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Efata Community Centre for the deaf

Part 2 Project 2002
Pieter Venter
Belinda Gleeson
University of the Free State Bloemfontein South Africa
This student was unable to submit slides in time. His project will be viewed by powerpoint presentation.

My thesis project had its first sign of conception during the middle of my pre-thesis year when I was given the opportunity to be part of a varied and intensely interesting social community. There language was strange to me and I had to make use of a interpreter to understand their frantic attempts to show me their dreams for the bare claye wasteland I saw stretched out in front of me.

Making a home for the deaf community of Efata situated in Pothefstroom was by no means an easy project, interesting, exciting and extremely rewarding, yes but not easy.
The brief was simple, two types of housing, one community centre doubling as a sport facility, a workshop for sewing, a steel workshop and a church, all this had to be combined with the existing agricultural activities on the site and no existing buildings was to be removed.

The existing site was huge and problems with orientation and scale were the first challenges to be faced. The deaf community’s sense of their environment is greatly influenced by the way the interact with the structures in their environment. The primary sense that is used to relate to their context is sight, due to this they tend to neglect other senses much like hearing people today. A decision was made to involve the community in the construction process so that the community could feel themselves part of the change in their environment firstly and secondly to obtain the very elusive quality so wonderfully illustrated in the book “The eyes of the skin” by J. Pallasmaa called bodily memory. The use of earth construction building blocks was directly due to the above mentioned reason and not a half-baked effort to masquerade this project as being green. The involvement of the community in not only the planning and construction phase but also the run of the settlement was crucial to the quality of their lives.

Conceptualizing each structure and designing it right through to the last joint became a necessity.
Due to the confinement set on the use of space, I limit my journey to the church building which is my personal favorite and also the most tiresome birth.

The layout of the settlement was conceived through a set of interrelating spaces celebrating a climax, consistent with voortrekker routes, in the church square. The position of the square was never a decision I had to make, due to the overwhelming presence of a giant “Wag ‘n Bietjie” tree on the site. This tree already manifested itself as the main point of assembly long before the community asked me to help. The church building was going to be the abstraction, the essence of this point of orientation in the barren landscape. Hierarchy was realized through the bell tower incorporating a pendulum “visual bell”. The sense of partial enclosure was mimicked through a “fan” truss system that could be erected without the use of motorized cranes or heavy equipment. The sense of natural light was achieved by a system of detailing utilizing methods ranging from window placement to the use of wine bottles to bring in colours of cool green light. The refreshing coolness of the shade was symbolically incorporated into a drinking fountain combining a detailed cross out of glass bottles and brickwork. Scattered column placement ala’ Aalto completed the sense of haphazard order if you’ll excuse the paradox.

Reward for the project came in the form of a merit prize from Corobrick for the creative use of material, but mostly in the form hearty handshakes and hugs by complete strangers pointing and showing with great enthusiasm their significant contributions during the opening of exhibition for the community held at the end of last year.

The project is currently in the process of funding.

Pieter Venter
Belinda Gleeson

The project of Pieter is very relevant to the South African Context on many levels. The buildings for a deaf comminity illustrates his skills as a designer very well. He uses existing buildings on a vast site (many of these buildings very ugly) and upgrade them for new uses. This kind of upgrading and re-use of very utilitarian buildings is very important in a country where so little exist in some of these poor communities. He uses a tree where people already gathers and turn that into the focus of the project, showing respect for social traditions.

His use of earth as a building material is also an important contribution that is made. He uses a traditional material and traditional skills and upgrade them to create something unique to that place and our ocuntry – it is local, but contemporary. Everyday waste products like glass bottles are used to bring light into buildings. Again learning from tradition, but transforming it into something new. Through these building techniques, the community also become self sufficient, making blocks for the surrounding area.
He makes use of very simple place making mechanisms to create a very special place that people can orientate in. Attention is given to the experience of the senses which is appropriate when working with people deprived of one of their senses.

In his endevour to find a way to communicate with the community, he found a way of using drawings, like those used to build model aeroplanes etc. to solve the problem.

This is a very realistic problem, with a very realistic approach and solution.

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