The Urban Design Framework for Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) has won a prestigious international architectural award.
The framework which is already being implemented with the completion of several new buildings, received the prestigious International Architectural Award 2013 arranged by the Chicago Athenaeum and the European Centre for Architecture, Art, Design and Urban Studies for a team of top South African architects. The entry was the only one selected for an award from Africa.
The umbrella association of DLMM (Dave Dewar, Piet Louw, Tiaan Meyer and Mokena Makeka) worked closely with NMMU’s executive management over many months to conceive a framework that would “broadly organise a university but also incorporated flexibility”.
“It was a team effort that looked at all of NMMU’s campuses, bar Bird Street, which offered a philosophical approach to university planning and design,” said a delighted Piet Louw from Cape Town, on behalf of the team.
To date, an iconic Engineering building and new human movement sciences centre have been completed, while the new R116m Business School at Second Avenue and a new 278-bed residence on South Campus are nearing finalisation.
The NMMU entry was one of over 60 projects received from 20 nations in what has become the most significant and comprehensive distinguished international awards programme in the world.
“We believe the delivery of infrastructure according to the design philosophy outlined in University’s Urban Design Framework will set NMMU apart in terms of space utilisation perspective. We are proud to be associated with achievements of DLMM,” says NMMU Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Institutional Support Dr Sibongile Muthwa
The Urban Design Framework, which is colloquially referred to as the university’s infrastructure master plan, makes provision for a strategically-located great hall, new university forecourt entry spaces, a focus on pedestrian walkways and the need to put nature first. NMMU is the only university in South Africa that is situated within a private nature reserve.
The framework forms part of Vision 2020, the university’s overriding strategic guide for the institution it wishes to be.
It forms part of the university’s efforts to provide an overall spatial plan, as opposed to a reactive approach which had caused the university to be “sprawling, fragmented and inefficient” in terms of design.
The plan, which includes all campuses, is presently focused on North and South campuses as the focal home of NMMU and takes its cue from the university’s academic direction – that of a medium-sized, comprehensive university offering a full range of activities. The consultants acknowledged that the plan must be flexible because of obvious uncertainties, particularly around funding.
The new consolidated and integrated North and South Campus, however, will include the following:
- A focal great hall for graduation and other major events (close to the present South Campus tower block)
- University Way will include a pedestrian and cycling boulevard starting at the present Gomery Avenue turn-off
- Forecourt entry spaces
- New academic facilities of three or four-storeys high flanking both sides of University Way. The iconic Engineering block is one such building.
- New roads skirting the perimeter of the merged campus to allow for better traffic flow.
- Improved public and common open spaces
- New student villages; and private housing for staff and students
- Clustering of departments
The consultants found that despite NMMU’s present lack of a social and spatial heart, it has many positives. It is part of a nature reserve, is close to the sea, has much undeveloped land and offers some good structures built in the modernist tradition.
They further believe it important for NMMU “to assume a leadership role” in its sustainability strategies by maximizing resource efficiency and finding ecologically responsibly productive solutions for recycling and reuse. Putting nature first is recognised as a key design principle which means a “greener” NMMU and the opportunity to position the university as a role model among institutions of higher learning.