Fields of green

Thursday 31 Mar 2011

Field Architecture champion community empowerment and rehabilitation of fragile lands

Designed by Stan and Jess Field, father and son team of Field Architecture, the Ubuntu Centre and Karoo Wilderness Centre projects provide a glimpse of how architecture is able to engage critical issues that may prove to define the 21st century.

The Ubuntu Centre, a health and education Centre in an under-served South African township, addresses the alarming HIV/AIDS and poverty crises by creating a highly innovative health and education centre that propagates sustainable community development.

The Ubuntu Centre, which opened to the public in September 2010, engages an urban condition that is prevalent across South Africa, and can be found throughout the developing world. The folded concrete forms read as independent volumes, which lean on one another for support while allowing the township pathways to continue in between. The building sends a powerful message that every child, regardless of race or background, deserves access to world-class health and education. Funded globally and operated locally, Ubuntu Centre reflects a future defined by unprecedented global connection and the resurgence of local, community-based organization.

The Centre brings state-of-the-art services to the most vulnerable by providing centrally located, free and accessible social services; a timely and practical template for sustainability on a societal as well as an environmental level.

Forming an exemplary model of the sustainable development of fragile lands, the Karoo Wilderness Center, a conservation and leadership development facility, re-establishes the connection between the built and natural world as one that is mutually beneficial. Nestled at the base of the Great Northern escarpment in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, the Karoo Wilderness Centre adapts to a landscape defined by the struggle for water.

Learning from the water-storing leaves of the indigenous Aloe ferox plant, the Centre utilizes local labour skills with innovative, sustainable systems of design and engineering to generate its own energy, harvest its own water, process its own waste, and provide thermal comfort using no municipal water or power.

The architecture of the Centre provides a lasting connection to the landscape and fosters an understanding of the interdependence of ecosystem health and human wellbeing.

The simple, cupped forms of the roofs evoke the undulating landscape, defined by water, and communicate the idea of the centre itself: to enable representatives of the academic and business world to directly engage in the resources they depend upon and promote, where conservation and use are demonstrated as equivalent functions through which less is lost and more is gained.

These two forward-looking projects, designed for two drastically different site conditions, represent a singular commitment to a healthy, humane, and sustainable future. The design processes were infused with an infectious optimism, an unwavering sense of responsibility and a conviction that architecture has the ability to be transformative.

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