Funded by a non-profit run by a prominent building-supplies company in South Africa, this four-classroom primary school in Mayfair West serves students from the nearby Slovo Park informal settlement in Johannesburg and acts as glowing beacon for the community.

The 480 m2 Salvazione Christian School, designed by Local Studio, is situated down the road from Salvazione’s main school, a church building that had housed pre-kindergarten through grade seven. The new development accommodates the younger grades, allowing more space for the upper grades, which remain in the original building.

The two classrooms on the top floor benefit from the spaciousness provided by the arched ceiling, making the most out of the school’s small footprint. The façade – a lattice of clear, glazed, and insulated yellow panels that tempers transparency with privacy – and its double-vaulted rolled-zinc roof lend the building a welcoming appearance.

The transparency of the building allows the internal light to filter through to the surrounding streets, almost acting as a beacon of hope for the community. The upstairs classrooms are illuminated by three extended linears which are suspended from the arched ceilings, while the classrooms and the public areas on the ground floor feature interspersed recessed ceiling mounted panels. Lighting was chosen for the project – as with much of the rest of the materials – to be cost effective, resilient, long-lasting and as maintenance-free as possible.

An exterior screen of wax-impregnated pine functions as a subtle security barrier that allows ample natural light to enter the classrooms, all of which face the street. Behind the building is a slide leading from the second level to the playground, where children can ascend the facade via a narrow climbing wall.

Like many of its projects, the Local Studio’s most recent was made possible by a private donor—something the architects attributes to a general lack of interest in the public sector for such work. Funded by the Italtile and Ceramic Foundation, whose parent company manufactures building products, one of the goals of the design is to create a welcoming presence among the surrounding walled-in houses – a response to the neighbourhood’s high crime rate. To get to the school, children traverse as much as a half mile on foot through “very dodgy” areas, says Thomas Chapman, so it was important that they “be able to walk up and see this recognisable form that’s different from anything else on the street – something playful and motivational.”

The two-story school gently pierces the grid of low-slung single-family dwellings. At the building’s rear, a slide – also yellow – snakes down from the second level like the trunk of some abstract mammal; upon landing, children can scale up the façade via a slender climbing wall. In lieu of steel and corrugated polycarbonate—which have become hallmark material solutions for the firm’s very low-budget projects – the clients asked for a traditional brick structure, since it proved to be the most economical way to support the vaulted roof. The two classrooms on the top floor benefit from the spaciousness provided by the arched ceiling, making the most out of the school’s small footprint.

According to Chapman, the project serves as an urban design prototype for “how to reimagine the standard post-residential site.” The architects subverted the traditional suburban lot arrangement, where the main structure sits in the middle, by pushing the volume to interface with the street and announce a different use. Chapman acknowledges that this cannot be achieved without zoning negotiations, as were done in this instance, but, when the circumstances allow it, architecture could play a key role in transforming crime-ridden areas into safer, mixed-use neighbourhoods.


Architects: Local Studio

Civil engineering: The Earth Workshop

Quantity surveyor: Koor Dindar Mothei KDM

General contractor: Zabicon Construction

Design team: Samantha Trask, Thomas Chapman, Amy Leibbrandt

Photographs: Dave Southwood, Warwick Preddy

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Gregg Cocking
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