Port Elizabeth, South Africa

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.

The Center’s folded concrete forms read as independent volumes which lean on one another for support, sending the message of Ubuntu, which literally means: “I am because you are.” The distributed mass of the building allows pedestrian walkways, which were plotted from the existing footpaths across the site, to continue through the building uninterrupted. Rather than formal entrances, these voids are a continuation of the township pathways further supporting the vital work of Ubuntu Centre by creating opportunities for chance encounters – promoting social exchange, the sharing of information, and the strengthening of relationships.

The architecture of the Center is made up of familiar local building materials, reconstituted in innovative ways that convey the existing potential of the township itself. The concrete, a material conventionally used for the laying of infrastructural networks, is pulled up from the ground and folded over the resulting space, suggesting a sense of permanence and lasting commitment to the people of the community. The hard concrete is contrasted with the soft quality of the gumpoles, woven together between the apertures as a permeable opening for the introduction of light and air throughout the building. Summer heat is shaded through horizontal gumpole slats for the hottest times of the day while allowing the low winter sun to penetrate. The sensuous interplay between these material elements provides a dynamic relationship between the interior and exterior of the buildings as well as a direct connection between the activity of the Center and the surrounding community.


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