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Sol Plaatje University Library and Student Resources Building, South Africa

Pushing the boundaries of architectural and engineering design

“The slenderness, finish and the number of cast-in elements needed for the floating façade required considerable research and out-of-the-box thinking from the design team,” Heinrich Stander, Aurecon Structural Engineer and Technical Director.

The striking, origami-like roof of the Sol Plaatje University Library and Student Resources Building in Kimberley, Northern Cape, is both attention-grabbing and yet perfectly blended with the surrounding buildings. This bold and original project pushes the boundaries of architectural and engineering design, requiring very high expectations from the concrete to perform not only as a structural element but also as an aesthetic material. Aurecon provided structural, civil, electrical, fire and wet services design for the project, which started in May 2014 and is expected to be completed in December 2017.

The Library is draped in a continuous in situ concrete shell, which takes on a strong angular diamond-like shape. Each roof corner of the building is at a different level which corresponds with the neighbouring building tying the overall precinct together as the focal point of the central campus. The diamond shape of the building is reminiscent of the diamond mining history of the city.

One of the key structural elements of the project is the library’s floating façade. The integrated external skin of the building blends the walls with an origami-like roof that is functionally, structurally and technically independent from its inner building core.

Precision in execution was needed and the contractor was brought on board during the design process, allowing various design options to be assessed and improved from a constructability perspective. The stakes were high for everyone and the project team had to ensure that the eventual approach followed would work on the first attempt. The result is a highly refined, consistently silky, off-steel surface finish.

“This landmark library and student resources building provides a highly visible and sculptural presence to the central campus precinct, linking it to the surrounding Kimberley inner city regeneration project,” says Stander.

The Sol Plaatje University Library Building was announced as the winner of the 2017 Fulton Concrete Award for the category ‘Buildings more than 3-Storeys’. The project also received a Commendation in the category ‘Architectural Concrete’.


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