past by reinstating a connection between architecture and time.