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African Hydropower Project receives 2017 Award for Architecture

Earthworld Architects and Inside Earthworld Interiors were appointed to assist with the design

Earthworld Architects and Inside Earthworld Interiors were appointed to assist with the design

15 November 2017 - The Stortemelk Hydropower Project recently received the 2017 Award for Architecture from  the South African Institute of Architects for the Free State Region.

Power plants aren’t usually top of mind when it comes to architectural awards, but the thought and planning that went into the Stortemelk plant made a testament to what can be achieved when careful design and innovations are brought into the housing of a power station.

The hydropower project is the implementation of one of the three projects included in the Botterkloof and Merino II feasibility study by global engineering and infrastructure advisory company Aurecon for Stortemelk Hydro (Pty) Ltd, with Renewable Energy Holdings (REH) as the project developers. As the EPCM (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction Management) contractor, Aurecon was responsible for the detailed design, construction supervision, ECO monitoring, contract administration and programming, as well as the Health & Safety oversight. Earthworld Architects was subcontracted by Aurecon for the architectural design of the upper part of the power station.

The brief from the client was to create a building that blended seamlessly with the landscape while also celebrating the responsible production of electricity. It comprises a number of building skins, including corten weathering steel and polycarbonate sheeting, to create different experiences of the plant from the exterior and from within the interior. Slotted window openings in the façade create the perception that the production of electricity is spilling out into the environment, creating a beacon in the landscape. Upon completion, the project team managed to create a space that showcases spectacular light quality and successfully blends into the landscape, while celebrating the plant’s functions.

The 4.4 MW hydropower plant near Clarens was constructed between two existing dams without affecting their operations and stability, which is also a notable achievement for the project team.

A great example of a renewable energy project in Africa

The minimalist, rustic design blends well with its environment

“We are honoured to receive this award. There is considerable potential for hydropower development in Africa and the Stortemelk Hydropower Project is a great example of a renewable energy project that will benefit thousands of people in the community for years to come,” says Bertrand Rochecouste Collet, Aurecon Project Director.

André Eksteen from Earthworld Architects comments: “We are very proud of working with Aurecon and REH on this project and have ensured that the end product resulted in a non-traditional power plant that blended with its environment and caused minimum visual impact.  The shell of the building is fragmented, with light spilling into the main generator room through ‘crevices’. A polycarbonate skin was used and covered with ‘fragmented’ corten cladding.  Not only does this allow natural daylight in, but it also becomes a metaphor when light from the plant itself spills into its surroundings at night.  This beacon of light is quintessential to REH’s philosophy of sustainable development with minimal environmental but maximum sustainable social impact.”

The construction commenced in October 2014 and, 22 months later, reached commercial operations date in July 2016, on time and within the project budget, without using any of the project contingencies.

“It is rewarding to be involved in a project that delivered many firsts for hydropower stations in South Africa. I would like to thank the client, my team, our architects and everyone involved this project that inspires Africans and enhances the sustainability of the region,” concludes Rochecouste Collet.

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