Students tackle myriad projects at unique S. African development

Texas A&M College of Architecture students studying abroad in South Africa are designing a study center and developing a business plan for a nonprofit utility company while working on a groundbreaking real estate development located on the coast of the country’s Eastern Cape.

Graduate students in the college’s architecture and land development programs have spent the spring semester at Crossways Farm Village, a 1,400-acre residential development located on a dairy farm; the first project of its size in the country. They are collaborating with Chris Mulder and Associates, the award-winning architecture and land development firm that is designing and managing the project. The firm is led by Chris Mulder, an outstanding alumnus of the college who will be recognized this year as a Texas A&M Outstanding International Alumnus. Mulder earn a doctorate in architecture at Texas A&M in 1980.

The study center is being designed to initially house students and professors from the Texas A&M colleges of architecture and agricultur. It will include a high-tech milking building, seminar rooms, library and design studios to enable future study abroad participation by additional Texas A&M colleges, said Glen Mills a professor of architecture who is leading the South African study abroad program.

“The land development students are evolving a concept and business plan for a new self-standing, nonprofit utility company,” said Mills. “The key performance measure for the utility will be the generation of an acceptable return on investment, as well as the efficient provision and management of outstanding services to property owners.”

Architecture students Glenda Fletcher, Akshay Sangolli and Sean Howard and land development students Ruben Esqueda and Hyeoncheol Jang, Mills said, are enjoying their exposure to the professional workings of a world-class firm at the cutting edge of new forms of multi-disciplinary project delivery.

The dairy farm at Crossways Farm Village includes a state-of-the-art facility for milking 500 Holstein cows. Its dairy products, as well as those from a fruit orchard and vegetable farm, will be available to the village’s residents.

The village’s 733 residential plots will be distributed in several neighborhoods throughout the site; housing will cater to a wide spectrum of income groups and cultural values.

The development, located in a rural area that hosted several previously disadvantaged communities, is designed to create jobs and new economic opportunities with shops, restaurants, offices, a healthcare clinic and a primary school, as well as sporting and outdoor recreational facilities.

The project’s residential development is planned only on land of low agricultural value. More than half the development is being turned into a conservation area in which alien vegetation will be removed and indigenous plants reintroduced.

Local artisans and technicians will turn wood reclaimed during the removal of alien trees into streetlamps, fences, posts for mooring ropes, benches and other forms of furniture.

For more photos and updates on the students’ progress, visit the Study Abroad South Africa Facebook page.

Mulder’s firm won multiple international property development awards for its Thesen Islands project in South Africa, which consists of 19 man-made islands surrounded by tidal waterways linked by 21 arched bridges.

Mulder will visit Texas A&M to receive The Association of Former Students’ 2011 Outstanding International Alumnus Award April 26. During his visit, he will also lecture about the Crossways Farm Village project and lead a charrette at the college of architecture.

posted April 20, 2011