The first time I made cob I was knee deep in trouble, there was no way of ever leaving this muddy business again. I simply love the smell and feel of wet earth being mixed. I guess it started when I lived in Prince Albert as a 5 year old and mixed “chocolate milk” in the empty-from-plants-but-not-from-soil flowerpots on our big stoep. My sister and I had to do it quietly and secretly, since my mom did not really appreciate us drinking the soil and water mixtures………….. (In that same garden we had plenty of chickens and ducks, figs and apricots, what a great place for a child to live.)
Currently, I try to impart my love of earth building to my students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). If possible we have an actual physical experience of working with earth and at other times it might be more theoretical knowledge, but applied in design and technological projects. Studio projects that deal with earth technology have become an integral part of the education in our Architectural Technology Department.
What interests me now, are ways in which natural building methods are both taught in the architectural curriculum and expressed in a contemporary manner.
Within the architectural education realm, I love Ithuba Science Centre, which was designed and built by students of the Faculty of Architecture of the RWTH Aachen University.
Design-build projects are of special interest to me and are defined within the architectural curriculum as “essentially the full-scale investigation of the built form. The typologies of projects are varied, but share the characteristic that it typically gives students the opportunity to engage in a project from design to actual construction” (Delport and Perold 2012).
The project embodies for me the essence required in an architectural student project. It is real, hands-on, design-build, incorporates natural building methods, contributes to a real need in a community and does all of this in an elegant architectural manner.
The Ithuba Science centre is part of the Ithuba Skills College, which is in Montic just outside of Johannesburg. The College caters for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and teaches them “English and Natural Sciences, but also practical basic skills like bricklaying, carpentry, sewing or electrical fitting during a five-year training”. (Faculty of Architecture RWTH Aachen University 2014)
The light steel frame of the Science Centre was erected first and it was then filled in with a straw/clay mixture, creating a highly insulated monolithic wall according to traditional German practices. The mixture was placed into formwork which was moved upward as the work progressed. The building has large roof overhangs to protect and shade the walls and the roof structure is separated from the walls to let hot air out. (Designboom 2013)
The Departments of Building Typologies and of Structures and Structural Design of The Faculty of Architecture supervised the project as part of their design-build program. A full construction booklet is available as well as a short video of the construction.
Students thoroughly enjoy hands-on, design-build work and work with more enthusiasm than on traditional studio bound projects. (Sara 2006) Where this practical work has meaning in both environmental and social contexts, the learning becomes incredibly relevant. The more this type of work is integrated within the architectural curriculum, the bigger influence education will have on future practices within the architectural and building industry.
Delport-Voulgarelis, H and Perold, R. (2012). Creating a New Curriculum. ARCH SA Journal of the South African Institute of Architects. Issue 58. (Nov/Des 2012). p. 50-51.
Designboom. (2013). s2arch and RWTH aachen university build a new school in south africa. [Online]. July 2013. Available from http://www.designboom.com/architecture/s2arch-and-rwth-aachen-university-build-a-new-school-in-south-africa/. [Accessed 24 Feb 2014].
Faculty of Architecture RWTH Aachen University. (2014). Student-constructured-projects Ithuba Science Centre. [Online]. August 2012. Available from http://arch.rwth-aachen.de/cms/Architektur/Wirtschaft/Projekte/~nvv/Selbstbauprojekte/lidx/1/ . [Accessed 24 Feb 2014].
Sara, R., 2006. Live Project Good Practice : A Guide for Live Projects, Available at: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/cebe/documents/resources/briefingguides/BriefingGuide_08.pdf.
All photographs by Leon Krige who granted permission for the use thereof.