Student sustainability group wins award for South Africa school project

April 11, 2013

Two years after 26 Cornell students spent their summer building an early childhood development center in a new residential community in Johannesburg, South Africa, the project has received an award in an international architecture competition.

The 6,000-square-foot school, designed by second-year architecture students and developed by Cornell University Sustainable Design (CUSD), won the Popular Choice award for the student design-build category in the competition sponsored by Architizer, an international architecture website. Entries from more than 100 countries were submitted for the 2013 competition.

“We have been honored by many humanitarian and educational awards, but this is our first award based on design,” says Karen Chi-Chi Lin (B.Arch. ’13), who traveled to South Africa twice to work on the project. “It's really great to be honored by a design award.”

The center, which relies on passive energy instead of electricity, was selected by judges of the Architizer A+ Awards as one of the top five projects in the student design-build category. Viewers of the Architizer website then were invited to vote on projects in more than 50 categories to select the Popular Choice winners.

Andrew Fu (B.Arch. ’14), whose design for the school was selected by a group of Cornell professors, project partners, and CUSD team members, says the award will help promote the sustainable practices the students used in the project. One of those strategies was insulating the building with sandbags, which cools and heats the structure.

Another key aspect of its sustainability was the construction of a separate wing to train teachers, which will help provide a continuing supply of instructors for the school, located in Cosmo City, a mixed-housing development in Johannesburg. The center accommodates 80 children between the ages of two and nine.

CUSD began working on the schoolhouse project after representatives from Education Africa, a nonprofit organization working to reduce poverty through education, visited campus four years ago. Second-year architecture students in a studio class developed designs for the school, and Fu's proposal was selected in a multi-round class competition.

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