Vault design wins Structural Award


A revived 600 year old building tradition has won the prestigious 2009 Institution of Structural Engineers 'David Alsop Sustainability Award'.

The original builders were Mediterranean with the challenge of constructing houses with local materials which were cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and used materials efficiently. 


This construction method, called tile vaulting, has been revived for contemporary architecture by Michael Ramage of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Architecture, John Ochsendorf of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Peter Rich Architects of Johannesburg.  The overall project was engineered by Henry Fagan and Partners of Cape Town.

The Mapungubwe Interpretive Centre and Offices have been built for South African National Parks in the remote Mapungubwe National Park, where the building tells the story of the World Heritage Cultural Landscape while achieving economy of means, social improvement and low environmental impact.

It is a 1,500m2 complex which is constructed primarily of local materials to achieve 90% reductions in embodied energy over typical practice. The structural
vaults are built of thin shell unreinforced masonry created on site from cement-stabilised soil.


Cambridge University Technical Services (CUTS), the Consultancy Services arm of Cambridge Enterprise Limited, contracted with South African National Parks for the services of Michael Ramage, John Ochsendorf, who gained his PhD in Engineering from Cambridge and James Bellamy for the design and construction monitoring of new soil-cement vaults for the Mapungubwe National Park Interpretive Centre and Offices.


Michael Ramage said of the award: “We’re thrilled to be recognised for our approach to structural design, in which form, forces and material selection contribute to lowering a building’s ecological footprint”.


The Structural Awards are the industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony which recognises excellence in structural engineering. Since 1968 the Structural Awards have recognised and rewarded the work of the world’s most talented structural designers, their indispensable contribution to the built environment and showcase projects that lead the industry's development.  This year’s awards took place on Friday 9 October 2009 at the Natural History Museum in London.


Cambridge Enterprise Limited, University of Cambridge

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