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Klapmuts Primary School, Klapmuts - Completed 2011

A school born as a symbol of hope

Klapmuts is a small place most people know only as a turnoff from the N1 toward Stellenbosch, but few actually get to visit it, as a small detour not even 100m from the way will get you there. About 7000 Bolanders live here, and by 2016 another 7500 will. They are a people that have not yet been exposed to the luxuries of life, not through history and nor through their neighbours, or authorities.


The setting in which we were asked to design a new primary school for our new clients, the learners aged 5-14 of a rather poor community, and the community at large, is one neighboured and challenged by well performing good communities who hold super schools like Paarl, Franschhoek, and Stellenbosch.


It was only through spending time with the local community members that we understood its heart for change, desperate for something different, something that would help them through, and what better vessel than that of education. All the children engaged the art competition we presented of drawing their new school, amongst the most striking of which were drawings that had stairs to a second floor, when in their community reference the highest structure, apart from the old unused water tower, was the neighbouring single storey church building, with its apex being larger inclined, most were filled with colour and clever borders, but all of them special, and all of them suggesting hope.


It cannot be said that this is a new school; it's only a new school building, overdue. The previous buildings were built as temporary buildings in the 1970's, made of asbestos walls and roofs, chipboard type floors and raised with concrete doulos type stilts off the muddy surface caused by the low water table in the area. Corridors were planked up by community members with whatever materials they could find and desks moved around holes in the floor throughout the school to avoid falling through. Of the donated vegetable gardens did not survive the saturated clayey ground conditions or the over shaded courtyards that were created by the placement of the buildings on the site. About 1280 learners come here, religiously, every day.


This was the one chance we had to add value to our client's lives, when the only voice they had was one of hope. We needed to formulate a building that could place them in a position that stood up to their neighbouring towns and schools, taking a position; rather than outperforming them, out-branding them. Creating an icon or imagery so strong that, when other scholars visit the area they are taken by the fact that not even they have a school building such as this. Rather than looking at what other schools have, letting others see what Klapmuts had....


Some of the key concepts were formed around exposing the community to new disciplines, and building new partnerships between the projects teams, the parent teachers association, the governmental bodies and other new key stakeholders. One of our aims was and is to change this school into a community learning facility, one that is not only open from 08:00 until 13:30, but will continue to teach until 21:00 at night, a thought that threatens most principals, but not Mr. Ronnie Frans, Principal of Klapmuts Primary. When presented with the idea that we should engage South African Public Libraries and fund-raise for extra computers for an after school computer hall to serve the community at large, and also the high school learners that currently have to travel out of Klapmuts to study, he jumped at the opportunity. We are today proud to say that South African Public libraries have committed to establishing a community library at Klapmuts Primary School, and have together with Stellenbosch Municipality undersigned a memorandum of agreement to keep such in place for the foreseeable future.


Positioning the school buildings to allow positive northern light into playing courtyards and optimising the light for teaching hours, the layout was arranged at contrast with, (the demolished classrooms), the hall and offices which were the only buildings to remain, stretching them from North to south, 140m down the corridor down the east block. In connecting the east and West block it made sense to connect them with a middle block forming an h-shaped layout, one that had room for expansion, and naturally formed new courtyards between it and that which was already there. Light rushes into the classrooms, achieved by dropping the window sills to the ground and allowing the light to fall onto the floor. Classrooms have white circles painted around the fluorescent fittings attached to off shutter concrete surfaces, teaching without words, the art of reflection. The exposed, and honest structure, left to for the learners to see where engineers and architects meet contractors and electricians.

Exaggerating the entrance with askew columns holding an insitu mass concrete roof at double volume and marching it down a stately corridor unifying the public and private places within the school grounds, said something of stately architecture associated with prosperity and timelessness. We specifically wanted the school to have a presence, not only now, but when our children's children go there. A glass box appears to hang from the concrete entrance foyer, a place of gathering to be seen by the passer by, a community meeting room. A louvered tower punctures the solid mass of roof, containing the new suggestive light source of the community. This doubles as a display unit for trophies and achievements that the learners have achieved, for all to see, serving as motivation for prestige. A sliding gate and high wall separate the public and private realms, ensuring that learners feel safe once within the school boundaries.


Internal courtyards are supervised from classrooms and perceived safe nodes. The ablutions have louvered vents where children can be heard within, minimising potential mischievous behaviour. Most playing spaces are controlled and have exact parameters whereby the school can suggest boundaries.


The building is designed in a way which will catapult the learners into a semi-corporate yet playful environment and allow the community to boast of the new library that is giving them access to e-mails and the latest newspapers, a commodity, not previously known here.


A few weeks ago a teacher of Klapmuts Primary was asked by a learner from a neighbouring school in a surprising voice, ''Is daai julle skool?'' (Is that your school?), to which the proud answer came.

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