Phenomenology through the lens of an ablution block

KUBE architecture was recently approached to conceptualize a development in a rural farm area in Limpopo. Although the project predominantly focuses on an upgrade of the farms fruit processing facilities, the local employees’ residential area is also a top priority. The architectural significance of these villages lies in its prevalence of traditional African architecture. The intention of the development is to transition the landscape into systems of sustainability that is indigenous to its culture and environment.

The challenges when working with the hallmark of African architecture within a vulnerable community, are complex. The well-being of the individual and the village takes a front row seat at the table of development.  A research study by Sonia Mountford, director of Eategrity, was conducted on the villages’ strengths and weaknesses in terms of food scarcity, economical vulnerability and social practices. While it is the clients’ intention to address these issues and opportunities, this article follows the ablution facilities and its introduction into the existing fabric. 

The proposed architectural intervention aims to provide the rich existing with a necessary layer of resilience. Guided by the hand of tradition, the buildings react appropriately to the climate and context; designing in form and function that which is peripherally reminiscent of its respected ancestor, the ‘Rondawel’.

The circular construct of the original Rondawel is extrapolated, into its male and female counterparts. Its genetic trail is evident in smooth corners with a hierarchy on space for social rituals. The layout allows for harmonious symmetry around a central solid axis. The axis serves as a point of access, a conduit for services and a privacy barrier. The wall carries the load of the roof and staggers into the east and west, allowing it to become utilized within the landscape. Opportunities arise for traditional decorative elements to step into the wall with pattern, colour, and facade elements such as brise-soleil screens of planting and intricate brickwork formations.

The abutting male and female spaces are the de-constructed and elongated half circle counterparts of the original rondawel. The built fabric consists of solid and lightweight elements that maintain privacy and allow for a constant flow of fresh air. Shading and privacy screens use locally available materials that are familiar to the village vernacular. The floor is of well-compacted and insulated earthy materials that allow for a smooth transition from the natural surface to the new.

The roof construct follows its own organic line over timber rafters, fluctuation between solidity and permeability. The roof plays an important multi-functional roll, being the main element that provides shelter in the traditional sense whilst incorporating sustainable design principles.

The input and output of energy is considered in the collection of rainwater, solar power, and waste treatment processes that are integrated into the structure of the building. This eliminates the need for municipal services and instills the urgency of re-use and recycling opportunities to the patrons of the village.

Local skill and trades are encouraged throughout the planning and construction process of these facilities. These ablution blocks will be placed at intervals throughout the villages, making itself a perfect canvas for creative community intervention. This intends to communicate the ownership of the buildings to the village; not by assuming identity but rather extending itself towards its users. The term phenomenology comes to mind, focusing the creation back to the experience of the user.

The structures therefore allow for new autogenetic and zero waste processes, without sacrificing its natural fit into the landscape. These facilities alleviate the current lack of hygiene services (washing of clothes) and introduces these basic services in a space that is friendly to the social ritual of the community and the environment.

Perhaps the satisfaction of the end user will lie in a cathartic architectural experience that brings modern convenience into familiar form and function.

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