Walters & Cohen Architects Complete School in Africa

Walters & Cohen Architects has completed work on a new ESTEAM Centre at Somerset College, South Africa. The College is a co-educational independent school, located on a beautiful estate in the Winelands of the Western Cape.

Somerset College commissioned the practice to undertake a masterplan and develop their concept for a cross-curricular learning space. The masterplan identified the best location for an exciting new ESTEAM Centre that accommodates Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths.

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“Somerset College has taken a bold step which will propel the school firmly into the 21st Century. The ESTEAM approach and innovation centre is about creativity, connection, design thinking, diversity and more. In short, it is a futuristic innovation space in all that this entails.” – Clare Searle Deputy Head, Academics & Innovation at Somerset College. 

A double-height prototyping/testing space runs the length of the building, encouraging pupils to test their ideas and think big. Off this main space are rooms for coding and robotics, a makerspace, innovation and solution spaces, a reflection space, a physics lab, art rooms and offices. Glazed doors allow in light, give greater flexibility of use and create a sense of openness throughout the building, making the most of breath-taking views towards the mountains. It also means that pupils can see, be inspired by and celebrate each other’s ideas.

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“As a concept and as a building it will achieve much in terms of delivering on key values and competencies essential in order to thrive in a world of exponential change and uncertainty, but also seemingly limitless opportunity. ESTEAM is a model for transformative learning and diverse thinking, and the ESTEAM Centre offers the physical and metaphorical space to release these possibilities.” – Clare Searle Deputy Head, Academics & Innovation at Somerset College. 

The ESTEAM Centre sits prominently near the entrance, highlighting the school’s pioneering approach to learning and creating new links across the site. Native vines trail up the tension cables on the terrace to ground it in nature and provide shading, while the white walls and dark gable roofs are a contemporary response to the Cape Dutch aesthetic. Its robust materiality and pared-back design respond well to the climate and create an honest building; one that will be used creatively and boldly.

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Michal Cohen, Director of Walters & Cohen Architects, spoke about the project:

It has been a privilege and pleasure to work with Somerset College. How refreshing it was to collaborate with a school and governors with such vision, rigorous decision-making and a willingness to explore innovative ideas: their approach really moulded the design of the building. The project came out of the campus masterplan, and was designed to make new links across the site. We wanted to create a building that was beautiful but not precious.

One that was designed from the inside-out and the outside-in, offering openness and transparency, responding to the climate and using robust materials that give it an honesty and integrity. We enjoyed working with executive architects local to the school, who brought our design to life. Not a traditional school building, the ESTEAM Centre really challenged the design team. But with a can-do attitude, we embodied the positive approach to possibilities that we want to instill in all who teach and learn in the building. I can’t wait to see how it will be used in ways we hadn’t even imagined.

Design Insider Walters and Cohen SOMERSET-DGIL-0307-0058 LOVE

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