The K-RITH Tower Building at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine campus has scooped a national award at the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) Awards.

The building, designed by FGG Architects, was awarded a Corobrik-SAIA Award of Merit at the recent SAIA awards evening.

This follows the building’s regional win in 2017.

The SAIA awards of excellence and of merit are the highest local recognition of distinction in architecture and are judged by a national panel of jurors. Of the 61 regional award winners entered into the national competition, five received commendations, 24 were given merit awards, and six were presented with awards for excellence.

Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) is the anchor tenant of the K-RITH Tower Building. The Institute has some of the continent’s most advanced laboratories where scientists work to better understand, treat and ultimately cure HIV, tuberculosis as well as related illnesses. AHRI’s sophisticated laboratory facilities include 600m² of biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) space which allows researchers to work safely with air-borne diseases like TB. The eight-floor building also houses several other biomedical research centres.

The ground floor has a number of multipurpose spaces such as seminar rooms and a coffee shop. CAPRISA and AHRI occupy the second and third floors respectively, with AHRI laboratories on the fourth to seventh floors. The top floor is dedicated to services. The winged roof of the four-storey high atrium is a tribute to the US aviator and philanthropist Howard Hughes (1905-1976) whose eponymous Howard Hughes Medical Institute funded the building project.

Acclaimed South African artist, Ms Jane du Rand’s striking ceramic and mosaic installation on the outside walls, floor of the atrium and main stairwell reflects the work that happens inside the building. The artist took inspiration from symbols of healing from different cultures and looked at the structure and shape of viruses, blood cells and bacteria. Indigenous plants with medicinal and healing properties also make up the installation.

‘We understand our responsibility and the need to provide a safe, respectable and conducive working environment for all our staff and collaborators. The K-RITH building is where most of our ground-breaking health research is conducted and we are very proud to receive this prestigious recognition,’ said Professor Busisiwe Ncama, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the College of Health Sciences.

AHRI’s Chief Operating Officer, Mr Costas Criticos, said the success of AHRI’s K-RITH Tower Building is thanks to the exhaustive process involved in developing the architectural brief between AHRI and FGG Architects. This included taking inspiration from international trends.

‘From its earliest conception, the K-RITH Tower Building was a project which was carefully planned and designed to meet every eventuality, including the building’s resilience to earthquakes and the protection of the researchers and campus community from dangerous pathogens,’ said Criticos.

Criticos added that while the building is beautiful and uplifting, every detail was considered in terms of its functionality to enable TB and HIV scientific research. ‘I feel very proud to work in such an iconic building which has architecturally unified the campus and has given it a significant centre of gravity’, he said.

Mr Patrick Hathorn from FGG Architects said the company is proud to have designed the K-RITH Tower Building, adding that it is an honour to receive recognition. ‘It was an exciting opportunity to create structures that would transform UKZN’s Medical School grounds from a congested collection of dated buildings and parked cars to what it is today. Despite the many challenges imposed by a cramped site and the technically complex nature of the building, the K-RITH project was able to create additional open space on campus and deliver world-class facilities to aid in the combat of far greater challenges faced by mankind,’ he said.

The SAIA biennial awards are open to all SAIA members nationwide with regional awards presented in the first year of the awards and the Corobrik-SAIA Awards of Excellence and Merit in the following year.

Words: Phumla Ngcobo and Hannah Keal

Photograph supplied by AHRI