Co-Lab: experimental materials, environments and architecture

Rycroft, Chantal Maria
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Digital and virtual tools and technologies enable remote learning and working. The adoption of such methods of operation by tertiary education institutions in South Africa, up to now, for the most part, has been slow and gradual for various reasons. Some universities did not possess the necessary funds to establish such methods. There was also the issue of students’ lack of access. The Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown, however, have necessitated and accelerated the adoption of remote education and research practices by South Africa’s higher education sector. A return to previous methods of operation seems unlikely as people have experienced something that seems more relevant to a future marked by increasing digitalisation (Habib, Kupe, Phakeng, 2020). Mamokgethi Phakeng, the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Tawana Kupe, the vice-chancellor of the University of Pretoria, and Adam Habib, the vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, all predict that local universities will embrace a hybrid, or blended form of operation going forward, one that incorporates both contact and online strategies (Habib, Kupe, Phakeng, 2020). This research report re-imagines university architecture in light of evolving functional and spatial requirements and proposes the design of a high-tech, multi-disciplinary Centre for research and development at Wits University. Activities at the proposed Centre would focus on the application and development of digital fabrication and material technologies and the prototyping of useful and sustainable products and processes. Such explorations hold particular interest in the realms architecture, art, science and engineering. A shared and multi-disciplinary space would integrate a wide array of skills and expertise and bring together diverse areas of interest and inquiry. Imperative to sustainable production is material and energy efficiency. These are increasingly important considerations in architectural design. Through research and development, we can potentially realise environmentally-friendly solutions to how we build and what we build with, in support of a sustainable and circular economy. The proposed Centre would not only accommodate Wits University staff and students but would also incorporate a broader community of professionals and entrepreneurs. Such an inclusive environment would support networking and the formation of connections and associations. Access to specialised amenities and resources in a social and inspiring space could motivate participation, concentrate University education and research operations and encourage collaboration, experimentation and invention
This document is submitted in partial fulfilment for the degree of Master of Architecture (Professional), Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, at the University of the Witwatersrand, 2021