Green School South Africa brings boulder-like clusters into organic coalescence

Designed as a series of interlinked building clusters inspired by tectonic boulder faces in the region, this school by GASS Architecture Studios hails local, sustainable construction.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : May 05, 2022

It is particularly interesting and exciting to observe the plethora of new architecture emerging from the African subcontinent, both in its urban and fringe settlements. Of late, each one of the featured projects from African nations seem to be guided by an overwhelming sense of representation - of African architecture as a succinct, sensitively placed entity amid a rooted albeit rapidly transforming land. While African architecture, quite unlike the varied but definitive architecture of nations, may be too big of an umbrella term to ascribe to even an encyclopaedia full of buildings and motifs, it is heartening to see that the overwhelming sense - a need rather - to express and partake in a search for a common architectural identity, is borne by individual buildings irrespective of scale or typology.

  • The organic architecture of Green School nestled in the milieu of Drakenstein Mountains and Simons Berg | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The organic architecture of Green School nestled in the milieu of Drakenstein Mountains and Simons Berg Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The individual structures simultaneously blend in and stand out in the natural terrain of Paarl Valley imparting an informal setting | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The individual structures simultaneously blend in and stand out in the natural terrain of Paarl Valley imparting an informal setting Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The different clusters of the campus become a complimenting whole when addressed alongside its landscape | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The different clusters of the campus become a complimenting whole when addressed alongside its landscape Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY

The development of that notion follows quite a similar trajectory with Indian architecture and other SAARC nations, united by a tryst for identity through architecture in their relatively young post-colonial ages. However, interestingly and in slight contrast to these, while architecture in these regions, even in Nordic countries, seems to emerge as a response to the landscape in which it is embedded, here, it seems to be born of it, moulded by it as an extension of itself. Deeply entrenched in culture, community, and nature, the architecture of Africa, of which Francis Kéré, the 2022 Pritzker Prize Laureate emerged as a beacon of, is marking a paradigm shift in what buildings, particularly institutional and educational community-oriented buildings mean for a nation and its people.

  • The pebbles retrieved from the site are used to construct gabion walls, thereby linking architecture to its local surroundings | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The pebbles retrieved from the site are used to construct gabion walls, thereby linking architecture to its local surroundings Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • Leaf-like roof structures adore vein canopy to create a dynamic play of shadows on the ground | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    Leaf-like roof structures adore vein canopy to create a dynamic play of shadows on the ground Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The landscape becomes a part of the context through the use of retrieved materials in planning the exterior spaces | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The landscape becomes a part of the context through the use of retrieved materials in planning the exterior spaces Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The use of natural materials camouflages the architecture into the site | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The use of natural materials camouflages the architecture into the site Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY

 Designed by GASS Architecture Studios, the Green School South Africa, a sustainable schooling campus in South Africa's Western Cape, is not only representative of the principles discussed above, but also continually reassesses them on different scales. On a masterplan level, the vast eight-hectare patch of land finds its footing in the low lying Paarl Valley, buttressed by the Paarl Berg to the north, Drakenstein Mountains to the east and south, and Simons Berg towards the south west. On the scale of its site plan, the campus, through its structures, encourages an unmistakable sense of community and connection through its village-like clusters of individual buildings. At a unitary level, each of the structures fuse a sense of making from the earth with sustainable design principles and a definitive yet raw materiality, complemented by climatological and ecological measures. Internally, the spaces embody a warm ethos through the infusion of crafts and local craftsmanship. “The reoccurrence of multiples at incremental scales is an idea that defines the behaviour of most natural systems,” propound the design team at GASS Architecture Studios, on the organic, quasi-fractalism they employ throughout the project’s planning.

  • The landscape features made out of rammed earth appear to have emerged from within the site due to its colour, texture and form| Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The landscape features made out of rammed earth appear to have emerged from within the site due to its colour, texture and form Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The organic shapes crafted in rammed earth and imperfect cut-outs in the landscape elements create a familiar sense of vernacular materiality | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The organic shapes crafted in rammed earth and imperfect cut-outs in the landscape elements create a familiar sense of vernacular materiality Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY

The spatial program of the Green School comprises 16 classroom facilities for children ranging from kindergarten to the eighth grade, the Sangkep - a Balinese term for multipurpose spaces, an Administrative building, and the Heart of the School. A walk around the school through different clusters of buildings is dotted with orchards, vegetable gardens, walkways, landscaped terraces, and sociable spill-out spaces, along with a series of organically shaped ‘werf’ walls that “create a coherent whole”, forming a world of passageways and spaces for students to discover. A similar dichotomous nature with respect to walls and their form and porosity allowing for interaction as opposed to enclosures was also observed in the stunning Jadgal Elementary School in Iran.

