Project Details

Client: SANParks
Category: Specialised / Iconic buildings
Location: Musina, South Africa
Architect: Peter Rich Architects
Completed: 2009


SANParks launched a national design competition in 2005 for a special building in the Mapungubwe National Park that would educate visitors and mark the cultural importance of the Mapungubwe Civilization to South African history. The Mapungubwe civilization (9th-14th century AD), whose ruins were discovered in 1932, traded with Egypt and Asia, developed mining and agriculture, and was the first African state to have social class distinctions. The civilization is generally acknowledged as the precursor to Great Zimbabwe.

Peter Rich Architects won the design competition and approached Henry Fagan Consulting Engineers & Project Managers for structural services. The building makes use of non-fired earth brick tile vaults in fast-setting gypsum mortar to provide large cavernous spaces on the inside and to make the building blend into the landscape from the outside by making it look like a series of stone hills, all the while optimizing structural efficiency.

These thin brick vaults, the first of their kind in South Africa, provided an opportunity for the training of local people in the manufacture and construction methods to be used on the project, a successful transfer of skills and employment of local, previously unemployed labour. Local women were taught how to make the brick tiles, and local men were taught how to build using them. It is hoped that this knowledge transfer will enable local communities to build efficient structures themselves using local materials. Six small size companies were established by the workers after the completion of the project.

The vaults were modelled using finite element software. The largest one spans 14.5m with an unreinforced section of only 300mm, and is footed on thick sandstone walls. The shells have low compressive stresses (about 1.5 MPa), and the considerable horizontal thrust (up to 400 kN) was resolved using steel tension ties embedded into the RC buttresses. Minimal formwork was required due to the development of structural action during the construction process.

The design was based on static graphics, allowing a continuous review of the shapes of the vaults while resolving the structural problems.

Awards Won

IStructE (UK):David Alsop Sustainability Award 2009

World Architecture Festival World Building of the Year 2009

World Architecture Festival winner of “Culture” category 2009

British Structural Award 2009

Wienerberger Brick Award 2012

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