Somerset College Innovation Centre, South Africa
Walters & Cohen Architects is designing a new Innovation Centre for Somerset College, a co-educational independent school in South Africa located on a beautiful and expansive estate in the Winelands of the Western Cape.
The practice was initially appointed to undertake a masterplan, with particular focus on cross-curricular project-based learning as well as pre-prep, theatre, boarding and sports facilities. During our observations and initial conversations with staff and students, it became clear that new accommodation for STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, art and maths) was a priority for the school, along with flexible spaces for enterprise.
Their proposal for a new two-storey Innovation Centre co-locates these subjects to inspire innovative and interdisciplinary study. The building is designed to feel very open and welcoming; the entrance leads directly into a large, double-height space for testing ideas and making prototypes. State-of-the-art resources – a 3D printer, a wind tunnel, sewing machines and laser cutters, among others – provide pupils with the tools to experiment and be creative, while the transparency and free-flow between spaces encourage pupils to choose how they want to explore their own learning.
A variety of learning spaces on the ground and first floor are for thinking, inventing and problem-solving, and include an innovation space, robotics, art theory, physics, a presentation area, quiet research and an entrepreneurial space. Maths, science and technology areas are divided between physical and desk-based work, and all rooms offer flexible layouts.
The gabled roof creates a generous volume, and accommodates skylights to naturally light the spaces as well as PVs to harvest solar energy. The building makes use of a level change to create an outdoor amphitheatre stair, and is surrounded by external learning terraces on both levels, shaded by green vines trained up tension cables. The Innovation Centre sits prominently near the entrance of the College, celebrating the importance of creativity at the school, welcoming visitors on arrival and knitting together the junior and senior school sites.
Director Michál Cohen said: “This is a truly exciting opportunity for Walters & Cohen to design a new Innovation Centre at Somerset College. Not only are we creating a stimulating new learning environment for the pupils, but a destination on the campus, bringing together the prep and senior school sites on this wonderful estate.”
Former Executive Head of Somerset College, Meg Fargher, said: “Working with Walters and Cohen has been an exceptional experience. Drawing on their vast experience in educational design; their own collaborative approach to generating a well thought-through and comprehensive campus development plan became one of the most rewarding team building exercises for teachers, pupils and indeed the entire community. The synergy has been magical and stimulating for all involved.”
Photo credits: Walters & Cohen Architects