UCT Chris Hani Lecture Theatre | JAKUPA Architects and Urban Designers Pty Ltd | World Design Awards 2022

JAKUPA Architects and Urban Designers Pty Ltd: Runner-Up of World Design Awards 2022. The Chris Hani Lecture Theatre (formerly the New Science Lecture Theatre) was seen as an underutilised learning space on UCT’s Upper Campus. The steep raked lecture theatre was not in keeping with contemporary learning requirements. With this in mind JAKUPA Architects and Urban Designers (Pty) Ltd was approached to look at re-adapting the building for contemporary learning standards conducive to student-led learning initiatives, mentoring & peer tutoring. The Faculty of Science is a key User. The Science Faculty’s academic objective is to improve the graduation rates of those students that enter the undergraduate programme, particularly those from a poor socio-economic background. This objective has driven the building brief to create contemporary spaces that stimulate innovative teaching and learning experiences.

In the context of the University of Cape Town’s historic Upper Campus, with its community of heritage buildings, “Adaptive Re-use” is appropriate.  As a form of historic preservation, this approach restores cultural significance to sites such as UCT’s Upper Campus that would otherwise succumb, due to restrictive heritage grading, listing and protection, to inevitable functional redundancy. 

The Chris Hani Building (formerly the New Science Lecture Theatre) has been “re-purposed” into a renewed cluster of contemporary learning spaces. The original architecture attempted to marry the Modernist style with the typical historical campus design typology. In accordance with heritage requirements, the recent architectural re-adaption acknowledges the University Avenue’s incremental layering over time and, in addition, the new architectural response includes a major reconfiguration of the internal spatial arrangement while retaining key heritage elements.

Renaming the building was part of UCT’s project to create a more inclusive and representative institution.  To mark the 25th anniversary of his death on 25 April 2018, UCT re-named the building after the late anti-apartheid struggle hero Chris Hani.  Hani was secretary-general of the South African Communist Party (SACP) at the time of his death and was assassinated in his Dawn Park home driveway on 10 April 1993, just over a year before the dawn of democracy in South Africa. 

The renaming of buildings was just one part of a multifaceted transformation project committed
to overcoming the legacy of apartheid and colonialism in the university system – and to make UCT a home to all.  It is symbolic of a transformation not only on the UCT campus but more importantly of our contemporary society’s changing attitudes and values. UCT recognises that there is still a long way to go with the process of transformation, but one thing that is certain is that the renaming of each building symbolises an important milestone on the journey as a socially conscious university.

JAKUPA Architects and Urban Designers were appointed by the University of Cape Town to provide design services for a programmatic brief which called for a variety of learning spaces, including a student concession area with outdoor courtyard and a formal lecture venue at basement level. The upper two floors accommodate the Science Learning Centre and associated Science Faculty Administrative Office suite. The building is constrained on all sides – by University Avenue and Chemistry Mall to the east and west, respectively, and by the John Day and the Molecular Biology buildings to the south and north, respectively.

The thoughtfully crafted works of Cape Town-based JAKUPA Architects and Urban Designers exhibit poetry in the use of architectural materials. Established in 2005 by Gabs Pather and Khalied Jacobs, the firm designs architecture as a total work of art, incorporating their employees’ versatile architectural, interior and graphic design skills into their commissions. Many of the firm’s buildings are adaptive reuse projects, such as:

  • Western Cape Provincial Government Precinct: 04 Dorp Street and 15 &18 Wale Street
  • Cape Town Station 2010 Refurbishment
  • UWC Computational and Mathematical Sciences (CAMS) Complex
  • SAMWUMED Headquarters

The outcome is typically refined and well-integrated such that it becomes difficult to discern where the old components end and the new ones begin. This is a result, in part, of the firm’s detailed analysis of context, a fearless approach to material experimentation, and a sensitivity to how materials communicate with people.

“JAKUPA believes that materials should relate to the human condition. They are not there only for visual pleasure, but for a tactile connection to the spaces.”

Instead of just discarding the forms of an older building to make way for a newer one, JAKUPA instead embraced the opportunity to transform the Chris Hani Building and to give it a chance to not only survive but to thrive as a renewed beacon for design. JAKUPA challenges traditional boundaries of architecture to include other complementary disciplines as it believes strongly in research as a design tool, as each project bears its unique set of contextual issues.

Built in 1948, the Chris Hani Building was one of the first buildings on campus to reinterpret the typology of Modernism, playing with architectural form, material, elements, a positive interface with the University Avenue (including arrival portico, lobby and foyer), all in “grander manner than most buildings along the avenue.”

Regarded as a significant heritage building with a Grade II/PHS area status (refer Abrahamse/Townsend, 2016), the exterior and façade treatment of the existing building incorporated textured “university plaster” details, sunscreen fins, travertine cladding elements, modernist steel columns and it represented an attempt to create a building of particular interest within the framework of the staid adjacent architectural forms.  The building interface along Chemistry Mall to the west was decidedly “back of house”, utilitarian, with ad-hoc additions and with levels that did not facilitate either accessibility or a positive street interface.

