The design of the Karoo Wilderness Center, located in South Africa, has recently won the Progressive Architecture Award for its sensitivity to its site, self-reliance, and stunning design. Jess Field of Field Architecture describes, “The site demanded a solution that focused on water… and a form that speaks to it.” The design first focused on providing water, power, and waste systems that work together and support a building that lacks access to municipal utilities. The solution was also shaped by the desire to create an experience that affects the consciousness of visitors.
Field Architecture consists of Jess and his father Stan; each has strong connections to the area and hope the project will set an example of building in way that ensures the beauty of the land will last. The Karoo desert supports the greatest botanical diversity of any arid region. The Karoo Wilderness Center provides a library, dining facility and residences for leaders and visitors concerned with the conservation of natural resources. While visitors will feel the weight of the roof and its important function above them, their view will be pushed outward towards the landscape.
Many of the thriving plants in the Karoo are in the succulent family, well-known for aloe vera, which store water in swollen appearing leaves, stems or roots. The aloe ferox, similar to aloe vera and also harvested for its aloe and sap, was Field Architecture’s inspiration for the swollen roofs which gather and store rainwater. The roofs also provide temperature control for the building. During the hot day, the ceiling forms encourage air flow through each of the three pavilions while stored water provides evaporative cooling. In the evenings when heating is required, water warmed by the sun provides radiant heat. In addition, photovoltaic panels provide power and the facility processes its own waste.
The project is currently following a construction schedule that respects the fragile state of the land. Before infrastructure could be installed, aloe ferox plants were carefully relocated. The threat of unnatural erosion resulting from construction and transportation is minimized by observing the natural rain cycles.
Field Architecture was formed in 2006 and maintains an international practice out of their Palo Alto office. To learn more about their practice, visit http://fieldarchitecture.com/
Camille Cladouhos works at Feldman Architecture and is a frequent contributor to Green Architecture Notes.