Heideveld Primary School

Meyer & Associates Architects & Urban Designers

Heideveld Primary School contributes a much needed civic quality to an otherwise undistinguished suburban neighbourhood and showcases a new prototype for future public school architecture.

The building, designed by Tiaan Meyer and Associates, is coherently planned around a series of courtyards – both open and closed – carefully scaled in proportion to the number of children using these spaces and appropriate to the children’s respective ages. The primary organising space is an outdoor yard for whole-school assemblies and for outdoor play. This in turn is complemented by a series of smaller courtyards, for children in the foundation, intermediate and senior phases.

The compact planning of the school was a clever response to the exigencies of a construction process which required that the existing school on the site could continue to operate undisturbed while the new school was being built.

The pedestrian entrance is appropriately located on the residential side of the site and the sports fields are located on the noisy busy street. Although the front door was turned towards the quiet residential area, the design creates a public face on busy Duinefontein road, with sunscreens, perforated screen walls and bright yellow water towers acting as landmarks within the featureless landscape of the Cape Flats.

The locating of the media centre, hall and computer classrooms near the entrance has meant that the school can provide a service to the surrounding community by allowing for public after- hours use. These should encourage the community to see the building as a valuable asset and therefore discourage theft and vandalism. The remainder of the school complex, located beyond these more public programmes, then functions as a lockable, secure, child-only zone.

The plan is arranged into a series of interconnected open air and covered courtyards. Most of the classrooms have a north orientation. The covered courtyards relate to each separated age group (foundation, intermediate and senior) and all spaces are able to be accessed from covered weather resistant passages protected from the wind and rain. The shared open large courtyard is used for outdoor play and assembly for the whole school. The internal courtyards are animated by brightly coloured circulation.

The materials used are robust and low maintenance (as specifically requested by the client) suitable to use by a large number of children. The hardness of the materials is offset by the use of brightly coloured wall and sun screen elements and sound is absorbed in the covered internal courts by the use of vertical baffles.

Way-finding is clear and legible in the hierarchy of admin offices, circulations systems, shared covered spaces and classrooms. There is a rich articulation of interior space within the classrooms to maximise entry of light. Light channeled in from above to ensure that the available wall space can be used for projection screens, white-boards, posters and pictures.

The architects have successfully diversified the spartan palette that ordinarily dominates public school architecture through the use of brise-soleils, walls with vertical fins and walls with projecting window elements. This has helped to mitigate some of the more institutional characteristics of standard school architecture.

The panel of judges had reservations about two issues: the use of hard and unfriendly materials which could have been mitigated with landscaping and some softer surfacing; and the scale of the hall which might seem overwhelming for small children