The Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (UP) consists of a public art gallery and the Mapungubwe museum linked to an open square. The iconic space is located in a publicly accessible portion of the university’s South Campus, and the site was selected by Pieter Mathews and Carla Spies of Mathews & Associates Architects.
The gallery extends over Lynnwood Road with a bridge which includes a pedestrian concourse, stitching together the university’s Hatfield and South
campuses. It also extends the original, historic ‘Tukkielaan’ over Lynnwood Road, strengthening the cultural spine of the university.
The complex comprises three squares: the Museum Square, Art Square and Town Square. The first is located on the southern side of Lynnwood Road, in front of the main entrance, and this natural gathering space is directly accessible to the public, hosting functions and events. The space below the square forms a student gallery which creates a direct link between the faculties of the Built Environment and Visual Arts, bringing together these two creative fields.
Landscape architect Wouter Labuschagne says that GreenINC was appointed by UP, and that Anton Comrie, the firm’s founder, had a vision of how the external spaces could integrate with each other, merging into the new UP Javett Art Centre structure. “He could foresee how hard landscaped
spaces could complement the existing buildings, and how they are also able to stand on their own, with the exclusion of soft spaces where necessary.
Spaces and textures
Labuschagne says that the spaces are key: “The Museum Square, Art Square and Town Square are all spaces that fit into the new building and a good design concept is always about space – if the space works, anything can be achieved. At Javett, the spaces are defined by walls, floors and roofs; this creates a sense of belonging to a place within a space, imparting a function to the space and drawing people into it.
The spaces need to be able to be used in different ways, with a flow from the building to the outdoors, one space leading to another and fitting together in a robust way,” he explains. The textures and colours of the clay paving range are durable, colour-fast, skidresistant and suitable for heavily trafficked areas.
More than 430 000 clay pavers were used to craft the exterior walkways, public squares, ramps and parking area of the art centre. “We selected the pavers to create texture, with a simple layout. Only two paver variations were chosen to give a more uniform thread between the different spaces of the building. The paving links the new building with existing ones – the historical Boukunde, Visual Arts and Town and Regional buildings.
Sixty percent of the pavers were installed on a basement or slab, reducing future maintenance issues as the pavers can be easily removed and re-installed without compromising the surface.
Minimal soft planting Soft landscaping is minimal due to challenges with weight restrictions on the slab areas and basement, but where planting does occur, it is all indigenous. The selection was made by GreenINC and the Botanical Garden curator, Jason Sampson.
Dr Ida Breed is a senior lecturer at UP’s Biodiversity Studio, Department of Architecture, and has developed an 80 square metre experimental biodiversity garden as part of the art centre complex.
Another 200 square metre patch area is located at the Future Africa complex at Hillcrest Campus. The biodiversity garden project monitors the survival of native plant species in urban contexts, while exploring to what extent these native plants contribute to biodiversity, sense of place and climate regulation – in the face of projected greater heat and less rain.
In co-operation with plant growers Dr Johan Wentzel and Ivan van der Walt, plants were selected from regionally occurring species of the Tshwane region. The aim of the project is to test if the plant species chosen could assist to develop guidelines for local plant selections that:
• fare well in urban areas;
• contribute to a sense of place;
• do not require specialised maintenance; and
• attract more biodiversity.
The first fieldwork done in 2019 suggested that the biodiversity gardens attract a greater diversity of insects than common commercial species. The biodiversity garden ties in well with the Mapungubwe garden in front of the Javett Art Centre which was created by Wentzel.
Charl Marais of Servest Landscaping oversaw the landscape installation of the project. Servest was responsible for sourcing of plant material, planting,
compost and topsoil supply and spread, installation of a drip irrigation system, paving, irrigation, grass blocks, an earth wall and some of the kerbs. Says Marais: “The paving installation was very difficult because we had to use a mix of A-grade and variation (B-grade) bricks for cost saving purposes. The pavers all differed in size which made it almost impossible to keep straight lines.”
Plant material was sourced from a variety of nurseries and growers, says Marais, following GreenINC’s list. “It was a variety of very special plants so we struggled to source some of them. Drs Ida Breed and Johan Wentzel selected some scarce indigenous plants and grasses, supplied by Wentzel.” He says the site was very small and compact, so it was “a mission” delivering and storing material. They could only deliver small quantities at a time of paving, plants, soil and compost.
Servest has a one year maintenance contract (until May 2020) and this involves replacing dead plants, mulch top-up where necessary, sweeping and blowing of leaves, litter removal, grass mowing and maintenance of the irrigation system.
Labuschagne says that by working on this project, he enjoyed focusing on the people and the institution that educated him, namely the University of Pretoria. “It was a privilege to work as a TUKS alumni for the department that formed part of my education. This project challenged the perception of what hard and soft landscaped spaces are, and what they represent; landscape architecture should always focus on creating quality and usable spaces for people.”