NMMU Business School

Name NMMU Business School
Client Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Location Port Elizabeth
Status Unbuilt

The design of the new Business School for the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University throws up a number of intriguing issues.

Firstly there is the exhortation that the new building should deal in a clear and unambiguous way with the challenges of sustainability. This in its own terms can be vexatious but, when seen against the spatial demands of sustainability, a range of possibilities opens up.

There are many issues that relate to the design of university buildings in today’s world. We have identified those issues that, in our view, relate to both spatial design and sustainable issues. We hope to demonstrate the interconnectedness between these ideas and their architectural realization.

Issues

  1. Universities are in a state of continual change and adjustment and what is acceptable today is not acceptable tomorrow. This plays itself out in university buildings being in a continual state of adjustment and alteration.
  1. The definition of sustainability is comprised by a focus on physical measurements of energy consumption and the use of materials. One of the most important aspects of sustainable design resides in the sustainable use of space – in today’s world most buildings outlive their usefulness almost from the time that they are completed. Architects and their clients promote the design of building in the same way that automobile designers make automobiles with the idea of built-in obsolescence. Buildings no longer live beyond a thirty to forty year life – given the resources invested in buildings this is clearly unsustainable. To design a sustainable building means to design spaces that can adapt and adjust to new uses over time without the threat of demolition.
  1. Landscape is as much a part of sustainable design as energy use, yet it seems to receive very short thrift. Much of what we occupy as an urban landscape today is extremely unsustainable.
  1. We tend to describe sustainability in terms of those aspects of sustainability that are easily quantifiable and measureable. We push to one side the more difficult questions of those aspects which are neither easily quantifiable nor easily measured. Space and its use is difficult to measure and not easily measured in terms of its efficiency as being sustainable. This is a problem.

Propositions

The following propositions address these issues and we have attempted to demonstrate through our design proposal one way of dealing with these issues.

  1. To deal with the issue of change we propose that we move from defining space in terms of its use and only its use and to define space more broadly in terms of its ability to adjust and adapt to changing needs – we propose to define such space as LOOSE SPACE or in its more precise terms ARCHAIC SPACE. This is space which has character and definition, yet which offers, because of its character, a range of different ways of habitation. Compare this to the modernist conception of space in which space is carefully designed and calibrated to satisfy the specific functions that the space is intended to serve – one only needs to look at buildings from the modern movement to realize how unsuccessful these buildings have been in terms of adjusting to new demands and to new worlds. ARCHAIC SPACE/ LOOSE SPACE offers an antidote to this. In our submission we humbly have attempted to offer a response to this issue. We do not suggest that we have found the solution but believe that this design proposal is a small step along the way to addressing these issues. We also believe that, if we are to address issues of sustainability, we need to address the issues of sustainable space.
  1. We propose that the ideas of “long life” and “loose fit” are interlinked and that their linkages are spatial and not only material. The challenge is to find ways of expressing these ideas. We believe that the place where these ideas find their expression is in the world of platonic geometry and Archaic Architecture. We propose that there are buildings in the history of architecture that have been able to adjust to all sorts of uses over time. The qualities that characterize these buildings are very precise geometries derived from platonic geometry and the idea of loose space – namely that the spaces in these buildings are not shaped around specific functions but rather around ideas of creating ideal and comfortable spaces for occupation, without being necessarily focused on use and its counterpart in form as per the modernist credo.