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Walters & Cohen Architects complete school in South Africa

"How refreshing it was to collaborate with a school with such vision, rigorous decision-making and a willingness to explore," said the firm

Posted by Julian Owen | June 26, 2019 | Bricks & mortar

Work has been completed on Walters & Cohen Architects’ new ESTEAM Centre at Somerset College, South Africa. The college is a coeducational independent school, located in beautiful surrounds in the Winelands of the Western Cape.

Somerset College commissioned the London-based practice to undertake a masterplan and develop their concept for a cross-curricular learning space. Their work identified the best location for a new ESTEAM Centre, comprising entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering, art and maths. 

A double-height prototyping/testing space runs the length of the building, encouraging pupils to test their ideas and think big. Off this main space are rooms for coding and robotics, a makerspace, innovation and solution spaces, a reflection space, a physics lab, art rooms and offices. Glazed doors allow in light, offering greater flexibility of use, a sense of openness, views towards the mountains, and means that pupils can see and be inspired by each other’s ideas.

Native vines trail up the tension cables on the terrace to help ground it in nature and provide shading, while the white walls and dark gable roofs are intended to be a contemporary response to the Cape Dutch aesthetic. 

"Its robust materiality and pared-back design respond well to the climate," said the designers, "and create an honest building; one that will be used creatively and boldly."

"The ESTEAM approach and innovation centre is about creativity, connection, design thinking, diversity and more,” said the college’s Clare Searle. "In short, it is a futuristic innovation space in all that this entails. As a concept and as a building it will achieve much in terms of delivering on key values and competencies essential in order to thrive in a world of exponential change and uncertainty, but also seemingly limitless opportunity.

"ESTEAM is a model for transformative learning and diverse thinking, and the ESTEAM Centre offers the physical and metaphorical space to release these possibilities."

Michal Cohen, director of Walters & Cohen Architects, said: "How refreshing it was to collaborate with a school and governors with such vision, rigorous decision-making and a willingness to explore innovative ideas: their approach really moulded the design of the building. 

"The project came out of the campus masterplan, and was designed to make new links across the site. We wanted to create a building that was beautiful but not precious. One that was designed from the inside-out and the outside-in, offering openness and transparency, responding to the climate and using robust materials that give it an honesty and integrity."

"We enjoyed working with executive architects local to the school, who brought our design to life," she added. "Not a traditional school building, the ESTEAM Centre really challenged the design team. But with a can-do attitude, we embodied the positive approach to possibilities that we want to instil in all who teach and learn in the building. I can’t wait to see how it will be used in ways we hadn’t even imagined."

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