Build­ings with breath­ing space

Suzanne Frost helps you imag­ine build­ings that can breathe and sweat and think and grow and change; an earth­quake-proof build­ing in­spired by the hon­ey­comb or a mas­sive sta­dium in­spired by the wings of a dragon­fly

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WHILE tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from na­ture is noth­ing new, the level of de­sign in­spi­ra­tion taken from it is dif­fer­ent through mod­ern sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and fresh think­ing.

Ar­chi­tects and in­te­rior de­sign pro­fes­sion­als will yet again flock to Con­ver­sa­tions on Ar­chi­tec­ture, the one-day sem­i­nar held along­side Decorex Cape Town on April 23. Con­vened by Les Au­pi­ais and spon­sored by Cae­sarS­tone, the dis­cus­sion probes the theme “Build­ing for a breath of fresh air: Imag­ine the dif­fer­ence”. In­ter­na­tional speak­ers John Sofio from Built Inc, Los An­ge­les, and Nina Maritz (Namibia) join Jo No­ero (No­ero Wolff), Der­ick Hen­stra (dhk Ar­chi­tects), Jeremy Ste­wart (Source In­te­rior Brand Ar­chi­tects), as well as Andy Horn to share their vi­sion and work.

“Mind blow­ing in­ven­tive­ness en­er­gises the world of ar­chi­tec­ture like a breath of fresh air,” says Cairey Slater, gen­eral man­ager ex­hi­bi­tion at Decorex, or­gan­is­ers of the sem­i­nar. “It’s no longer just about the ‘taller/big­ger/grander/ weirder than yours’ sky­scrapers. “In choos­ing the sem­i­nar theme based on a breath of fresh air, we were greatly in­spired by the mind­set of Ja­panese artist/pot­ter Suiko Na­gakura, whose lit­eral take on a ‘liv­ing’ room was fea­tured in the book ‘The Mod­ern Ja­panese gar- den’,” ac­cord­ing to Slater. Bring­ing the house into the gar­den is not a new con­cept, yet tak­ing it to the ex­treme like Na­gakura takes great ded­i­ca­tion — and green fin­gers. In fact her din­ing room the gar­den, and a fairly wild one at that with ferns grow­ing around the legs of the ta­ble.

Veg­e­ta­tion-be­decked ur­ban build­ings, vertical city gar­dens and oxy­genated rooms will do more than only com­bat big-city smog. In ad­di­tion to the phys­i­cal ben­e­fits of “liv­ing build­ings”, the emo­tional ben­e­fits should not be un­der­es­ti­mated.

In the words of the Aus­tralian ar­chi­tect Glenn Mur­cutt, 2002 Pritzker lau­re­ate: “There are psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits in feel­ing sun in win­ter, shade in sum­mer — know­ing sea­sons and feel­ing real air. In ad­just­ing their shel­ter to the sea­son or day or weather, peo­ple are coaxed into un­der­stand­ing and work­ing with na­ture. It’s a re­la­tion­ship cru­cial to preser­va­tion of all species.”

Speaker Nina Maritz, an ar­chi­tect based in Windhoek, Namibia, knows all about de­sign­ing build­ings that need to breathe in harsh en­vi­ron­ments, in­clud­ing the Kala­hari Desert. The fo­cus of her prac­tice is firmly on en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity and com­mu­nity projects. At the sem­i­nar Maritz will look at the sem­i­nar theme from a very lit­eral per­spec­tive as well as a metaphor­i­cal one. “Not only do hu­mans need fresh air, the earth also now needs some space to breathe. In my talk I will in­ves­ti­gate the phrase ‘a breath of fresh air’ as an anal­ogy for the new; why hu­mans love the new and the dif­fer­ent, and why it be­comes fash­ion.”

Merely fol­low­ing the fresh and trendy, without a nod to the past, needs a warn­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Jo No­ero, of No­ero Wolff Ar­chi­tects in Cape Town, it seems that con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tects have aban­doned any in­ter­est in ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory. “This is alarm­ing to me since I do not be­lieve that one can prac­tice ef­fec­tively without a deep and broad knowl­edge of ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory.” His pre­sen­ta­tion will out­line why knowl­edge of ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory is vi­tal for the prac­tic­ing ar­chi­tect.

His prac­tice has over 200 build­ings un­der its belt, range in scale and com­plex­ity from in­di­vid­ual houses to large mu­se­ums and other in­sti­tu­tional build­ings such as law courts and schools. His achieve­ments in­clude first prize in a com­pe­ti­tion for the de­sign of the Mu­seum of Apartheid in Red Lo­ca­tion, Port El­iz­a­beth.

Pic­ture: DAVID SOUTH­WOOD

En­light­en­ing new li­brary at St Cypri­ans Girls School in Cape Town by ar­chi­tect Jo No­ero.

START: With fresh think­ing the shabby old barn was con­verted by the firm of Nina Maritz Ar­chi­tect into a home of­fice in Namibia, us­ing sal­vaged ma­te­rial. Lots of open­ing win­dows and an evap­o­ra­tive cooler bring in fresh air, without the need for air-con­di­tion­ing.

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