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Constructing a brick quilt for Wits University residence

An innovative response to budget constraints when designing the second phase of the Barnato Residence on the University of Witwatersrand’s West Campus, saw a professional team from 2’10 South Architects in Gauteng create a unique brick tapestry that marries both creativity and sustainability. 

“During tough times, innovation comes into its own,” Nick Booth, chief executive of South Africa’s leading brick maker, Corobrik, noted when referring to the construction of this second phase which added more than 150 rooms to an existing residence. 

It cost at least 30% less than a new-build residence. 

This was achieved by “clipping” the second phase on to both the existing building and the first phase extension by using double-loaded corridor typology and open walkways. Under-utilized spaces in the existing building were converted into additional bedrooms and existing social spaces became more accessible through landscaping around the extensions.

The two, almost identical blocks were angled to open up views from an existing social space in the base of the original building into campus and towards the Tower of Light. 

This second phase was commissioned at a particularly challenging time, explained Thorsten Deckler, who handled concept development.

Nationwide protests had highlighted the need for additional student accommodation as part of a wide reaching debate on access to tertiary education. Tertiary institutions found themselves in a tight financial position and the project needed to be delivered within an extremely tight budget.  

“This meant using off-the-shelf, low maintenance materials and keeping the form of the new buildings as simple as possible. The new brick skin was envisaged as a beautiful, richly-textured quilt. Special bricks, sourced from local Corobrik yards, are inter-woven with a standard brick, complementing the existing building,” Deckler explained. 

Known as ‘under the tree’ bricks, these specials are left-overs from commissioned ranges or over flows from larger orders and can be procured at a substantially lower cost. The end result was a quilt like facade that blended a variety of textures and colours. 

“The new buildings are as straightforward as possible with attention focused on crafting their brick skin. At a time when difference is so often used to divide people, this quilt of odd-bin bricks celebrates the beauty and strength of diversity and the unique creativity that can be bred through adversity,” Deckler said. 

Booth confirmed that a plethora of different face bricks from various Corobrik yards had been used, including Onyx Satin, Village Antique. Agate Satin Solids, Agate Double Cant and Single Cant Specials and Roan and Firelight special shape bricks. Tuscan Blend Paving was used on the surrounds. 

“The intention was to make a building for students that is unexpected and rich in detail, a building that is friendly, that you want to touch that is made of standard building materials put together in a unique way. For this, we used various brick types, including face bricks, NFX stock bricks and special shaped bricks. We are used to seeing brick buildings that use brick in a conservative manner. Here, we aimed to make a building that expresses the joy of the material and experimentation. We tested the brick patterns using the samples and also asked the contractor to construct sample panels. Lots of models were built which we clad in print-outs of our elevations which showed the brickwork,” Deckler added. 

The brick patterns for phase 2 were developed in house mainly by Anne Graupner (principal in charge) and Carla Rademan (junior technologist) with assistance from Nic Talbot from Corobrik who advised on which bricks were available. 

26’10 project team for both phases included: 

Anne Graupner (principal in charge)

Paul Devenish (registered architect in charge)

Thorsten Deckler (principal involved in concept development)

Carla Rademan (junior technologist)

Carla Gaum (project lead)