A University of Pretoria student’s thesis revitalises an industrial heritage through regenerative layering.

For the winners of the University of Pretoria leg of the 32nd Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Award and their peers, this would be the era of 3D-printed houses, digi cities, self-drive cars and an urban environment that could not have been imagined as little as 10 years ago.

At an awards ceremony held at the university, Ferdinand le Grange was placed first in the regional finals and received an award of R10 000 for his thesis entitled ‘Prospect Portal: A Layered Landscape’. Runners up are Walter Coetzee and Alexia Kolatsis and Robbie Jordaan received the prize for the best use of clay masonry.

Ferdinand Le Grange is this year’s regional winner of the Corobrik Architectural Student Awards. Credit: Corobrick

This annual competition enables Corobrik, the country’s leading producer of clay brick, to recognise the shining lights on the architectural map of the future. The top students from eight major universities are identified based on their final theses and presented with awards throughout the year. The regional winners then compete for the national title and a prize of R70 000 at the Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards, which will be held in Johannesburg on 8 May 2019.

Musa Shangase, Corobrik commercial director says that the students of today will chart the way forward during challenging times for developing countries such as South Africa which not only had to embrace the advances of the day but use these to address things that were unique to Africa while also embracing its cultural heritage.

“But no matter how pressing the needs and challenges of our immediate built environment, we cannot forget that we exist in a global context. The world has embarked on a fourth revolution that has already ushered in unprecedented change and disruption and will continue to do so. We have seen the demise of the vinyl record and the analogue camera and the birth of new brands such as Uber, Airbnb and Google. Newspapers and magazines, book publishers and even the postal service are struggling to move with the times and stay relevant,” he warns.

He says that Ferdinand Le Grange’s thesis, had fully embraced the complexities of the past, present and future in South Africa. ‘Prospect Portal: A Layered Landscape’ focuses on Village Main No1 Shaft which represents one of the last remaining examples of mining architecture from the 1886 Johannesburg gold rush. It is emblematic of the issues faced by sites of industrial heritage. This dissertation investigates architecture’s role as a potential mediator between polluted natural systems and latent industrial architecture through exploring the combination of heritage and environmental theories. In so doing, it develops an archetype for a new layer of industrial architecture capable of regenerating latent industrial sites. Village Main is the case study with the intention of it becoming a precedent for industrial architecture that can establish and sustain mutually beneficial relationships between industry and nature. Regenerative layering is used as a means of combining the lost prospects of the site’s past, the threatened prospects of its current situation and the prospects of its future.

Runner up Walter Coetsee’s thesis is entitled ‘Establishing an ecosystemic narrative’. Coetsee says, “Rehabilitation of post-industrial sites often entails the erasure of all evidence of past industrial activity. This threatens valuable industrial heritage. Coetsee says, “My project, located at the old Iscor steel mill in Pretoria West, is aimed at rehabilitating the site while conserving the extant industrial heritage. The building acts as an interface between occupants and the landscape to facilitate an understanding of the industrial heritage. It is also aimed at establishing conditions for proximate and sensory interaction with nature, exposing the remediative energy of nature.”

Alexia Kolatsis’ thesis is a school for ‘in-betweeners’: An in-between architectural typology to education and economy through reviewing the opportunities within the Westbury community. Kolatsis says, “A school for ‘In-betweeners’ exists as exploration into an educational facility in Westbury, Johannesburg that caters for both FET and ABET students. These schools have been designed to co-exist within a series of economic nodes throughout the building to grant students economic enablement in a community devoid of this. The building is centred on concepts of publicity, access and ‘in-between’ space.”

‘Re-creation: The de-stigmatisation of a post-industrial site’ is Robbie Jordaan’s thesis. It is located at the abandoned Era Brick factory and quarry in Eersterust, Pretoria.  Jordaan proposes an agricultural school to be sited on the large amount of space available which is  ideally suited to address stigmas and opportunities for the surrounding communities. Jordaan selected this topic as he says, “Stigmas are rarely,  addressed through the creation of architecture.”  He believes that by using the history of the site sustainably by re-using the available old bricks on the site will create a new beginning.

Shangase  says he was confident that Corobrik, which has a 117-year history, will remain relevant as the fourth industrial revolution gathers momentum in South Africa.

Clay brick has been traced back to 7 500BCE and even to the days of the Egyptians and the Roman Empire. The first industrial revolution had completely transformed brick production as the need to rapidly build factories and whole cities burgeoned. Over the years, more efficient and sophisticated methods of production saw the clay brick gain traction as the building material of choice and the foundation of modern architecture as we know it today.

“Along with the rise of technology comes a move to more environmentally friendly and sustainable living. Because clay brick is durable, non-toxic, reusable, energy efficient and requires little maintenance, this is a product that will live on and embrace the fourth industrial revolution. It is more relevant than ever,” he says.