There is a misconception that all green buildings are expensive, this project just serves do demystify green buildings by its use of local, seemingly simple materials to create a master in terms of function, aesthetic and most important environmental design. This type of architecture shows how technology can be merged with local levels of skills and how local materials can be intelligently used to serve the functions of the more expensive conventional materials.
This project is one of the three facilities in the Catholic Learning Resource Centre the other being a cafeteria and a library. There is so much more to this project than meets the eye. Its form from the exterior fits into the immediate context of simple rectilinear forms but the detailing of the hall is what takes it to the next level. In order for the architect to ensure that the walls have good acoustic performance he uses not single but double walls that are not straight but wavy so that even the windows are located looking away from the stage. The walls are insulated between them with uneven stone work on the inside surface both acting as sound absorbing surface to limit reflection of sound and also insulate for heat gain into the auditorium.
The walls are not the only preoccupation in acoustical detailing of the hall but just one of the many. The columns in the hall and the balconies are cladd by soft off-white fabric material that ensure minimal or no unnecessary reflection of sound from the hall. The stage is not just acoustical sound in its intricate jutting pieces of timber detail but its also an aesthetic marvel. The curving gypsum ceiling ensures that the sound is projected from the stage to both the audience on the lower and the upper gallery levels. What makes this hall a marvel is how it uses seemingly simple detail to employ passive cooling into the interior of the hall. The Architect has consciously placed rock boulders below the raked area of the lower floor of the hall and having holes within the slab allowing cool air from the rocks below, which are cooled by pouring water on them, into the space. The air is then warmed and let out through the high windows in the conference hall. The hall also has project specific ventilation cows that are almost 4 times what the local market offers that cool the hall by sucking out the warm air from the building by use of wind energy.
To most people terms like cross ventilation, natural lighting, low embodied energy materials and proper sun shading elements may mean nothing much, but if they were in the this cafeteria this terms need not be explained. The quality of the space created by the Architect of the project in his pre-established efforts, seen through all his projects, to pursue the noble course of sustainable design is uplifting to say the least. This project being one of the three facilities developed at the Catholic Learning Resource center stands out among the equals. The entire Centre could simply pass as one of the best projects of our time in the country by a local firm if not the best in the terms of the often mistaken green buildings.
The conscious choice of the materials does not just create an aesthetically sound composition but meets the budget by its use of local low embodied energy materials. The forms are simple but detailed, one can see this right through from the details of the facades of the building itself to the intricate detail of the staircase balustrades and the engineering of the long cantilever over the entrance.
With an understanding of the solar patterns, the space is washed in diffused light by the large windows which are properly shaded with no direct sunlight at all through the year. By the use of permanent louvers on the windows and the ceiling and roof level the space has continuous air movement by convention allowing the space to cool itself naturally and with constant flow of fresh air which is paramount in a cafeteria set up.
The cafeteria play of the volumes with double volume at the entrance creates interest while enhancing air movement and ensuring visual continuity between the users of both the ground and the first floor levels of the project. The cafeteria is a universal design and unlike most projects providing specialized facilities for the physically challenged. This is a project that one visits every day and each day one gets a different experience. Most buildings would fail because they have high initial costs or have high maintenance costs, most sustainable project or green building are nonstarters because of their high initial costs although they promise a great deal of rewards. This library at the Catholic University of East Africa has tackled these monsters of costs by use of local low embodied energy material, passive cooling of the building, natural and diffused lighting and wind driven chimneys to achieve a space quality that is not just fulfilling as a library but also providing a piece of art and sense of place that meets the intended function way above the expectations.
The physical design of the library, including the other two facilities in the development, a cafeteria and a conference hall, manifest to all, a conscious effort to separate the automobile from the pedestrian with the main focus on the pedestrian. It’s a type of design aware of the needs of the human being as the main factor; as a user of the space, influence to the space and part of the space.
Ramps around the facilities allow for the movement of even the physical challenged in, out and within the building. With an extended cantilever and high volume entrance a visual transparent entrance is created by use of glass that gets shaded by the cantilever. The transition between the outside and the inside is more of security but the experience is that of continuity, where the outside is brought into the inside with a small garden right at the foot of an atrium that bakes the interior spaces with natural and diffused light.
Most projects would make use of a polycarbonate or glass roofed atriums to allow in light into their deep plan spaces but fail by allowing all the direct light into the space which at afternoon times may lead to comfort levels of the building being exceeded or excessive and unnecessary light being allowed in. The Architect of the project by use of timber louvers below the atrium roof allows diffused light into the spaces and the space are lit without unnecessary heat gains or unmanageable levels of illumination. The timber louvers also serve as insulation from the direct sunlight. Through the use of this atrium and the location of the spaces around it the library uses only natural light during the day which most buildings of the same scale would not.
Passive cooling of the building is done by the use ventilation cows (chimneys) placed at strategic places within the building that allows warm air to be sucked up and out of the building allowing in fresh air from the lower operable windows. The immediate experience that one gets inside the library is that of being in an enriched extension of the external natural environment in an internal proper articulated space.