Two rural South African schools that could transform the way in which future educational facilities are designed in this country have taken top honours at the AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture.

They are Lebone II College in Phokeng, North West, designed by Activate Architects and Afritects, and Vele Secondary School in Limpopo, designed by East Coast Architects.

Commendations went to a third school, Elkanah House high school campus on the Cape West Coast designed by Nic Border Architects and as well as to Richard Dobson Architects for a cardboard recycling project in eThekwini, KZN.

Lebone II College was conceived as a new education model with accommodation, farming and alternative teaching methods. The development was designed to position the most demanding aspects of the campus, being the large sports fields and large civic buildings, in a disused sand quarry on the site and to comprehensively rehabilitate the entire quarry site and its immediate surroundings. The re-instated storm water course forms a wetland feature and water management system on the campus.

Reon van der Wiel from Activate Architects believes that schools should focus on sustainability: “Sustainability and education are joined at the hip as they are both concerned with the future and future generations. For teaching to have lasting value it needs to embody sustainability. People learn best in environments that provide a sense of belonging and emotional security.”

Vele Secondary School has been transformed from a typical dilapidated rural learning facility to a pioneering South African community resource which firmly embeds learning and teaching to both its natural/environmental and cultural heritage. Before the design for Vele began future pupils were given cameras and taught to map the area, including their routes to school. They identified hazards —including leopards, baboons and snakes — as well as special sites in the landscape. Their photos inspired the school’s design and the selection of its building materials.

Derek van Heerden, one of the architects on the project, believes schools should be the environment where we get glimpses of the future, both in the formal infrastructure and buildings and in the learners themselves. “It is fitting that schools display the new realities in the time in which we are living. Learners are literally going to have to pull this one ‘out of the fire’ because this is the generation that will have to repair our mistakes.”

Van Heerden said they had sought and received feedback from learners, teachers and community from the outset: “This has had a massive impact on the eventual outcome with the whole community embracing the school.”

Elkanah House High School is a sensitively articulated configuration of teaching and administrative spaces and buildings which also regularly double up as a community facility.

Starting in 2009, the Enhancing Livelihoods in Cardboard Recycling project has benefited cardboard recyclers with trolleys, overalls and safety gloves as well as access to collection-points.

The prestigious AfriSam-SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture was first introduced in 2009 to recognise and promote projects in the South African architectural arena that have effectively shifted paradigms with place making buildings that are ecologically sustainable and which also uplift the community. The awards reflects AfriSam and SAIA’s commitment to promoting architecture that meets the social, cultural, economic and environmental needs of the people it serves.

Says AfriSam’s CEO Stephan Olivier says:  “We are proud of our partnership with the South African Institute of Architects in this initiative and recognise the fundamental role that architects play in sustainable design.  As a responsible manufacturer, AfriSam has long recognised the need for a drive towards sustainable development.  We encourage architects and their clients to look at architecture with new eyes, putting human and environmental needs and considerations back into design and construction”.

SAIA’s Fanuel Motsepe adds: “This award is making a difference sensitising the profession to sustainable architecture. A lasting legacy goes beyond speaking to the professionals. It must also speak to the general public and not only be for the architects but for society and raise greater awareness about the built environment and sustainability.”

The adjudication panel was chaired by SAIA’s President Fanuel Motsepe and comprised academic Daniel Irurah; practicing architects Rodney Choromanski and Eric Noir; businesswoman and National President of South African Women in Construction (SAWIC) Dr Thandi Ndlovu and AfriSam’s Mike McDonald and Vincent Blackbeard.

Clips from all projects can be seen on

Awarded Projects

Lebone II College in Phokeng, North West

Activate Architects, Afritects

In Phokeng, North West, Activate Architects and Afritects won a competition hosted by Kgosi Lebone II of the Royal Bafokeng Nation to create a college for 800 students that would serve as a new education model with accommodation, farming and alternative teaching methods. The transparent structure aimed to “de-institutionalise” learning to form a set of “village clusters” with central outdoor courtyards and light filtered as if through trees. The college was built in a disused sand quarry and rehabilitated a watercourse to create wetlands hosting indigenous vegetation. Local artists were trained to create detailed mosaic art on the site that portrays the relationship between the Bafokeng Nation and the land. Solar geysers, storm water harvesting, a black water treatment plant, waste recycling and a feeding scheme from vegetable gardens are all part of the project.

Vele Secondary School in Limpopo

East Coast Architects

Schools play a critical role in the life of communities especially those situated in remote areas. Part of the Creating Schools initiative, the project based its development on input from the local community. Future pupils were given cameras and taught to map the area, including their routes to school. The school installed a digital weather station to create effective solar design and rainwater harvesting strategies. Science labs and IT centres were added and pupils were trained to serve as guides in nearby game reserves. The use of local resources – mainly stone and masonry construction – reduces the carbon footprint and invests in local economies.


Elkanah House high school campus, Cape

Nic Border Architects

The buildings had to satisfy the ethos of Elkanah by providing a warm, welcoming, creative, nurturing environment, while responding to the unique characteristics of the West Coast in terms of climate, aesthetics and social conditions. The facility had to enhance and conform to existing site conditions with a West Coast vernacular and had to be adaptable, economical, innovative and environmentally responsible. The facility’s aim was to revitalise the school pupils and greater community with new recreational, wellness, youth, art, IT, theatre and sporting facilities. Primarily a school building, the facility had to play a part role of town hall, community centre, theatre, youth centre and place of worship so buildings are multi-functional. The theatre becomes town hall, lecture facility, community centre, youth centre and place of worship.

Enhancing Livelihoods in Cardboard Recycling Project 3

Richard Dobson Architects

This is part of a broader long-term plan adopted by the eThekwini Municipality for the City of Durban to inspire citizens and other city stakeholders to work together on agreed action areas to build a caring and liveable city. It aims to improve the livelihoods of informal cardboard recyclers and the management of the cardboard collection process within the public realm.