The new Science Stadium complex of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) opened in June this year.  It consists of a former sports grandstand that has been converted into lecture theatres, and a new building housing undergraduate science laboratories.

The stadium location with its grandstand and athletics track was integrated into the Wits Urban Design Framework, with the area designated as a new hub of both academic and public interactive space on the West Campus. The new layout respects the shape and form of the former stadium, with future academic buildings to be built around the central oval open space.

The existing curved grandstand at the west end of the stadium was retained and adapted into lecture theatres. New tutorial rooms and a colonnade with circulation area were added to the “field” side of the grandstand. Along the southern length of the stadium is the new three-storey laboratory building.

Built to increase the teaching space available for undergraduate science courses, the project contains five large lecture theatres, three laboratories (chemistry, physics and biology)  and 20 tutorial rooms.

The architectural design was accomplished through a joint venture of Johannesburg-based firms Savage & Dodd Architects and Urban Solutions (the latter no longer operational).  Architect Gunther Wagner of Urban Solutions explains the two primary components of the design concept: “The first major design concept was, from an urban design point of view, to create a primary public space for West Campus. The centre of the old stadium becomes public gathering space which then moves to the open circulation colonnades of the building, and on to private interior academic spaces.

“The second component of the design concept was an emphasis on making science accessible, tying into the philosophy of the university to de-alienate science.” Hence, all three laboratories have extensive glass window areas and anyone can walk up the public stairways and view what is going on inside.

One is immediately attracted by the bright primary colours and playful shapes. Wagner believes  that “buildings must allow things to happen, create opportunities for interactions among people. They must inspire dialogue and creativity.”

Architect Heather Dodd of Savage & Dodd explains that “it would have been a massive expense to demolish the existing  grandstand. “The existing seating structure was maintained and minimally modified to enable the correct sightlines for the lecture theatres. The roof structure was reused and the accommodation under the seating bowl was minimally refurbished..”

Early in the design process, the design team wanted to push the greening of the project, and had the university as a willing client. Paul Carew of PJCarew Consulting (PJC) drove the green design process, considering specific interventions that were workshopped with the rest of the design team.

The reuse of the grandstand structure saved significant resources and other green elements incorporated include water efficient fittings and an emphasis on acoustics and insulation, particularly within the auditoria. However, the primary green design elements became daylighting the spaces and using the large concrete structure to heat and cool the building.


The full article appears in the August-September 2012 issue. Images: Jason Buch (