AN OPEN competition for the design of two new Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) buildings has yielded “outstanding results”, according to the Port Elizabeth architecture industry, after an exhibition of the top five designs opened last week at the Athenaeum Gallery.

 The exhibition also showcases the “romantic” new NMMU Alumni building design, developed by lecturers and architects Andrew Palframan and John Andrews.

 The Eastern Cape Institute of Architects (ECIA) supported the exhibition as part of a new drive to profile the role and importance of architecture in shaping cities of the future.

 “The contest was a novel approach to stimulating creativity and healthy competition in the architectural sector,” said the ECIA’s Debbie Wintermeyer.

 The top five designs submitted for two new NMMU buildings – the Life and Physical Sciences building on the University’s South Campus and the Bachelor of Education (B-Ed) Foundation Phase building at the Missionvale Campus – have put architecture and education, and the interface between the two, on the agenda.

 NMMU has been on a building spree over the past two years, recently completing two new buildings, the Sports Arena on South Campus and the new Business School at the 2nd Avenue Campus.

 With three new designs on the table, the university’s construction boom is set to continue, providing future students with state-of-the-art, green buildings that enhance flow, dynamism and integration into the movement around and engagement with space. The two competition entries – and the Alumni building – are included as the next phase of construction.

 The exhibition opening saw the winners – Matrix Urban Designers and Architects (B-Ed Foundation Phase building) and a joint venture between DMV/Muse Architects (Life and Physical Sciences building) – taking the public through their winning conceptual design and interpretation.

 The B-Ed building, about 2 575m², comprising a series of classrooms, micro-study areas, a library, offices, resource centre, storerooms and computer lab had to, according to the brief, “humanise pedagogy”.

 The design needed to accommodate a “vibrant research, scholarship and innovation culture” and create an environment conducive to teaching excellence, experimentation, experiential learning and holism.

 Architects Neil Fisher and Professor Albrecht Herholdt designed a building onto which future developments could hinge, whilst playing with light, movement and colour.

 The building itself will create a new pedestrian entrance to the campus, a critical development given that most students access the Missionvale Campus by public transport. It also incorporates a unique plinth abstractly depicting the importance of African arts.

 “Taking the lead from the existing buildings on campus, the Matrix tried to tie into the landscape by using the same brick and metal sheeting with some offshoots,” said Fisher. “We incorporated mosaic panels with an African motif to anchor the building in the landscape and also created enclosed walkways and an entrance canopy which collectively form a gateway to campus.”

 Fisher said the cutting-edge, new lecture halls would “hopefully enhance concentration”.

 At the Life and Physical Sciences building the university wanted to emphasize warmth, creativity, reflection, symmetry, flow, modern technology and sustainability as central to the design whilst making the sciences more accessible.   

 Muse/DMV Architects Phillip Loots and Dal Venables seized the brief to completely change the culture of laboratories and expose what usually happens behind closed doors using glass and easing movement within the building.

 “We wanted to change the building into the face of the science faculty, so we took the elements of Brutalist-use of concrete already present on campus and echoed it within the building, whilst moving from rigidity to flexibility and exposing the activities going on inside to the outside, in an effort to demystify the science culture,” said Loots.

 The building makes use of natural air-flow, rainwater harvesting, solar reflection, embedded power regeneration all aimed to promote the sciences within a sense of architecture. It also invites non-science student to engage with the building by creating a café and courtyard that leads onto the public spaces such as the library.

 “Student interaction and relaxation spaces have been introduced through the development of the courtyard, access routes and building edges that live onto the quad,” Loots added. “We have also emphasized movement by flooding spaces with light and air.”

 The building includes classrooms, laboratories, offices, conference rooms and study spaces over an area of 2 290m².

 The new Alumni House on South Campus is placed to the west of the pond on campus and is multi-functional space for the Alumni Trust operations, events and social engagement.  Andrews said the building was a romantic space where people could enjoy strong views, the horizon and water.

 “The plot is on a natural expanse, removed from existing buildings and formal paths, so cues were taken from the water’s edge, landscape ridges, vegetation and informal movement paths in order to organise and shape the building as a marker, destination and collector of the landscape,” said Andrews.

 The duo used the water’s edge as the primary driver with the building growing out of the ground “with dignity”, emphasizing its powerful locational advantage and northern orientation, which would ensure the space in “bathed in light”.  The space would also be an economic generator, they said, open for functions including weddings, on the picturesque veranda.

 This is the first time a collection of architectural works of this nature for NMMU has been showcased in Port Elizabeth, architect Neill Kiviet said, commending the submissions: “There is a high degree of architectural skill and design resolution on display here as well as a positive response to the challenge set by NMMU.”

 Wintermeyer added: “This exhibition is a display and celebration of quality and architectural skill, but is also a celebration of the use of a design competition as a non-traditional method of procurement by a progressive client, who by undertaking this work in this way is making a positive contribution to our city.”

 ECIA president, Tim Hewitt-Coleman, also said: “The ECIA puts a lot of effort into promoting, recognising and acknowledging excellence in the Built Environment through programmes like this exhibition. We do this because we know that this makes our profession more competitive and improves PE architect’s ability to be relevant in an increasing innovative world”

  The exhibition opened on Friday April 11 and runs for just over a week until April 19 at the Athenaeum Gallery, recently renovated by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), in Central.