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Wednesday30 July 2014

tectonics

Nottingham students put this South African community on a learning curve

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Nottingham University students designed a timber-framed building for a South African nursery school and then built it in seven weeks

At the heart of Noah’s Ark Nursery School in Jouberton, approximately 160km south west of Johannesburg, is a timber-framed structure. This school was designed — and later built in seven weeks this spring — by second year architecture students at Nottingham University’s School of the Built Environment.

Not content with just designing and building the nursery, the students are also raising £25,000 towards the £54,000 cost for the materials. The 180 second year students began working on designs for the school last autumn and, via a competition, a shortlist of three schemes was reached by Christmas. At this point, seven fifth year students were introduced to optimise the designs, leading specific work packages.

One project was selected for construction and a detailed optimisation of the design was undertaken by 35 students, including the trial erection of timber trusses in Nottingham. Tim Heath head of the School of the Built Environment, conceived this project with charity Education Africa, and it was led by second-year architectural tutors Adrian Friend and Rashid Ali.

A North West Province-based gold mining company AngloGold Ashanti donated the land for the nursery school and it also provided accommodation, logistics and consultants.

The chosen design has a fluid plan form wrapping around to create a courtyard. The section rises and falls to create a dynamic undulating form, seeking to make an inviting and stimulating place of learning for young children. The roof section has been designed to provide shade and ventilation above the classrooms. One of the second-year students in the winning team, Matthew Powell, says: “It’s an adventurous design and we are looking forward to making a difference.”

The nursery school serves 80 children and comprises four classrooms, a kitchen and ancillary accommodation. The school’s design was finalised in South Africa after consultation with the schoolteachers who would be working there. The repetitive timber-framed bay system of construction facilitated these changes without any major changes to the structure.

The success of this and other live projects at Nottingham has lead to the establishment of a projects office. This will help serve the community within which we work, be it local or international, and provide design and construction experience. This is of particular importance in the current economic climate when students may not be able to work in practice and fully participate in a year out. A network of projects offices is being established in conjunction with Portsmouth, London Metropolitan and Sheffield Universities, to share experience and best practice.

Building with Timber

Timber is a statistically variable material – the strength of each timber section is not identical and this governs the detailing of timber structures. Timber joists in the wooden floor, are at 300mm centres so that each joist can share the load with its neighbour. The stress grading of timber —introduced after the second world war — greatly advanced the structural use of timber in contemporary construction.

The trusses were designed in Nottingham using British metric section sizes — 50 x 200mm — that turned out not to be available in South Africa. They were therefore rounded up to a 50 x 228mm, and are arguably over-engineered for their final role.

It should be noted that the school has been designed to withstand hurricane loadings and building it nearly exhausted the local supply of hurricane clips. A detailed cutting plan was developed that significantly reduced waste. This ensured an economy of the use of materials that was essential – the students understood where every penny came from and where every penny was spent.

 


Cross section through typical bay
Cross section through typical bay

Typical bay axonometric

Typical bay axonometric


A jig was made to ensure that each truss was accurately made. Some 520 timber sections formed the 26 trusses and a system of labelling was developed – akin to the markings of a medieval carpenter. One student took on the role of inspecting each truss to make certain that it was complete and bolted down satisfactorily.

Fifth year student Matthew Wingrove who led the timber package says: “Once the trusses had been raised, the bay system of construction allowed various tasks to progress in a linear way along the building, which allowed the large work force to be used effectively.”

The trusses were constructed from rough sawn South African pine and were sanded on site by the large student work force to save money. The detailing was designed to relate to the skills of the students. However the students expressed their concern about the quality of the pine and many sections had to be returned because they were warped. Currently, demand for pine in South Africa is outstripping supply.

The area of North West Province has a high termite population, so to protect the timber structure from attack, tte ground below the slab was prepared with an anti-termite treatment, the base detail of the trusses is a pair of steel angles, raising the timber 150mm from the slab, and creosote was applied to the end grain of the timber trusses.

Other Structural elements

Walls

The lightweight outer walls are clad in Onduline, known as Coroline in the UK. This is a sinusoidal corrugated sheet made from bitumen impregnated organic fibres. Saint-Gobain Isover donated all of the mineral wool used to insulate the school. Thermal mass was introduced to moderate the internal classroom temperature via a concrete slab and walls of earth filled bags. The concrete slab was power floated by a local contractor and before the final levelling, red and yellow oxides were added to colour the school’s floor. Internal partitions are primarily of timber studwork clad in oriented strand board. The walls of the toilet block were built from brick.

