The Wits Rural Facility (WRF) project is a phased upgrade of an existing environmental research facility on the borders of Kruger National Park to create a Rural Knowledge Hub. The WRF provides research and social engagement opportunites for local and international students. Communities also benefit from training programs and interactions with researchers.
The location of the WRF in an environmentally protected research context was the key design driver. The existing Main Lodge site was chosen for Phase 1 – a new Conference Training and Research Facility. Using an already developed part of the site and adapting existing building facilities where possible, limited expansion into the bush. It is a pedestrian-only zone with the two existing vehicle access roads retained - avoiding the creation of new roadways.
This approach carries through into the built form. Conceptually, the buildings are individual units, linked by covered walkways, allowing them to shift to accomodate existing terrain and protected trees. This shifting geometry offers opportunites to form courtyards and gathering places, and opens up visual corridors to the surrounding bushveldt. The roofs linking the units respond directly to the landscape by following the natural topography of the site, rising, falling and slipping underneath and between the extensive tree cover. They also cut away to allow trees to grow through the buildings. Only two trees were removed. Through a careful use of colour and scale, the buildings are quiet and recede into the landscape.
Economic, social and environmental sustainability were a natural extension of the design approach. Choice of materials, use of available skills, passive climate control, rainwater collection and sewerage purification are all employed to this effect. During construction, a rigorous Environmental Management Plan was implemented. Finally, the landscape design guides the rehabilitation of previously damaged areas and ensures protection of the environment into the future.