Together for tomorrow


Architect of Change 2: Thomas Chapman gave an old street corner new life

by | Oct 14, 2018

Thomas Chapman, of Local Studio, designed Fulham Heights, a beautiful mix of old and new, and of work and play. The Brixton, Johannesburg building has been shortlisted for a AfriSam-SAIA award in sustainable architecture. The winners will be announced on 26 October in Cape Town. Here, Thomas tells us more about his shortlisted design:

Describe the building, and its multiple functions. The building is the adaptive re-use of a Victorian-era corner shop and new construction of a two storey light-weight steel structure above, housing my office and two new apartments. The corner shop houses a coffee shop and bicycle shop. We were experimental with our material choices, namely polycarbonate walls on the south and east facades. The resultant concept is a clear definition of old and new, and a bright, translucent landmark on a prominent corner in Brixton.

Briefly explain the Johannesburg Corridors of Freedom policy? Corridors of Freedom is a policy instituted by former mayor Parks Tau in 2010, which looks to promote and incentivize densification projects close to newly-developed mass transit infrastructure, namely the ReaVaya BRT system.

To what aspect of this policy does this design speak to most? Most of the uptake by developers in Corridors of Freedom areas has been housing-only projects; this project is one of the first to test the feasibility of a truly mixed-use scheme on a relatively small site (495m²).

What other sustainable design elements have been used in the building? The building makes no use of mechanical heating and ventilation, and water-heating is entirely provided by municipal gas.

Tell me about the polycarbonate (thermoplastic polymers) used? The polycarbonate skin actually only makes up less than 40% of the total façade area but it’s the most prominent part of the building so the image is one of a completely polycarbonate building. Having said that, we are major proponents of buildings which are quick and easy to assemble and disassemble. The entire building superstructure could be recycled (if we really wanted to) because of its inherent technology, something that cannot be said for traditional (bricks and mortar) construction.

Tell us about the experience of working and inhabiting the space. The building is a very comfortable and uplifting building to work in. We have also been pleasantly surprised by the safety-factor of a mixed-use building, where people, be it a café-employee, office worker or apartment resident, are always coming or going.

How has the neighbourhood responded to the building? It seems like the building has become the meeting-place of choice for Brixton residents as it is easy to find, the courtyard is beautiful and peaceful to sit in and the coffee is top-notch.

What’s new on your playlist? Lately I’m into down-tempo music like Four-Tet and Bonobo that my one-year-old also enjoys.

Favourite drinking spot in Johannesburg? My courtyard at home.

Building you love most in the world? I love lots of buildings equally but the building I’ve loved the longest is the Casa Riva San Vitale in Ticino by Mario Botta.

Images: David Southwood


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