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Lapalala Wilderness School Complex

Learning from Nature

Local Studio

Lapalala Wilderness School Complex
By Francesco Pagliari -

The Lapalala Wilderness School in Limpopo, South Africa’s most northern province, runs along the river Palala, with some three sides of the complex bordering a loop in the river running through the bushveld, the typical plateau scrubland landscape of southern Africa. The complex is an example of the integration of architecture and nature, but also a tangible expression in the ecology-oriented educational system carried on inside. A lightweight yet permanent structure, it clearly symbolizes the philosophy behind the teaching delivered inside: a curriculum of intense residential courses geared to exploring the complex weave that is the natural world, ecology as an instrument of knowledge and research, biodiversity, preservation of the natural flora and fauna in what are known as “Biosphere Reserves”, and the history of this region of South Africa where evidence has been found of human presence since the Iron Age.

The Wilderness School is an exemplar of a structure that dialogues with its environment. The complex succeeds in steering a path between the need for openness to the surrounding landscape while at the same time offering students and teachers a degree of protection and privacy. The layout of the buildings follows this dual requirement. On the one hand, the individual buildings making up the campus have been designed to follow the general principle of continuity between interior and exterior, prioritizing sightlines onto the rural landscape and the river. On the other, though to a lesser extent, classrooms and teaching areas give on to more secluded outdoor spaces like inner courts, multifunctional transit or general socialization areas. The result is a complex that can be traversed thanks to a distribution system made up of a series of courtyards and covered walkways sheltered from the sun and wind.

Complesso scolastico Lapalala Wilderness School © Sean Gibson, courtesy Local Studio

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