Natural areas in proximity to urban environments are constantly under pressure from development. Conservation is not high on the list of priorities, mostly because the general public do not experience the benefits of nature first hand.
In Pretoria, South Africa, this is not due to a lack of open space, but rather due to the fact that conservation areas are under-utilised. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommends that some areas be made more accessible to the benefit of greater conservation efforts. The dissertation considers the potential contribution of sensitive developments in urban conservation areas and how they should be approached. What is an architecture that supports and introduces human activities yet respects a sensitive environment? How does architecture place Man in relation with Nature?
The investigation is centred at Wonderboom nature reserve in the north of Pretoria. This municipal reserve is a place of natural and historical significance: it forms part of the Magaliesberg and has remnants from the Stone Age, Iron Age and ZAR periods within its boundaries. The proposed development focuses on illustrating how nature has a significant impact on human well-being. A health practice which focuses on rehabilitation that makes use of the natural environment as primary stimulant, is introduced. The centre includes a cafeteria and is designed to support other recreational activities and occasional events too.
The project looks to precedents of programme, form, materiality and similar
experience for guidance. Mark DeKay’s interpretation of Integral Theory’s application to sustainable architecture is applied as criteria for architectural decisions.
Design is the primary means of inquiry. Various conceptual approaches were considered before a concept was finalised which was then further iterated. The nonlinear process has been documented. The final design proposes three volumes each offering a different perspective of the environment. The exterior spaces and routes in between are carefully considered for their experiential value. The building is drawn from the environment; constructed with materials from site as far as possible. Low-tech, passive solutions favour processes which are labour intensive and can employ unskilled labourers. The construction
process narrates an understanding of place and is in itself a means of engaging with the landscape.
The dissertation concludes that an architectural solution best suited to an urban protected area is one with a holistic approach. In addition to performing well in terms of sustainability and being seamlessly integrated into natural systems,
architecture should delight. Individual experience and collective meaning are just as important when designing to place humans in relation with nature.