One-on-one interview with London-based photographer, filmmaker and architect-in-training Ben Tynegate: Project Kagiso By Tlotlo Tsamaase

30 Jan 2017
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In our international spotlight, we are keen to showcase design in the built environment within African borders, in addition to showcasing local works. This month, our focus zones in on a South African project, Project Kagiso, which is a nursery in Limpopo, of which architect-in-training Ben Tynegate was a visiting tutor for the project. Aside from being an architect-in-training, the London-based photographer and filmmaker Ben was SPA Photographer of the Year 2014 as well as EyeTime 2014 Future Voices Photographer winner, whereby his works have been featured in magazines, such as African Design Magazine, Architects’ Journal, DeFuze Magazine, Design Milk, and more.

Kagiso Project is located in a remote mountainous region in Mmaakgatlo village, in Letsitele Valley in Limpopo, South Africa—a place pervaded with poverty with little resources. Kagiso Project was a Live Build project, which is a unit in the University of Nottingham and part of a live studio tutored by Alison Davies and John Ramsey where undergraduate students partake in the practical experience by travelling to South Africa for construction of pre-school structures, which fall under “Education Africa” as Ben Tynegate elaborates. This is realized through a competitive design phase amongst a team of architecture students. The winning project goes through the construction stage, during the Easter break.

Project Kagiso

Location: Limpopo, South Africa.

Project Leaders: Alison Davies, John Ramsay

Tutors: Ben Tynegate, Matt Cobb, Chris Cook, Malcolm Dugdale, Steve Wickham, Lois Woods, Richard Woods.

Team: There were roughly 30 students involved in Project Kagiso.

Cost: Cost varies but around £30,000 is a good average. We raise all money ourselves and staff costs are met by the university.

Construction timeline and project details: Buildings are usually between 50m2 and 100m2 and are built within four weeks. The entire project from start of design to completion is 7-8 months.


Could you please give a background of yourself and the meaning behind naming the project Project Kagiso?

I am currently partway through my architectural training in the UK, and I balance that with working as an architectural photographer and filmmaker. I undertook my undergraduate architectural studies at the University of Nottingham where during my second year I had the opportunity to work in the unit that undertakes Live Build projects in South Africa, which is ran by John Ramsay and Alison Davies. The unit sees second-year architecture students designing educational facilities for villages in South Africa that require improved nurseries and schools. The students work in teams to produce designs, with one being chosen to be built during the Easter of that year. The students do a vast majority of the designing, fundraising and construction of the project, which always proves to be a huge challenge but a very rewarding experience.

After graduating, I was lucky enough to be asked back to work as a visiting tutor with the unit, which I have done for the past two years. Project Kagiso was the first of these projects which I was involved in as a tutor. The project name “Kagiso” is the Sesotho sa Leboa word for ‘peace’, but it it is colloquially used in Limpopo as a verb to mean “to work together.”

What are the functions and objectives the project serves?

Project Kagiso provided the nursery that was already in existence on site with an additional large classroom, a large covered flexible learning space, a series of constructed play areas and toys, as well as landscaping for the whole site. The project also raised funds for a new toilet block, which was built by a local contractor that we work with in South Africa. It allowed for the nursery to expand and take on more children from the local area, as well as providing them with an improved environment for them to learn and play.

Overview of project, site and objectives: What was the reason behind the selection of the site?

Throughout the unit’s history, sites have always been selected on the level of perceived need and the practical issues of distance from Tzaneen, proximity to stores, and space on site to fit a building. We are assisted in selecting sites by the Thusanang Trust, who trains the staff for the schools, as well as Education Africa, a local NGO working to facilitate improved educational facilities in Southern Africa.

Were there any problems encountered during construction?

The problems encountered are too numerous to mention! Part of the teaching/learning exercise is the process of solving these problems, both for the tutors and students. Each year these projects are able to run, we build upon the successes and failures of previous buildings that we have built. There are always things that we wish we could do more of but that is usually due to limitations outside of our control, such as money and time.

What was learned from the site analysis that helped shape the design?

All designs respond carefully to the site: its context in the village, its orientation relative to sun and wind, in response to the heavy rains common in the area etc. The aim is to produce an environmentally responsive design that uses little energy to create a comfortable teaching space.