The Nokuthula Centre and Special School is a school for learners with special educational needs rendering services to learners with severe intellectual disabilities. The school caters for learners ranging from ages 3 to 18 years and represent the total spectrum of the South African community.
After three classrooms were destroyed in 2012 when nearly 200 shacks burnt down inside an abandoned ice-cream factory in Marlboro, Johannesburg, the school was rebuilt in nearby Lyndhurst. Constructed by Basil Read and designed by infrastructure solutions firm, TKDS, the new school caters for 560 pupils in a safe, secure setting, with face brick the material of choice.
The brief was to design a school for learners with special needs and which had to have boarding facilities for 80 learners. Furthermore, the school had to have suitable sporting facilities that would cater for learners with special needs. Fundamentally, the school was built to teach learners with such difficulties/barriers, essential skills for them to be independent and participate socially, economically and otherwise in society.
Construction on the 10 301sqm school began in February 2015 and was completed in October 2017. “The whole project was special as there was going to be a new prototype for these type of schools in the Gauteng Province,” notes Mr Khulani Silwanyana, Company Director at TKDS. “A significant amount of work went into research on this project – including local and international facilities of this nature – and every element had to be thought through carefully. It was important to transition the stigma around facilities for people with disabilities from negative to positive through this project.”
Circulation between buildings was designed to be safe, which meant that each building had to have its own functional identity in order to create a sense of place for each building. In doing so, the architects created landmarks within the school, for instance, the entrance into the administration block is the most identifiable feature when you get to the school. This entrance is also the main access to the school’s main activity areas such as the classrooms, vocational centre and therapy centre. It’s a prominent structure that gives the school identity. “We also created landmarks with other buildings such as the Therapy Centre and the School Hall. This was important because these buildings are most visible from the main street into the school. Security and observation was a major obstacle as the design had to ensure that each learner is contained into a space so that a teacher or supervisor can easily observe them,” says Silwanyana.
As this was a public institution, the project had to provide low maintenance solutions. The design of the buildings was such that each space uses natural light and ventilation, while deep overhangs to all walkways help keep the harsh afternoon heat from the classroom spaces. As part of the project’s green initiatives, the school makes use of solar geysers and borehole facilities, as well as having its own solar farm on site. “The maintenance free aspect of face brick made it an ideal material for this school,” says Musa Shangase, National Commercial Executive at Corobrik.(Commercial Director)
“The application of materials was extremely important as it had to cater for children with special needs. Sensory awareness, visual contrast, texture cost and maintenance were the main parameters.
The face brick ticked all the boxes and from its low maintenance properties,” explains Silwanyana. “As 90% of the external wall façade is face brick, it is the most identifiable finish when you arrive at the school. In order to balance the face brick, we introduced other unique elements such as the aluminium structure at the administration main entrance, concrete aprons and stone cladding. We also used colour play with the face brick by using two different types of face bricks on each façade.” 560 000 Topaz Satin and 460 000 Roan Satin bricks were used in the project.
The project had major challenges at its early stages as the chosen site has a significant slope. In order to achieve the required levels on site to accommodate wheelchairs and the like, there had to be significant cut and fills. To achieve this and moderate construction costs was extremely challenging between the architects and the engineers.
Silwanyana believes that the fundamental and functional goals for the project have been achieved. “The facility is attractive, functional and stimulating with safe, secure and environmentally friendly accommodation. The specification of finishes and accessories are durable and appropriate to the learner’s needs; and health and safety issues have been given due consideration. Apart from construction induced challenges, the project was a success,” he notes.