This year saw many accolades awarded for remarkable achievements spread across all levels of the industry, where, through transformation, women and students are increasingly making their mark while practising the art of design in the built environment.

Possibly of the greatest historic significance this year was the City of Durban’s qualifying status in hosting the 25th International Union of Architects (UIA) World Congress in August. This prestigious affair carried the theme of ‘Architecture Otherwhere’, with keynote addresses delivered by global masters, including Japanese architect Toyo Ito and Professor Wang Shu of China, both Pritzker Prize winners.

This all – encompassing, large scale event was facilitated by the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA), with the support of the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP), the KwaZulu-Natal Institute for Architecture (KZNIA), the Department of Public Works and eThekwini Municipality, and sponsors PPC and Italtile.

‘Otherwhere’ reinforced the role of contributions, such as different lifestyles, beliefs and communities engaging with and inhabiting the city, to the unique identity of Durban. It also celebrated diversity by exploring other communities, other regions, other disciplines and other ways of thinking about, practising and teaching architecture.

In his opening address, the President of SAIA, Sindile Ngonyama, said: “It is my considered view that this congress will help our built environment professionals, practitioners and academics to bounce their spatial and metaphorical ideas against those of the world’s tried and tested in an effort to reimagine the cities Africa has inherited.” Sadly, he said, imperialist and apartheid cities were imagined and created by architects, hence inversely these aforementioned cities and settlements can only be successfully ‘undone’ through architectural intervention. “It is on this score that the participation of the international professionals and academics is hereby sought and is highly appreciated,” he said.

As one of few Africans to qualify and practise as an architect during the apartheid years in South Africa, Ngonyama engaged participants on his journey while delivering ‘Architecture – a physical expression of values and aspirations of society’. Issues that confront this profession were emphasised in his role of straddling the divide of the old era and the new, as alluded to by Jonathan Noble in 2011. ”Where do we want to be as South African architects in 10, 20 or 30 year- time, and what values do we need to get us there?” Ngonyama said, as he related the principles, value systems and unresolved issues, both of the teachings and practice of architecture.

Transformation in the profession is being addressed through the need for growing representation and support funding from the Ethekwini City Architects Department. The Open Architecture Initiative, rolled out by SAIA, is the first of its transformation projects aligned to Skills Development intended to address the educational and structural ‘bottlenecks’ in the currently available model of full-time study only.

Students of architecture were privy to the UIA event that also incorporated the annual Architectural Student Congress 2014, as well as the longest running and highly regarded national competition for architecture students. The first prize in the prestigious annual Murray & Roberts Des Baker Architecture Student Design Competition was awarded to Domenico Cirillo, a third year student at UCT’s School of Architecture, Planning & Geomatics.

Following their brief, students designed and built a full-scale prototype of a trading stall for a specific street vendor of their choice. The structure entailed a mobile fold-away unit of a specific size that could accommodate the trader’s wares, but could also change over time. Additional requirements of this project were that 70% of the unit had to be constructed out of recycled materials and 20% out of waste from the building industry. The final requirement was a real time assembly of the unit during the congress with an actual street vendor trading from it in Durban.

The celebration of women in architecture was seen at the 2013/14 Corobrik-SAIA Awards of Excellence presented by Corobrik and SAIA. The low representation of female architects was stated as less than 20% of current SAIA members to be women.

“We are seeing an encouraging trend emerging with 40% women in the Architect in Training category.” said Nina Saunders, past vice-president of SAIA.

She said the fact that four female architects received awards during August is a notable achievement in an industry where women have only recently come to the fore. Awards of Excellence – the highest accolade that can be bestowed on a building in South Africa – were presented for eight projects, with three of these projects seeing lead architects from female practices or with a woman as lead architect. The four award winning architects are Anne Graupner, principal at 26’10 south Architects in Johannesburg, Michele Sandilands, principal of MSa Michelle Sandilands Architects in Cape Town, and Charlotte Chamberlain and Nicola Irving, partners at Charlotte Chamberlain Architects in Cape Town.

The celebration of global and local architecture was expressed by Ngonyama in an appreciation of architects and architecture that aspire to values and ideals.

The significance of South Africa as the first Sub-Saharan host of this event was also noted, as it may have signalled a final visit in their professional capacities to the African continent for many practising participants, as the UIA World Congress will take place in Seoul on the topic: ‘Soul of City’ in 2017.

Regarding transformation, Ngonyama said: “Standing as we do on the threshold of our third decade of democracy, it is important that as a profession in South Africa we deliberate on what kind of society we need to create for our children and our children’s children.” He said in closing that we need to invite the world architectural fraternity to help us define what part architecture can play in creating this future. “It is my belief that the future we imagine for our society should be closely linked to the issues of identity, which are in turn linked to values.”

 

Words: Anna-Marie Smith
Photograph: Kierran Allen Photography