Register to comment and receive news in your inboxRegister or Log in

Wynberg Girls’ High School: where innovation meets tradition

The refurbishment and upgrade of Wynberg Girls’ High School’s five science laboratories offers an inspiring environment where young scientists can thrive in STEM subjects. By building the school’s world-class and innovative Eco Lab, learners can experience sustainability in a daily, visible, hands-on and thought-provoking way.

Within the cultural field, the transformation of Music Room 7 into The Shirley Harding Studio, with its cutting-edge engineering-driven acoustic technology, provides an intimate rehearsal and performance space for our learners to explore and test-drive their creative talents.

“These upgrades have been skilfully managed by a professional team of architects, staff, contractors and members of the School Governing Body – all of whom have kept the best interests of our learners and school at the forefront of their planning and implementation. Their significant input has ensured that as a school we continue to embrace innovation and change, while always remaining true to our traditions and core values. Our sincere thanks to all involved who have helped to make these visions, a reality.”

Dr Jennifer Wallace, Principal, Wynberg Girls’ High School, Wynberg, Cape Town

“Wynberg Girls High School proudly and consistently examines ways of ensuring that our spaces and facilities enhance our holistic vision of providing an education of relevance for the thought leaders and agents of change of the future.”

Jennifer Wallace, Principal, Wynberg Girls’ High School

The Eco Lab

Five key attributes make the Eco Lab stand out as a prototype of the future:

Self-contained. The lab does not rely on municipal connections for electricity, heating and additional water supply.

Green building. Built using sustainable methods and materials to have a light impact on the planet.

Generates own power and converts it to usable electricity and stores any excess.

Thermoregulation is achieved using a closed-loop water-pumped heating and cooling system.

Educational. Learners can see how solar energy is converted, stored and utilised within the lab and a display panel shows how much power is generated and converted.

Sustainable material choices

Lightweight construction made of galvanised steel and timber elements.

Designed to rationalise the use of materials based on quantity and weight.

Bolted, not welded, so changes can be easily made in the future.

Where possible, materials have been sourced locally or imported through local companies.

Layered building methodology

Steel superstructure which connects solar PV array to the building beneath.

Secondary steel structure of major posts and beams.

Drywall: fibre cement cladding on the outside, plasterboard on the inside, cavity filled with insulation.

Roof made of structurally dense material which is lightweight, waterproof and insulated.

Floor: surface of cork tiles over shutter board which sit on top of a cavity designed to house the water pipes. The base layer of cross-laminated timber panels is supported on brick piers set on the existing concrete slab.

Energy generation

Solar PV array: 25 solar panels in rows of five that join to form one circuit.

The circuit connects to the inverter which converts the solar-generated power to usable electricity.

The electricity created will power the lights, fans, data points, projector, heat pump and plug points.

Excess power will be stored in four floor-mounted batteries.

Thermal regulation

The thermal heating and cooling system is powered by a heat pump powered by the Eco Lab’s solar PV panels.

The water passes through the heat pump which cools or heats the water as needed.

A series of water pipes carry the water throughout the lab’s floor network and up on the lower portions of the walls.


Electrical equipment has been fitted with display panels to show, in real-time, how much power is being generated and converted.

The piping from the closed thermal loop system will be visible through perspex inserts in the flooring structure.

Comparison to traditional building methods

Traditional materials (brickwork and cement) have negative environmental implications as they use large amounts of energy for extraction, processing and manufacturing, creating greenhouse gases and other forms of air pollution.

A traditional cavity wall is 310mm thick – much thicker and heavier than the Eco Lab walls. These are 81.5mm thick and provide an additional interior floor space of 5m².

Using light materials saves costs. The lightness of the materials used reduces the volume of the steel support structure needed, which decreases the costs.

The Shirley Harding Studio

Three characteristics distinguish this performance area as a model for acoustic design:

The Shirley Harding Studio was designed in collaboration with SRL Acoustic Engineers, where every aspect of the design was envisioned through an acoustic lens.

Sound was enhanced in the space through two main methodologies: materiality and form. The materials included brick, timber, concrete, and carpet. These materials were individually chosen for their acoustic properties, serving as either sound reflectors or absorbers and were placed in specific positions to suit the room’s acoustics. For example, the best sound reflectors – timber and brick – were positioned at the front of the space to ensure that sound bounced and travelled throughout this area. The best sound absorber – the carpet – was placed at the back of the space to allow the sound to be absorbed and, importantly, not reflected into the space, creating sound distortion.

The geometry of the space was meticulously considered. The curves of the side walls provide many points of contact for sound waves to reflect or transmit. Additionally, the sharp, angular planes of the ceiling boards allow for reflection points for sound to travel in the vertical direction. The angular ceiling is shallowest at the stage; from there it extends outwards, increasing by height to carry sound towards the audience. The ceiling then undulates to create a fully rounded sound. The differences in height allow for more opportunities for sound to reflect. When these geometries work together, they enhance and transmit the sound deeper into the space.

Designing with the existing and the new

The existing space provided a near-perfect acoustic base to work from. The room had existing wooden floorboards in place, and to create better sound transmittal, the team incorporated hard sound-bouncing materials. To enhance the essence of the performance space, the team worked with the idea of creating a serene atmosphere. This was achieved by replacing the existing large windows with narrow windows, positioned away from the eyeline, allowing soft discreet light. This interplay of light creates a tranquil space and directs the eye towards the stage.

The curves of the side walls create a sense of familiarity and comfort within the room. The stage area was stripped of its carpet to reveal the original wooden structure. In collaboration with the school’s music teachers, the inclusion of the extra back step and the design of the curved stage front came about. This provides a functional purpose that allows more learners and their instruments to fit on the stage. The design also echoes the form of the curved side walls.

Sound enhancement through form

The form of the space was designed with acoustics in mind. Each portion of the space was designed with a certain form to enhance the sound in this area. For example, the stage’s form is an elevated surface with a lowered ceiling plane to concentrate sound. Immediately after this space comes the audience seating area, where the ceiling plane suddenly rises to draw sound outward. The ceiling plane undulates.

Coupled with the curving side walls, these features ensure the sound travels evenly throughout the space. These forms allow the sound to have multiple points for reflection, ensuring a smooth sound. At the back of the space are the most perpendicular planes in the room. This creates as few areas for sound reflection as possible, dampening the sound.


The design aims to work with the existing space, improving its acoustic quality. Instead of creating an entirely new space, the team chose to develop the original with selective materials and a form-making design. This is not only the more sustainable route but also ensures that the heritage values of the architecture are recognised.

This repurposed space is named after Shirley Harding, the Principal of Wynberg Girls’ High School from 1999 to 2019, in recognition of, and appreciation for, her many years of outstanding service to Wynberg Girls’ High School.