Designing for extreme environments
To Build|Volume 9 / Issue 3 - November 2019 - February 2020
South African architects working in extreme environments must pay considerably more attention to climatic conditions than those working in urban areas. For example, building orientation and thermal efficiency may be significantly more important for an ice station in the Antarctic or for a tourist facility on the Roof of Africa.

Award-winning Johannesburg practice, Architects Of Justice (AOJ) tells To Build that during one of their first projects, they had to learn very quickly how to design for extreme conditions. A decade on the building is still functioning and has stood the test of time.

The Gondola Café, situated at the foot of the ski slopes of the AfriSki is Mountain Resort in the unspoilt natural setting of Lesotho’s Maluti mountain range.

‘As avid snowboarders, we became involved in Lesotho through Club Maluti, a social club established in 1968,’ explains AOJ’s Kuba Granicki. ‘There was first a directive by our client to build a clubhouse on the slope for snowboarder.co.za, the Snowboarding Club of South Africa, and virtually at the same time they also wanted to add better facilities on the slope and to bring a certain element of hype for visitors.

‘Our first proposal was conceptualized, designed and presented in four days. Then we had to complete the building four months later. It was a ridiculous timeline due to the cold season fast approaching, and with very little money.’

At 3 222 metres above sea level, conditions are harsh

AOJ partner, Alessio Lacovig, confirms that the Maluti mountain range is not an easy place to build.

‘It’s extreme; the resort is at 3 222 metres above sea level, so UV is harsher. Lesotho is also the “water tower” of South Africa, so the annual rainfall is very high. It can be freezing cold one day, and very hot the next. If you run out of nails, there is no hardware store around the corner. The lack of oxygen at high altitude effects construction workers and they get tired quicker on-site, and depending on the time of year, the hours of daylight available for construction are limited,’ he says.

Afro Alpine conditions

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