Cheré Botha School Tour & Talk

Wolff Architects was commissioned by the Provincial Government of the Western Cape to design the Cheré Botha School.  Cheré Botha  is a Learners with Special Educational Needs (LSEN) school situated in Oakglen, Bellville, Western Cape and accommodates learners from the ages of 3 -18.

An artist impression of Cheré Botha School by: Leighton Arendse, a senior phase yr 3 learner at the school.

Open House Architecture/Wolff Architects organized an event on the morning of the 18th of August 2018 of the recently opened school. Heinrich Wolff  along with Joey vd Westhuizen the school's principal gave a talk in the school hall on the design principles of the building, followed by questions from members of the architectural profession and the public in attendance. Visitors had an opportunity to tour the school building for the rest of the morning. This event was organized as a fundraiser for the school. 

Heinrich Wolff (L) with Joey vd Westhuizen (R)  delivering talk to guests. Image: Lerato Maduna

In South Africa, many special educational needs schools are conglomerations of classrooms strung along a central corridor. The need for enclosed corridors originate from the susceptibility of many of these learners to respiratory diseases. The persistent wind and winter rainfall of Cape Town makes open courtyard typologies inappropriate for this kind of school. The result then, is that no collectivity is established beyond the classroom. Although learners with autism and ones with intellectual disabilities are taught in separate classrooms it is mutually beneficial for the learners to play and interact together. The search for collective form therefore serves an educational and developmental purpose as well.

A view  of the school from the field. Image:Heinrich Wolff

The architecture of this school engages with the speculations of Fumihiko Maki on the nature of collective form and masterful usage of light. Maki’s speculations focused on the design of authentic urban patterns which respond to the lifestyle, terrain, urban economies and contemporary challenges of societies or urban districts. The character and coherence of villages which developed over long periods of time served for Maki as a benchmark of significant collective form at an urban scale.

The horizontality of the canopy around the arrival court is contrasted with the verticality of the A-frame structures and the hall. The sculptural volumes of the hall and workshops with its characteristic roof profile are the central moments of the architectural composition. These two volumes are clad in corrugated iron and rise like cumulus clouds from the datum of the canopy at their base. The interior of the hall is triangulated in section just like the A-framed spaces. As another triangulated space, the hall becomes an exaggerated version of other collective forms. Openings for light are carefully arranged to ensure a low glare interior.

Visitors at the arrival court during the tour of the school.Images:Lerato Maduna

The school is divided into six sections: an administration building, four classroom blocks for learners, divided into various age groups; including one classroom block with the assembly hall, a kitchen and workshops. Each of the classroom blocks is designed around a shared space which is expressed through a timber A-frame, conceptualised as the ‘super-form’. The A-frame ‘super-form’ is identical for every age group but the ground surface is occupied and programmed differently depending on its situation: the creche is filled with play equipment and soft surfaces, the junior sections with lines for walking and riding and in the senior section, vocational situations such as food production or hospitality are set up.

These roofed, outdoor spaces establish collective form as a series of social spaces at a scale between the classroom and the school as a whole. It allows learners to play and learn outside even in adverse weather conditions. In previous projects, we have explored the use of roofed, outdoor spaces as expressions of collective form such as in the Watershed located in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. In these explorations, collective form becomes the social heart of the architecture and the origin of urban connectivity. 

For in-depth reading and pictures on the project visit our website on:

The tour and talk was an insightful and educational experience for those who attended as they got an opportunity to question and  engage with the architects and space.Images:Lerato Maduna