The UCT Avenue Road Student Residence has proudly become the first housing project in South Africa to achieve a Green Star rating.

Words Nicole Cameron

Living and learning
Project dates:
January – October 2020
Green Star rating:
4-Star Green Custom Design
Middle Campus, UCT, Cape Town
Type of building:
Student residence

If sustainable development is the next frontier, the University of Cape Town (UCT) Avenue Road Student Residence and Dining Hall, with its 4-Star Green Star Custom Design rating, is a true pioneer. Every area of the design and construction of the residence focuses on sustainable concerns such as energy, carbon emissions, embodied energy, water, healthy spaces for people, ecology, transport and construction management.

“UCT values environmental sustainability and the health and wellness of students and staff – green buildings are resource efficient (they save energy and water), are responsible for less greenhouse gas emissions, tread more lightly on the environment and are healthier for students and staff. These are all very important values to UCT, especially for a space that students will be living and studying in, which is why the green design was so important for this project,” says Manfred Braune, UCT’s director of environmental sustainability.


Old meets new

The new residence and dining hall forms part of a larger precinct made up of several buildings, most of which are heritage-protected, explains Gabs Pather, director of Jakupa Architects and Urban Designers. “Some buildings and parts of others were demolished to make way for the new structures, and the placement of the new structures was carefully thought through in order to enhance and control vehicular and pedestrian movement.” All the surrounding heritage buildings and features were retained and protected and incorporated in the overall planning of the site layout.

The residence is conveniently located in Mowbray, with the development forming a backdrop to the existing Avenue and Cadboll House buildings along Avenue Road (part of UCT’s heritage buildings) and creating an edge along Matopo Road. With easy access to upper campus, shops and amenities as well as connections to public transport, students are encouraged to use public transport (such as Jammie Shuttles), non-motorised mobility and the cycling facilities provided, in order to contribute to a lower student carbon footprint. Limited parking acts as a further encouragement to do so. The building is also well located near sporting facilities and university health and wellness services.

We are excited and proud to think that approximately 500 students will every year be living in a healthier built environment than they are likely to experience at home, where most South African families have not been in a position to have a green home.

An aerial 3D image of the site, with the new residence and dining hall illustrated in grey, as part of the larger precinct.


When it comes to the residence, which accommodates 500 student beds and support facilities, as well as two Warden’s apartments, Pather describes the project’s design concept as being organised around three landscaped courtyards, which allows light into the inner-perimeter of the building strips. The dining hall is a column-free, multi-functional, 536-seater main dining area, supported by a foyer, toilets, a preparation kitchen and serving spaces. It is near the new residence building and adjacent to the existing University House residence, which it also caters for. “The dining hall roof and the way the high-level windows allow light into the space is one of the project’s highlights for us as a team,” says Pather.

A further highlight, he says, is how the residence’s external courtyards have been designed to be sunken lounges, with the trees seats, benches and planters making them inviting spaces in which students can gather together to relax and socialise. Landscape architect Herman de Lange adds that a combination of indigenous water-wise and low-maintenance plant and tree species define the space as well as complement the architecture. “An outdoor gym has also been installed as a functional element within the landscape,” he says.

Low-carbon materials such as ground granulated blast-furnace slag were used in the building’s concrete structure.

A sustainable start

Getting things off to a green start meant using low-carbon materials such as GGBS (Ground Granulated Blast-furnace Slag) in the building’s concrete structure to reduce the amount of virgin cement, and the use of recycled steel. Sustainability consultant Alison Groves of WSP explains that at least 50% of all timber came from sustainable sources, and carbon emissions associated with construction were reduced by sourcing products and materials from within 50km of the site. All construction activities followed strict guidelines with regards to protecting the environment and preventing construction waste from going to landfill.

As residences are the university’s biggest users of water, the infrastructure ensures that all sanitary fittings are water efficient, with low-flow showerheads and taps and dual-flush toilets. “The taps in basins provided to each bedroom offer a cold-water supply only, with a centralised heat pump plant producing hot water that is circulated to bathrooms and kitchenettes using a ring main system,” says Groves. “This prevents water wastage from ‘dead legs’ in the system.” There is also a partial greywater system, with a borehole on site which would allow the building to continue to operate using ground water, in a drought scenario (depending on the water quality). Under normal conditions it would revert to municipal supply. Water-efficient kitchen appliances and fittings are installed in the industrial kitchen, and water-wise smart irrigation is used to water the equally water-wise planted landscape.

To keep energy output to a minimum, the design ensures that all bedrooms have openable windows that allow fresh air, natural light and views to the outdoors. There is mechanical ventilation and extraction to areas such as some of the lounges, the workshop, the laundry and waste room area, and lighting in common areas such as passages and lounges are switched using occupancy sensors.


New green buildings at UCT

Project Building useLocationGreen Star ratingDate of completion
New Lecture TheatreTeachingUpper Campus4-Star rating achieved2014
GSB Conference CentreTeaching and conference centreGSB Campus (Breakwater Campus, V&A)4-Star rating achievedApril 2019
Avenue Road Residence &
Dining Hall
Student residenceMiddle Campus4-Star rating achievedCompleted. Open for 2021 student intake
School of EducationTeaching and administrationMiddle Campus4-Star targetedConstruction to start late 2020
d-schoolTeaching and administrationMiddle Campus6-Star targetedConstruction to start late 2020
Nelson Mandela School of GovernanceTeaching, administration, conference and public exhibitionUpper Campus / SANParksTargeted rating not yet confirmedConstruction start not yet confirmed

The placement of the new structures was carefully thought through in order to enhance and control vehicular and pedestrian movement.

A space for everyone

In addition to providing 144 single rooms and 173 double rooms, the building has 12 universal access rooms, six of which offer en-suite assisted living facilities for students with disabilities. While three other UCT residences have been retrofitted to provide similar facilities, this is a first for a new residence. The planning for this starts at the road entrance to the residence, with parking in 3.5m-wide disability bays; ramps into the residence for mobility-impaired students; tactile way-finding; and accessible door handles, window handles and plug points in all rooms.
“The fact that the building caters extensively for people with disabilities speaks to a very important value for UCT, of ensuring that this new green space is inclusive and that students from all walks of life can enjoy it,” says Braune. The residence will be ready for the 2021 student intake and is one of a few other design and construction projects in planning at the moment, of which three are new buildings and will also be targeting Green Star ratings. The School of Education and the d-school are both middle campus projects due to start construction in late 2020, with the d-school targeting a 6-Star rating and the School of Education targeting a 4-Star rating. The third significant project in early planning stage is the Nelson Mandela School of Governance adjacent to Upper Campus, which is at urban planning stage and will likely go through an architectural competition in the next 12 months or so.

Three 10 000 insulated insulated 600kPa hot water storage vessels with zero power consumption.
Four high-efficiency 90kW Sirac Core environment-friendly R410a heat pumps provide the water heating
for the facility.
Sirac provided the water pumps for the project [pictured]. Coldwater booster pump set provides pressurised potable water for hot and cold water throughout the facility.

“We are excited and proud to think that approximately 500 students will every year be living in a healthier built environment than they are likely to experience at home, where most South African families have not been in a position to have a green home,” says Braune. “These students will be able to learn about what a green building is by living in such a building; and hopefully go on to be sustainable stewards of the future.”