In 1959, South Africa's apartheid government founded the University of the Western Cape (UWC) as part of its separate and unequal system to prepare "coloured" students for low- and midlevel positions in schools and civil service. During that time, the government underfunded UWC and prohibited it from teaching many subjects. The poor state of campus science facilities, constructed in the 1970s, limited the University's research outputs in particular. Even before the fall of apartheid and establishment of a democratic government in 1994, UWC sought to overcome oppressive ideologies and racial inequality. In a new era of South Africa's development, campus leaders aimed to transform the University's reputation into that of a world-class academic institution while continuing to serve students from historically disadvantaged groups.
In 2006, UWC set out to increase the volume and quality of scientific research through a capital project that would house its life sciences departments. With investment and design support from The Atlantic Philanthropies, UWC opened the Life Sciences Building in 2010 -- introducing an iconic landmark on campus and signaling the University's intended leadership in this arena.
The Life Sciences Building is two structures connected by an atrium: the two-story Learning Centre with a green roof, and an impressive six-story laboratory facility visible from a highly-trafficked thoroughfare leading to Cape Town. The building provides access A nature reserve surrounds the building and provides flora and fauna for research.
UWC science departments -- biosciences, anatomy, biotechnology, and bioinformatics -- have flourished since the Life Sciences Building opened. High-quality laboratory, instructional, and gathering spaces have enhanced collaboration between faculty and students, supported an increase in research capacity, and conveyed prestige. The building has helped the University attract increased investment in the sciences, and UWC is now recognized nationally and internationally for its excellence in research -- including receiving top rankings by the South African National Research Foundation and Times Higher Education. According to students and staff, the Life Sciences Building has succeeded in changing perceptions of the school and has spurred renewed pride and confidence on campus. The building has also been lauded as a symbol of hope and a demonstration of what is possible in South Africa.
This case study is based on research conducted by MASS Design Group between July and August 2015. Funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies, this case illustrates how a capital project can address historic legacies of inequality and dramatically transform an organization's reputation to enhance morale and attract funding. It also demonstrates how capital project teams can learn from the successes and failures of other relevant buildings as they conduct their planning.