Port Elizabeth, South Africa

The Ubuntu Center’s folded concrete forms read as independent volumes that lean on each other for support, an architectural reflection the literal message of Ubuntu, a word that means “I am because you are.” Pedestrian walkways, plotted from already-created footpaths and with a deep respect for the existing use patterns, weave throughout the distributed mass of the buildings. Instead of a formal entrance, the building relies on these interspersed voids, creating opportunities for chance encounters that can promote social exchange, the sharing of information, and the strengthening of life-saving relationships.

We used familiar local building materials, reconceived in innovative ways. Where concrete is conveniently used here for the laying of infrastructural networks, we pulled it up from the ground and folded massive planes towards each other, suggesting a sense of permanence and lasting commitment within this community. Soft gumpoles are woven together between the apertures, creating a permeable opening for light and air throughout the building. The interplay between these material elements provide a dynamic relationship between the interior and exterior of the buildings, as well as a direct connection between the activity of the Center and its surrounding community.

The Ubuntu Center provides pediatric HIV testing and treatment, counseling, education, and community empowerment. The design is focused on de-stigmatization and normalization of HIV testing and treatment, providing access to a state-of-the-art facility in a beleaguered post-apartheid community. The Center and its design are intended as a model for sustainable development that begins with the environment and extends to the preservation of life.

Funded globally and operated locally, Ubuntu Center brings services to vulnerable children by providing centrally located, free and accessible social services in a single facility. The program includes a multi-purpose hall for education, concerts and shelter when needed; an empowerment wing with career guidance and a computer center; and a fully equipped Pediatric HIV /TB testing and counseling clinic with serving nearly 50,000 people through community HIV prevention outreach.  The Center’s organic rooftop garden together with Ubuntu’s neighborhood gardens feed 2,245 students daily. Ubuntu has been adopted by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and has become a model of success for the Clinton Global Initiative, the Kresge Foundation, and countless individual supporters.


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