Growing food in an old coal bunker:University of Pretoria graduate's green vision scoops sustainability award

Posted on September 28, 2011

The Third International Holcim Awards were announced in Casablanca, Morocco, this month.

The Swiss-based Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction administers the competition in five regions in parallel across the world. The Holcim Awards aim to promote sustainable responses to technological, socioeconomic, cultural and environmental issues from the building and construction industry. More than 6,000 submissions for projects located in 146 countries were received. More information is available at

Ms Davey’s dissertation, completed in 2010 under study leaders Arthur Barker and Nicholas Clarke, achieved top honours in the Department in 2010 and represented UP at the national finals of Corobrik's 24th Architectural Student of the Year competition. The study proposes the transformation of a coal bunker at the old Pretoria West Power Station into a vertical hydroponic facility for agricultural production, thereby inverting the attributes of a former polluting facility into a purifying element that continues to be a mechanism for addressing the city’s needs. Grey- and rain-water is used to grow food in close proximity to the urban consumer. Spin-offs become resources: gas and biomass for energy production in addition to compost and clean water. To establish the necessary framework for the transposed use, the existing crude structure hosts the addition of a bamboo construction, exploring its limits in a multi-floor commercial application. Moreover, qualitative spaces are created in the former barren area to upgrade the environment. The intended market at the base forms a place of social interaction, while urban agriculture knowledge is transferred to the local community and the adaptive reuse generates numerous products (food, compost, gas, clean water) and provides a strong return on investment. The full document of her study is available at /

The jury commended this project for its visionary idea and impact that appear both feasible and constructible. The utilisation of abandoned industrial structures will increasingly become a relevant issue in developing societies.

Arthur Barker, who also coordinated the 2010 final-year studio, said that Ms Davey’s accomplishment was a just reward for her hard work, tenacity and intellectual rigour that resulted in a superb and ground-breaking design project. Prof Karel Bakker, Head of the Department of Architecture, attended the award ceremony and said that the jury were unanimous in their deliberations. He added: “I believe the scheme responded to the idea of sustainability on so many levels that it was a complex, multidimensional design that also showed competence on the empirical level. It would be great to partner with other schools of architecture in Africa to work further on home-grown sustainable solutions.” Her design fits with the Department’s use of the term “Resource Efficient Design” or RED, which is intrinsically part of their ecosystemic approach to spatial design.

The award is the fifth major accolade recently awarded to students of the Department and comes barely three months after Ruann van der Westhuizen was awarded the prestigious Hunter Douglas Award at the Archiprix International in New York.

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