Elkanah House High School Campus, Sunningdale, Cape Town



Project Team:

Sustainability Consultant              Sandra Rippon Balance Design

Architect                                      Nic Border Architects

Mechanical Engineers                    Patrick Costello, Spoormaker and Partners

Electrical Engineers                       McAvinchey Consulting

Renewable Energy Specialist         Axel Scholle, Power Solutions


  • Award for Sustainable Architecture 2012 by Afrisam-South African Institute of Architects
  • Eskom National ETA Awards 2007 for energy efficiency in the category "Energy Champion - Community" for efforts to conserve energy, sustain the environment and impact the community.

The site of the new Elkanah House High School campus forms an integral part of the new suburb, Sunningdale, being developed by Garden Cities. Situated in the harsh, windswept, sand dune environment of Cape Town’s West Coast, the buildings had to satisfy the ethos of Elkanah House by providing a warm, welcoming, creative, nurturing environment, while responding to the unique characteristics of the West Coast in terms of climate, aesthetics and social conditions.




This campus development was guided by a strong commitment to sustainability from the school administration, evident in the planning, design and operation of facilities, as well as in outreach to the surrounding community.


The clusters of two-storey buildings that comprise the campus create a human-scaled environment, providing shelter from the harsh climate, with protected and sunny courtyards. Passive design strategies include optimal orientation with small openings on east/west facades to avoid glare and heat gain; deep verandas and pergolas; light-coloured roof sheeting to reflect sunlight and reduce heat gain, combined with high performance thermal insulation. The Library and IT Centre are south –facing, avoiding glare and heat gain. ‘Displacement’ ventilation in the Theatre uses the natural stack effect of hot air rising to remove stale air through roof vents, providing excellent indoor air quality and avoiding conventional air conditioning. Fresh air is drawn by this air displacement - using minimal energy - from vents below the seating tiers.

Courtyards surrounded by two story buildings provide a sheltered and human-scaled environment.

Market Day at Elkanah House High, a regular and popular event.

Alternative technologies used include solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to provide electricity; flat plate solar panels to produce hot water; and movement sensors to activate lighting in selected areas. A hybrid renewable energy system comprising both PV and Wind energy was allowed for in the construction by the building of an ‘Energy Centre’ housing inverters and cabling, ready to plug in small wind turbines. A separate energy meter from the renewable energy systems and outlets for display monitors were installed, allowing the input of renewable energy to be displayed for educational purposes.


Assembly at the Junior High, with solar panels on the white roof. (left)

Sustainable materials used for the buildings are selected from renewable and responsibly managed sources, with other selection criteria being low embodied energy, and low emissions (e.g. low VOC paint). Hardwood used is from FSC certified sources - Australian Jarrah for the Verandas and Oak for the Theatre floor. External walls are built with inexpensive ROK brickwork rather than high embodied energy Facebricks, and the brickwork is only plastered in selected areas for aesthetic enhancement, thereby reducing maintenance and embodied energy.


Water is conserved using efficient fittings, such as tap aerators, waterless urinals and drip irrigation, with a water tank storage facility in the grounds for rainwater harvesting.

A generous Waste Store at the school campus boundary allows for a recycling operation that serves the community. Niches for recycling bins are provided through the campus in the circulation spaces along the verandas.

Economic sustainability is addressed through attention to adaptability and flexibility of spaces. Buildings are multi-functional - the school cafeteria is hired out for conferences and functions; courtyards and covered terraces become market stalls. The Theatre becomes a town hall, lecture facility (the upstairs Gallery), and community centre - adjustable hydraulic seating tiers in the floor and large sliding acoustic doors create a wide configuration of spaces, allowing for lectures in the upstairs Gallery, while drama practice continues downstairs.


 The Elkanah Theatre and Hall (left)

The landscaping enhances biodiversity with indigenous and endemic species to create habitat for birds and insects, while serving as an outdoor classroom and raising awareness of natural heritage. In Phase One of the campus development, an innovative landscaping project was reconstructed some small sand dunes on the site (this had been bull-dozed flat), using waste sand from the nearby Big Bay Residential Development, transported to the campus for free. These dunes were stabilised and planted with endemic Cape Flats Dune Strandveld to create a stronger ‘sense of place’ and reflected the original vegetation biome. Local bulbs were ‘rescued’ from the surrounding natural veld, earmarked for residential development, and planted on the site. Unfortunately, in later phases of the campus development, due spatial needs, these small dunes and their Wild Biodiversity Garden were removed and not reinstated elsewhere on site.