Wits Chamber of Mines, 4th Quadrant
Wits Chamber of Mines, 4th Quadrant
PROJECT   Images
Designed by Wilhelm Meyer and Floris Smith in 1986 and built for some R10 million, the original building was structured around a centrally located courtyard space after interaction with Prof Pancho Guedes. A concept of “cool” ventilation via raised floor plenums was adopted to provide acoustically and environmentally acceptable conditions for a building situated on the M1.

Financial limitations prevented completion of the fourth quadrant until resumption in 2010 offered an opportunity to extend and revitalize the building and, through creative interaction between faculty members and the architectural team, to challenge the existing facilities, specifically issues associated with the open courtyard and circulation areas.


Staff and students never used the courtyard space as intended, and it did not become the focal point and meeting space originally anticipated. Enclosing the court (some 20m in diameter) by the introduction of a glazed dome was the obvious solution to give a real sense of place, providing focus for staff and students, and transformed all circulation zones to the interior spaces, thus providing acceptable climatic conditions. Induced air systems allow the existing volumes to act as chimneys with exhaust fans situated at the roof level. Various departmental needs are allowed to encroach into the double-volume courtyard space, informal and interactive study areas are provided at the upper levels, thus introducing a lively atmosphere. Pending opening of the coffee shop, the space awaits the smell of brewed coffee.

The Fourth Quadrant:

The vacant space of the unbuilt fourth quadrant provided the opportunity to enlarged the floorplate beyond the historic boundaries of the design to almost double the original area. The Fourth Quadrant extension provides a total floor area of some 7 500m², which includes a large laboratory space for mine design on the extended floor at roof level. Construction works in the three years 2009-2012 proceeded while the faculty was fully functional, posing logistical challenges to contractor and client alike.

Based on a need for greater flexibility in providing teaching and laboratory space and the need for more natural lighting the original perforated block façade concept was abandoned in favour of a double-skin concept in which an external perforated aluminium screen provides solar and glare protection to the inner essentially glazed building enclosure. The resultant architecture reflects the changed philosophical concerns of the historic to the new, the solid feel of concrete block façade,   compared to the transparency of screens and filtered light.

The raised floor plenum concept is central to sustainable climate control, with existing and new floor-based air systems now seen as essential to low-energy HVAC solutions.

A key challenge in the refurbishment work stemmed from the limited lifecycles of materials and mechanical systems in the original building. The air-conditioning systems i.e. chiller plants had to be replaced, new aluminium window frames with low-e glass replaced all the existing window systems, which had failed and did not meet new energy criteria being enforced today.

Modular concrete facing blocks applied in a cavity construction in the original building suffered damage due to water absorption. The entire building has now been resealed with a mineral-based, penetrating and interacting sealant, which offers a life expectancy of between 30 – 50 years, requiring only occasional high-pressure cleaning.

The building has been in operation for about a year with positive user feedback, a dramatic improvement on what was.