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Siyakha Centre, Building Development

Part 2 Project 2009
Lynsey Clark
Newcastle University Newcastle upon Tyne UK
This thesis was in response to a year long linked research study which involved spending two months working in a school in KaNyamazane whilst documenting the transformations people are making to the government provided housing there. Extensions to the existing housing stock provide a vital source of accommodation to the large number of households on subsidy housing waiting lists. Despite this services, funding and training has not been provided to support the homeowners and building industry in this area and most people rely on the skills and materials produced in the nearest city Nelspruit (20km away) to build their extensions.

The proposed centre is intended to support homeowners and develop the building industry in the area. The centre includes; advice centre, construction training, business start-up units, research and development of appropriate technologies, horticulture department, materials production and public landscaped space.

The thesis explores the concept of designing for adaptability and development, questioning how a building in a community such as this can evolve and develop with the communities requirements allowing the centre to remain relevant. Plans shown are a suggestion of how one phase in the development could be. The design allows for expansion and contraction using a central service area containing water collection and bio-fuel production which is distributed to other areas via spine walls which can be switched on or off as necessary. Demountability and reuse have been considered throughout with significant emphasis placed on sourcing materials and components which are locally available combined with technologies which are transferable to future projects in the area. Jointing details and construction methods which minimise waste have been explored maximising the lifespan of materials and components used.

The project has also concentrated on making the most of the site and locally available resources responding to climatic needs and considering all aspects which may affect the long term viability of the building. To ensure maximum available funds can be allocated to staffing and training in the centre, the design has considered and minimised running costs including a detailed water strategy and using waste from the surrounding farms in bio-fuel production.

Lynsey Clark

The Siyakha Centre is a project with a very strong social agenda. In a township in the north east of South Africa, Lynsey set out to explore the realities and shortcomings of public housing in the post-apartheid republic. In particular, the project explores the fundamental question of people's ability to affect, influence and shape their own shelter - by new building or by adapting the housing they have been allocated. To this aim, a centre is proposed that would educate and develop local skills in construction and building assembly, and act as a focal point for knowledge exchange.

To be successful, such a project requires a sophisticated and careful reading of the complex social, economic and physical conditions and Lynsey managed this with great competence. At Newcastle, students can choose to do a 'linked research' module where they work with an experienced academic, assisting and extending their research. Lynsey's project grew out of this module and the extensive time she spent in South Africa researching, developing her brief, and working closely with local people in the best community architecture tradition.

However, the project was not only concerned with social issues, it also set out to explore building technology at two levels: firstly to find an accessible sustainable technology - using components and natural materials readily available in the area in an appropriate low energy design; and secondly to explore the process of making buildings - to develop a design that could be constructed by local people with newly acquired building skills and limited access to tools. The centre is conceived as a vehicle for construction education: both the assembly of the building and the completed buildings are to be used as a teaching resource

There is a risk that such a focus on social and technical issues could result in a prosaic building where there is no room for architecture. Lynsey has gone beyond this and created a fine poetic building and collection of public spaces, true and appropriate to the place. This is the aspiration of all good architecture and hence this nomination.

Mr Peter Walker
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