Ancient past meets present
● Students create modern-day design space to reflect Pinnacle Cave life
Ancient origins met young blood in the Lower Baakens Valley this week.
The encounter took the form of an exhibition by 41 second-year Nelson Mandela University School of Architecture students with an unusual brief.
The Architectural Engagements with our Human Origins Exhibition had begun four months ago with a call from the Pinnacle Discovery Centre, exhibition organiser and architecture lecturer John Andrews said. The centre consisted of a non-profit company established to showcase the watershed discoveries made in a series of Mossel Bay caves, and the aim was to create a physical, interpretive representation of this endeavour that would become a tourist attraction.
“They were looking for some inspirational thinking and designs for the building and to create some interest around the development, and I put up my hand for us.
“We received their brief and then visited the site in early August, which really got us think- ing and created some gees [motivation].
“We really enjoyed engaging with our ancient past and at the same time doing something for real in the present, working out all the nuts and bolts of how our different designs would function. Each of our eight designs are buildable, in my view. The whole thing has been radically exciting and challenging.”
The brief stipulated no budget restriction, but emphasised the need for display, research, entertainment and education spaces and sustainability in de- sign and operation.
Andrews said the different designs included water tanks, solar power, and a natural air conditioning and ventilation system consisting of automated louvres which closed and opened depending on changes in the temperature and the angle of the wind.
Use had been made of poles from locally accessible alien gum trees and grass for thatch and, to bring down costs, retail and business conference zones had been included.
Three possible sites had been mooted for the new inter- pretative centre, two on Mossel Bay Point near the lighthouse and one on the St Blaize Trail.
Whichever site was chosen the centre itself should reflect the fierce and beautiful elements and unique sense of place, Andrews said.
Paleontological work in the Pinnacle Caves is being undertaken by a multiparty research group including Nelson Mandela University and Arizona State University from the US.
Their finds so far indicate that a small band of hardy early humans on the Cape south and east coast, perhaps as few as a couple of hundred people, survived the Ice Age 150,000 years ago to spread through Africa and the world.
Their most important food was shellfish that provided omega three which boosted their brain capacity. Their developing ingenuity helped them bring down the giant game in the area and work out how to harvest and cook bulbs, which needed to be leached of their tannins.
Fire-sharpened weapons made their appearance, and the first primitive elements of art and culture.
One of the NMU students, Daniel Fouche, 21, said her group had based their design on the winding stone fish traps that were laid in the shallows by these early humans, with different chambers of the building designed to manage the ebb and flow of tourists.
The project had been exhilarating but it had been perplexing at times to fit their inclination towards formal straight lines with the demands of their free-flowing fish trap, she said.
“There was a lot of passion, some shouting. It was an adventure, a roller-coaster.”
Two representatives of the Point Discovery Centre board viewed the designs for the first time at the exhibition on Wednesday night at the Werk Workshop in the Lower Baakens Valley.
We enjoyed engaging with our ancient past and doing something for real in the present John Andrews ARCHITECTURE LECTURER