South Africa is making headway in the use of steel in modern building designs, as is evident in the new Engineering Study Centre at the University of Pretoria.
The building, which was, in part, funded by diversified miner Xstrata, received a commen- dation in the Architectural category of the South African Institute of Steel Construction 2013 Steel Awards.
In February last year, the miner contributed R19.5-million for the development of the building; R12-million was immediately available for the construction of the centre at the Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology Faculty, while the balance would be provided in equal amounts over three years for engineering research.
The Steel Awards judges commended the building for “doing well in using steel in its design”. One of the judges, Johann Nell, who represented the South African Iron and Steel Institute, said this project was an example of where old meets new, where good engineering meets good architecture, complementing each other in aesthetics, with the steel arch design of the entrance to the study centre. “I am proud to be associated with such an esteemed entity,” he said.
Steel was extensively used as the structural medium in this building to reduce the addi- tional load that would be added on the existing structure. For the building’s designers, modifying the existing building foundations to accommodate the new structure was not an option. To limit the amount of additional weight, the team applied the principle of compression. This ensured that a large portion of the roof’s weight would be transferred to the outer and independent pile foundations. The steel roof has spans of up to 40 m and covers a total area of 1 700 m2. Similarly, steel was used as the primary structural element supporting the mezzanine floors.
Steel also played a crucial role in achieving the required aesth-etic shape and appeal of the final building facade, as much of the structural steelwork would be visible to the public after completion of the project. Using steel, it was possible to roll large sections to create the visually appealing dome-type roof.
Environmental considerations also contributed to the use of steel, as the the study centre is built in the middle of the University of Pretoria’s botanical garden, with numerous endangered plant species growing virtually against the building’s footprint. Steel erection was the least intrusive construction method, as the steel sections were fabricated off-site, reducing the amount of construction activities on site.
In the construction phase, large mobile cranes could not be used, owing to restricted workspace and the weight limitation on the existing reinforced concrete slab. The contractor had to revert to manual labour or a combination of manual labour and smaller lifting machinery to erect the structure.
The steel fabrication and erection were finished on time and within budget. The University of Pretoria is pleased with the building, commending the construction team for creating a space where engineering students could thrive and work optimally day to day, and transforming the landscape of the Hatfield campus of the University of Pretoria.
The judges unanimously agreed that this project was worthy of a Steel Awards commendation. “The creation of space under the old engineering building to accommodate the number of students at the university speaks of architectural and engineering ingenuity,” they concluded.