“A seat of learning”
Few architectural typologies are as embattled as that of the “school” in contemporary South Africa. In a valid desire to create equitable access to education infrastructure, various state metrics which seek to homogenize the “school”, have been employed by others with questionable success since place-making for learning often transcends universal cost-based and capacity metrics. What ensues is a dialectic polarity between desires, on the one hand the desire to create context specific solutions, and on the other the pursuit of the replicable typology so as to achieve the euphemistic “predictable delivery”.
In the Louwville High School the architects accomplish a balance between these polarities with great aplomb. The quadrangle courtyards not only create well-proportioned spaces for the periodic disgorging of students and staff, they also offer contact with soft landscape elements, integrated into the architecture by way of well-scaled green courts and planters which become play seats during breaks and finely tuned walkways that are both compliant and comforting. The apex roof form with a gentle arc at the peak, repetitively references the roof pitches of local rural farmhouse vernacular, with a user-friendly series of thresholds between entry and exit that over time will enhance the memory of going to school for a learner. It deftly avoids the danger of being imposing and unfamiliar to its context and becomes a confident, gentle and modest enabler for learning.
What is particularly noteworthy is the sound judgment and restraint of the architecture that optimizes the spatial character of the school through a considered economy of means – never at any point does it assume an engineered and utilitarian ethos, or collapse into the other extreme of callous willful self-expression.
The project receives our recognition as a contribution toward our body of knowledge about and further unlocks the school typology. It is a noteworthy signal to state authorities to further invest in an architecture that celebrates place as an essential and primary instrument of experiential learning.