Box frame windows in a wall of earth-filled bags.

Box frame windows in a wall of earth-filled bags.

Window frames

The window box frames were intended to be temporary, how-ever the team quickly realised that these frames offered a number of advantages: fixings for off-the-shelf windows; formwork for the concrete lintels; and a stop detail for the coloured render finish of the earth bag walls. This detail was developed into a shading system as it was noted on site that after 1pm the sun would penetrate into the school despite the roof overhang. Three types of window boxes were developed depending on the location and orientation of the windows.

Roof

The roof is clad in profiled galvanised steel sheet. This could have been overlapped to create the fan-like roof, however this was rejected and a bespoke metal gutter was formed between each roof bay to articulate the presence of the roof trusses. This is a rare example of a more elaborate detail being opted as the articulation of roof trusses was considered important.

The roof is galvanised steel.

The roof is galvanised steel.

Clerestory timber windows provide a good level of natural light for the classrooms but are protected from solar gain by the fan shaped roof.

 


Metal gutter between bays.
Metal gutter between bays.

Project team

Architect and main contractor School of Built Environment, University of Nottingham, Engineer Arup, Concrete subcontractor OMV Crushers, Insulation Saint-Gobain Isover

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Readers' comments (13)

  • Absolutely Brilliant Initiative! Reminiscent of Rural Studio projects in it's approach. Only question; Why aren't South-African Archi-Schools doing this on their own doorstep??

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  • The rather patronising title to this article alluding to the fact that South African communities would not be capable of providing the design, skills base and implementation were it not for UK archi students is disappointing on the part of the BD. It is a case in point however, that inventiveness and exploration must be expressed in foreign countries where need surpasses bureaucracy, as the draconian and contradictive UK planning authorities would no doubt hold up this kind of project for months, most probably granting permission long after the students graduation!

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  • Brilliant. I gave up giving work experience (Year Out) to post graduate students because they knew damn all about detailing construction. I will look favourably on applicants from Nottingham. Message to all the rest - make your students employable!!

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  • I agree with SImon, im a postgraduate student at a university in the north, all the tutors seem bothered about is the 'poetics' of space, so much so that they fail to teach us about construction details. When it comes to detailing a building they expect us to just look in journals and some how learn that way. The only thing theyre teaching us is to have our heads in the clouds, its an absolute joke, the education system needs restructuring

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  • well simon, some people invest in the obvious, some invest in instinct and potential. Arguably talent is harder to find then experience.

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  • I agree with Heidi. Maybe the title should have been South African Community puts Nottingham Students on a Learning Curve, since they have given the students the opportunity to experiment and be "adventurous" on their doorstep thereby enhancing their technical skills.

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  • Thanks for your kind comments. I was one of the 5th year students who worked on this project and managed the budget. It was a once in a lifetime experience and has helped my architecture education greatly, especially in construction. I think its something every architecture student should have the chance to do in some way or another. Thank you Nottingham!

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  • Simon I think your comments are extremely harsh even more so with the current climate for which post graduates have to try and find work and establish themselves in. So your not employing Part 1 graduates because they dont have the necessary detailing skills etc that you require? but if you listen to comments such as 'Paul from Yorkshire', it is of no fault of there own if they are not to the required level you are wanting they are merely following the practice that is put in front of them from their Universities and RIBA board. And the naïvety of your comments towards all post graduates for which i am of this level, I have left the country because of practices like you so I can find the work 'EXPERIENCE' needed for me to grow as an architect and am now working in Beijing on projects I would never work on the UK which probably surpass your practices work at every level and now after 6 months have vast knowledge on 'DETAILING' funny that really isn't it!

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  • Fantastic ! finally schools with tools ! designing and making, not just attractive pavilions but usable buildings for those who can use them. Perhaps the profession can learn a thing or two by the hands on approach, commendable not just for the final product but the way they got there. We need more of this in the UK ? A poorly worded headline though...

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  • great project for student architects - but not much about the internal AND external nursery experience for the children.

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