The design approach considered four plausible approaches, including a simple renovation and alteration of the existing building, retention of the façade only with a new building behind it, a complete demolition with new infill and a radical reconfiguration incorporating partial rebuilding. The last mentioned was the eventual approach adopted as it delivered an optimum balance between the heritage criteria and the academic programme spatial needs.  It needed to address a core heritage concern, i.e. its interface with University Avenue and the proposed Grade II precinct.  It called for a design of the building which by nature must respond to University Avenue on the east and Chemistry Mall on the west, effectively interfacing with two adjacent and dissimilar campus zones. The historic continuity of the mid-century design typology was to be retained, while the key elements of the 1948 building could be integrated.

The architectural response took into account the effect the new adapted building would have on the Upper Campus. Selected elements that adhere to the Modernist tradition on upper campus are ad-hoc, with the exception of University Avenue.  Recovering the intention of these elements and adhering to the University’s conservation principles was a key design informant.  Contrasting of new with old is a seasoned method to approaching heritage within the built environment.  Examples of this approach include Neri and Hu’s Shanghai Offices that transform an ex-industrial building into a new office block and Hertzog and de Meuron’s Caixa Forum in Madrid, where radical adaptation of the existing building retains the elements of worth and unreservedly forges a new architecture.

The first design objective was to create a student/social amenity towards the northern end of the Upper Campus, along University Avenue, making use of the interstitial space adjacent to the building as well as creating new linkages between Chemistry Mall and University Avenue, thus maximising the intensity of use.  The relationship between the Courtyard and Ground floor of the building is intensified by the double-volume vertical connection to the library.  The existing desks from the old Lecture Theatre were re-purposed and used as timber cladding to the Food Kiosks on the Ground Floor.

The second design objective was to create a new “front of house” entrance to Chemistry Mall, thus uplifting and contributing positively to UCT’s Science Precinct.  Entry from Chemistry Mall into a new Foyer and New Science Learning Centre creates a new front door to the Science Faculty.  The Dean of Sciences’ Office is housed on the top level. The existing roof trusses, once removed, were adapted and re-used in the new building design.  Exposing the roof trusses and allowing light to penetrate the roof, a deceivingly simple operation of pushing and pulling revealed the layers of spatial potential within a rather ordinary building configuration. Throughout, there is an expressed intention to juxtapose such new insertions against the old, never losing touch with the building’s past

The renovation strategy was to demolish the floors of the existing building, while primarily retaining the east entrance facade and the north facade.  The interior had the intact lecture theatre, with its memorable revolving floor.  The staircases on either side of the entrance portico were retained along with the windows and façade elements. Constructing a new basement housing the new Lecture Theatre involved underpinning the existing structure.  The new floors were then constructed, mediating the existing levels of the retained staircases, University Avenue and Chemistry Mall.  University Plaster was applied in order to integrate with the language of the larger campus context, alongside more contemporary materials like white aluminium that was used for windows, doors and screens as well as Rheinzink introduced as a compatible roofing material.

The building is universally accessible, allowing for Differently Abled persons to adequately access all spaces within the building in addition to accommodating their bathroom needs on every floor and the requisite (fire regulation) places of refuge. The building’s modern-day principles also accommodate Male, Female and Gender-Neutral toilets for students and users.

It was unquestionable that as a versatile practice JAKUPA should deploy every aspect of their design capabilities, from the architecture and interior design to the furniture selection and graphic design.  They believe in a total design vision through means of consciously designing built environments from the largest aspect, down to the smallest details. 

The interior design approach made use of a careful selection of colours, textures and surfaces to not only assist users with wayfinding within the building, giving each floor an identity, but to also create contemporary spaces that stimulate innovative teaching and learning experiences.

The Chris Hani Remembrance Project was initiated by JAKUPA.  Its purpose is to illustrate and celebrate the legacy of Chris Hani throughout the building. Chris Hani stood for collective empowerment and social change. Teaching the youth about South Africa’s painful past is a wider process of social, economic and cultural transformation of our universities and our wider society.  Following consultation with the Hani Family, the project draws on identifying feature walls within the building and transforming them to function as illustrative installations, graphically developed by JAKUPA.

In the race for empty land and new developments, it is easy to demolish and forget the rich architectural history behind old buildings. Especially in the context of UCT’s Upper Campus.  The Chris Hani Lecture Theatre is making the case for readapting older buildings and enriching the architectural vocabulary of our universities and cities by creating a spacious and inviting space with its eclectic interior design approach that encapsulates the spirit of the practice.

Project Details

JAKUPA Architects and Urban Designers Pty Ltd

Gabs Pather

Project Name
UCT Chris Hani Lecture Theatre

World Design Awards Category
Educational Design Built

Project Location
Cape Town

Project Team   
Gabs Pather, Simone Bergoff, Dennis Shaw, Matthew Pretorius, Tanya Moodaley, Masonwabe Twabu, Obiemerah Tomi, Andrew Turpin, Chelsea Smith, Dillan Patience, Lolwethu Gubu

South Africa

Photography ©Credit
©Terry February

Jakupa Architects and Urban Designers Pty. Ltd. offers a full range of services with extensive experience in large scaled and complex projects for both public sector and private clients. Our key services include Urban Design, Architecture, Interiors and Conditional Assessments. We host a particular set of skill within our team that includes managing large construction projects with multiple contractors and multiple user-clients on a live site; we’ve developed participatory planning methods that is efficient and inclusive; design driven sustainability skills and simplified methods to test viabilities of large scaled projects.