Quality education remains a significant challenge in South Africa. Saint-Gobain in collaboration with African School for Excellence and Local Studio Architect & Urban Design provided innovative solutions which provide cost effectiveness, quality education systems, teaching models, advances in technology and infrastructure to address the rising issue of access to quality education. PROJECT BACKGROUND The African School for Excellence is located in the Access City building, within Johannesburg’s Maboneng precinct, (South Africa) development. The site is one of two schools around Gauteng owned by the innovative African School for Excellence brand. African School for Excellence employs an education model that encourages exploratory learning through group based and problem solving activities, embracing each individual child’s unique abilities. In order to provide access to education in the Johannesburg CBD, the group has pursued a unique strategy of housing micro-schools (approximately 80 learners) in ground floor former retail spaces. The Access City school project is exactly one such site and presented complex challenges to satisfy the new educational requirements. Located in an existing building with high volumes, exposed concrete walls and floors, and services in line with the previous commercial use of the space. Creating the ideal learning environment within this challenging context was undertaken through collaboration between African School for Excellence, Saint-Gobain Construction Products South Africa and Local Studio Architects & Urban Design. THE BRIEF The school’s functional requirements, influenced by its education model required a large volume space to be broken down into smaller, specific spaces that catered to either traditional teaching, group work or individual work space, allowing each of these activities to occur simultaneously. DESIGN CHALLENGES The historically commercial use of the site, with a 5m high volume, is characterised by concrete with exposed services. Concrete floors within the existing space were also in need of repairs following extensive wear and tear. The dominance of hard surfaces, as well as the varying requirements in controlling sound depending on the space and activity, creates a particularly challenging acoustic environment. Reducing the reverberation time in these interconnected spaces, was crucial to supporting multiple concurrent learning activities, and is achieved through the installation of adequate sound absorbing materials in the ceiling and on the walls. While the environment is predominantly an open plan learning environment, sound privacy was achieved in the one enclosed classroom space by installing an appropriately specified and detailed high acoustic performance drywall system. This consideration for the activity took place in the varying spaces and how to best detail the surrounding built environment that houses this activity and ensures that the space supports and enables teaching and learning rather than hinders it. The proposed design included a mezzanine to provide multiple functions within the large volume space. This design challenge required the specification of lightweight systems that would optimise the limited height and satisfy multiple functional requirements, such as sound insulation. The existing context also presented further challenges with limited access to natural light. Highly reflective materials and light finishes were required to optimise the limited access to daylight in the deep space. Saint-Gobain lightweight, high performance, partitions & ceiling systems offered the ideal solutions to cater to the project’s complex comfort requirements, including the accommodation of existing services. Factors such as installing free-hanging acoustic panels around existing fire suppression sprinkler systems, and the use of lightweight partitioning systems (Gyproc Sound Resistant Wall System) to ensure building loads are not exceeded show how Saint-Gobain systems can solve prevalent challenges in retrofit construction projects. Research demonstrates that well designed educational environments can positively contribute to the learning experience by addressing (but not limited to) lighting, acoustic, thermal and visual comfort requirements. SYSTEM SOLUTIONS Weber Design flooring self-levelling screed • Application area: Various • Specification driver: Hard wearing surface finished used to repair the damaged existing floor. High quality finish to improve the visual comfort. • Considerations: Used with other materials to define spaces within the open plan environment. Gyproc Sound Resistant Wall System 70AS/F60s57 • Application area: Separating elements between Dialog space (traditional space) and Amphitheatre • Specification driver: Effective sound insulation • Considerations: Appropriate glazing specification & detailing. Fixing to structural elements – ensure effective acoustic protection. Gyproc classic Wall System • Application area: Amphitheatre and other balustrade wall details • Specification driver: Curved walls within high traffic environments • Considerations: Structural stability & high quality aesthetic Ecophon Akusto wall panels • Application area: Team learning space • Specification driver: Improved sound absorption, reduced reverberation time and improved speech clarity • Considerations: sufficient coverage and appropriate positioning on wall surfaces Acoustic Ceilings – Gyptone Big Quattro 41 (with Activ’Air) & Ecophon Gedina • Application area: Independent Space (mezzanine) & Team Space • Specification driver: Improved air quality and sound absorption • Considerations: Activ’Air technology, passively improving air quality tech. Energylite (glasswool) insulation within the ceiling/floor void to improve the perforated plasterboard ceiling’s acoustic performance. Plasterboard perimeter details -see details below. Ecophon Gedina class A absorbing ceiling ensures maximum sound absorption with an accessible, conventional lay in ceiling. Gyproc plasterboard bulkheads • Application area: Various • Specification driver: Improve aesthetic and ceiling termination • Considerations: Transition detail between exposed/ perforated ceilings BUILD PROCESS Lightweight Building Methodology Drywall/Ceiling framework, plasters and boards delivered using one vehicle. Flooring materials, delivered as per project progress Traditional Construction With the number of materials delivered using multiple vehicles building carbon footprint is largely increased. Material curing/drying may result in delays to the construction timeline. NOTE: The project also provided an opportunity to train the appointed contractor using Saint-Gobain’s YouthBuild Academy. Did you know ? Within education, there are three factors you need to consider in order to succeed: 1 reduce the disturbance from background low-frequency noise 2 make sure the whole school gets the proper acoustic treatment 3 choose safe products. If you achieve this, there will be many benefits for both students and teachers such as greater understanding of speech, better short term and long term memory, lower stress levels and blood pressure, better reading ability and test results for students and less voice problems for teachers.