The Ubuntu Center, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Part sustainability strategy, part organizational tool, the design of the Ubuntu Center consists of four connected trapezoidal forms and interstitial spaces. The forms are oriented to maximize daylight, and each contains different types of facilities and functions, ranging from study rooms and skills programs in the empowerment wing to treatment and counseling in the HIV/TB clinic. Thanks to the careful planning, no part of the center is marginalized.

To make the center approachable for residents, the architects used a locally familiar materials palette of concrete, glass, and gum poles. The materials also help to improve the building's environmental performance. The folded concrete skin adds passive solar heating, and a roof garden provides not only building insulation, but a food source.

Ground Floor

Translated into English, "Ubuntu" means "I am, because you are" and represents the idea of a community surviving and its members drawing strength from one another. In Zwide Township, grassroots community efforts are trying to answer the urgent needs for child healthcare, education, and counseling. Another vital need is the normalizing of HIV testing and treatment. A stigma still surrounds HIV, though it affects 40 percent of the local population. The Ubuntu Center addresses several of these needs and is a model that can be replicated in other towns in South Africa.

Before building on site, Field Architecture created mock-ups of the exterior wall system. A section of the concrete wall was cast (top) and raw gum poles (bottom) were finished and installed to form a section of the sunscreen (middle). The sunscreen functions as a security system while filtering the daylight that illuminates 90 percent of the building.

Upper Floor

The community theater is a large room that can serve as a gathering space for cultural events, meetings, or educational sessions.

The Ubuntu Center is located along a major roadway, with access to public transportation and pedestrian walkways, making it a readily accessible resource for the residents of Port Elizabeth.

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