Legacy in Architecture: Chapter one

Education

The legacy of Apartheid in South Africa is, beyond the economic realities, tangibly visible in the spatially segregated layout of our cities and suburbs and the poor definition of urban environments. Many so-called townships are far from work opportunties and much-needed municipal and local government services. Poverty exacerbates ill-health and with an ever increasing TB and HIV infection rate there is a dire need for access to to adequate health services.

Community Day Centres

The Department of Health (DOE)1 at the Western Cape Government (WCG) has, over a number of decades, implemented a strategy of preventative rather than curative health care through the provision of Community Health Centres (CHCs) and, more lately, Community Day Centres (CDCs). These facilities are mainly located in less privileged areas within a radius of about 5km of the population (Rendall, 2015) and where access to primary care is restricted. The design and construction of these health centres is facilitated by the Department of Transport and Public Works (DTPW)2 at the WCG.

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Hermanus Community Day Centre street façade © Henk Lourens 2015.

Hermanus Community Day Centre

The Hermanus Community Day Centre (CDC) opened to the local community in January 2015. Five year earlier, Gallagher Lourens Architects3 (GLA) were appointed by DTPW to "consolidate three existing, smaller facilities into a more efficient and comprehensive service" (Lourens, 2015). Apart from dealing with the legacy of poor health facilities, the architects were also concerned with alleviating the consequences of Apartheid's spatial legacy. They note that "the perception of our environment rests entirely on spatial clarity and the stimulation of our senses. Architecturally and urbanistically, it is important that we strive to create environments in which people can feel comfortable, protected and welcome to encourage positive interaction with these environments and spaces" (Lourens, 2015). Through this type of approach architecture can make an important contribution to improving and defining urban environments.

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Internal courtyards providing respite and relief © Henk Lourens 2015.

The Design

The CDC provides a range of health care facilities including dentistry, women and children's' unit, consulting and treatment rooms, infectious diseases unit and pharmacy. All of these functions are well located with appropriate degrees of separation and privacy. The architects have, more importantly, paid a great deal of attention to the design of patient waiting spaces. These are appropriately located, visible and well illuminated and ventilated by the raked ceilings and roof lights.

But GLA Architects have not only provided a facility that meets the complex health needs of the outlying and impoverished Hermanus community. They have also made a strong spatial and formal contribution in the monotony of suburban blight. The architects note that "the building is firstly about the user and particularly how it presents and unfolds itself. Approach and clarity of progression, spatially and formally, are extensions of the context. The public space is an extension of the market that announces the building as a public facility. It employs a wide and generous threshold on which to linger with an open and inviting courtyard behind. Only from here does the sequential and functional progression through the building start, often interrupted by more outside lingering spaces" (Lourens, 2015). With most public buildings a delicate balance of access and security is required. In the Hermanus CDC the architects have responded to these concerns by designing the "24-hour security, the undercover threshold and the first courtyard as waiting space before official opening hours, with the wind lobby/helpdesk space and public toilets accessible to waiting patients. The gate between the covered area and the courtyard acts as a security measure during the night" (Lourens, 2015). The building 'gives back' to its environment by providing positive road edge definition, adequate undercover arrival and waiting space while also providing opportunities for a market.

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Reception area and internal waiting spaces filled with natural daylight from rooflights above © Henk Lourens 2015.

Dealing with spatial legacy

As designers of the built environment we need to remain cognisant of all of the responsibilities we have. We need to delicately balance concerns around security, the definition of the urban environment and the provision of healthy and uplifting spaces. The buildings we design, and the spaces we make, have to work optimally but the relationship of building to its immediate urban environment is equally as important. The physical location of municipal and local government facilities is crucial and it is heartening to hear that DOE at the WCG is working with Cape Town city planners to locate CDCs closer to civic nodes (Rendall, 2015). A well considered urban approach, as witnessed in the Hermanus CDC, will go a long way in solving the spatial legacy of Apartheid planning in South Africa. 

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Hermanus CDC: section through main waiting space, ground floor and site plan and east elevation © Henk Lourens 2015.

Notes:

  1. 1. Dr. Laura Angeletti du Toit , Chief Director
  2. 2. Ms. Ulrike Kuschke, Chief Architect
  3. 3. Gallagher Lourens Architects: Henk Lourens, Lead Architect, Tina Gallagher, Architect, Rikus Mundey and Tommy van Deventer, Candidate Architects for design and documentation.

 

Sources:              

  1. 1.Lourens, H. 2015. Personal communication with director at Gallagher Lourens Architects.
  2. 2. Rendall, D. 2015. Personal communication with the Chief Architect: Infrastructure Planning and (Acting Director) Infrastructure and Technical Management, Chief Directorate, Department of Health, Western Cape Government
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