  • The individual clusters of buildings are weaved together by landscaping and a series of organic shaped ‘werf’ walls to create a coherent whole | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The individual clusters of buildings are weaved together by landscaping and a series of organic shaped ‘werf’ walls to create a coherent whole Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The materiality and curved forms of the elements come together to form a unique conversation of architecture and landscape | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The materiality and curved forms of the elements come together to form a unique conversation of architecture and landscape Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The clerestory windows reaches out to bring in filtered natural light and ventilation | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The clerestory windows reaches out to bring in filtered natural light and ventilation Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The curved edges contrast with the masculinity of the natural materials and imparts the mellow aesthetics to the structure | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The curved edges contrast with the masculinity of the natural materials and imparts the mellow aesthetics to the structure Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY

The campus’ site plan is drawn up to similarly manifest organic journeys through the sizeable development, linking each of the smaller, individual clusters through sinuous paths laden with the element of surprise. A primary circulation spine branches off into carefully considered routes going through these clusters and linking them into one cohesive walk, with these secondary routes leading to the primary school and kindergarten, each with their won spill-out landscaped courtyards. Apart from following passive design principles, Feng shui, and the seven petals provided by the Living Building Challenge in the master planning, due thought and consideration have been lent to even the planning of these clusters. While the kindergarten cluster is relatively cocooned and sheltered by landscaped berms, its entryway covered with a hand-woven sapling growing tunnel, the Heart of the School is composed of three boulder-like shapes that ensconce the school’s spatial sanctum where all meandering paths converge. The public buildings in the campus, including the Sangkep, the admin building, outlined by a landscaped gabion wall, the tree-lined market area, the Deli, and co-working spaces, along with the library, art and music studio, and ablution facilities are all similarly peppered along the axial paths.

  • The sap roof that overhangs provide shade reflects an organic tectonic shape | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The sap roof that overhangs provide shade reflects an organic tectonic shape Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The spill-out landscape courtyards imparts a connection between the interior and the exterior | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The spill-out landscape courtyards imparts a connection between the interior and the exterior Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The dek-riet ceilings shades and connects the passageways between individual unita among the cluster | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The dek-riet ceilings shades and connects the passageways between individual unita among the cluster Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The reclaimed tique doors from the larger Drakenstein region, rammed earth and lime plaster floors add to the vernacularity of the architecture | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The reclaimed tique doors from the larger Drakenstein region, rammed earth and lime plaster floors add to the vernacularity of the architecture Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY

Individual buildings in the complex carry softly curving forms and large overhangs, visualised as oversails or leaf-like structures for rainwater collection. The organic shape and earthy tonality of the classrooms and other buildings is inspired from tectonic shapes originating in the mountains and Paarl Berg boulders surrounding the valley. Punctuated with bay windows to frame vistas and a visual connection through all the buildings in the campus, the structures are composed of rammed earth or clay brick walls using soil harvested from the site itself. Additionally, clerestory windows for filtered natural light and ventilation along with textured screening elements add a playful quality to the interiors, animating the setting. Dek-riet ceilings, lime plaster walls and floors, pebbles retrieved from the site to construct gabion walls, and reclaimed teak doors from nearby regions become essential elements in the building’s attempt to root its identity amid the local, celebrating the materials and workmanship of the area's residents, and fostering an intrinsic connection with nature and land.

  • Interior view of one of the classrooms | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    Interior view of one of the classrooms Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY
  • The interior spaces follow a muted material palette too, evoking a warm feeling | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    The interior spaces follow a muted material palette too, evoking a warm feeling Image: © Wieland Gleich – ARCHIGRAPHY

"This multi-layered development where architecture and landscape coincide, creates for enticing and playful spaces where children can engage, explore and learn. The result being harmonious spaces where humankind and nature can reconnect,” states the team at GASS Architecture Studios on the project’s inherent intent and on exploring new avenues in educational design in the subcontinent.

  • Conceptual sketches visualising the individual structures, landscaped spaces and courts amidst them | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    Conceptual sketches visualising the individual structures, landscaped spaces and courts amidst them Image: Courtesy of GASS Architecture Studios
  • Green School South Africa: Site Plan | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    Green School South Africa: Site Plan Image: Courtesy of GASS Architecture Studios
  • Sectional view of the classroom | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    Sectional view of the classroom Image: Courtesy of GASS Architecture Studios
  • Exploded three dimensional view of the structural composition of individual structures | Green School South Africa | GASS Architecture Studio | STIRworld
    Exploded three dimensional view of the structural composition of individual structures Image: Courtesy of GASS Architecture Studios

Project Details

Name: Green School South Africa
Location: Paarl, Western Cape, South Africa
Architects: GASS Architecture Studios
Site Area: 81,110m²
Built Area: 3,313m²
Landscaped/Green Area: 63,408m²
Completion Year: 2021

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