Ar­chi­tects ex­plore adap­tive cities

• Del­e­gates at Tsh­wane con­fer­ence chal­lenged to trans­form for sur­vival

Business Day - - LIFE - Diane de Beer

Trans­form or die! This was one of the first chal­lenges posed to del­e­gates at the Ar­chi­tec­ture ZA18 con­fer­ence in Tsh­wane’s city cen­tre space 012 Cen­tral.

The event, from May 3-5, ex­plored how to cre­ate sus­tain­able, adap­tive and in­te­grated cities that can re­spond to grow­ing so­cial, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges.

The theme was WeTheCity: Mem­ory & Re­silience. More than 600 ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dents from SA and Namibia made up more than half of the del­e­gates. The rest were ar­chi­tects.

The role of ar­chi­tects in the built en­vi­ron­ment is be­ing in­creas­ingly high­lighted as new op­por­tu­ni­ties are cre­ated for im­proved re­source con­sump­tion; eco­nomic and so­cial dy­namism; and mar­ket cre­ation, hu­man de­vel­op­ment and cli­mate change adap­ta­tion.

“We have al­ready seen the re­sults of rapid cli­mate change,” said Prof Christina du Plessis of the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria in in­tro­duc­ing the con­fer­ence theme. “We are ill-pre­pared even though all the pre­dic­tions, for ex­am­ple, pointed to the drought situation in the [Western] Cape.

“What we have now is the new nor­mal. It is not an emer­gency situation, it’s here to stay.”

Peo­ple had cre­ated a world they don’t know how to in­habit and find it dif­fi­cult to adapt to sud­den changes, she said. This re­quired in­no­va­tive think­ing to avoid be­ing over­whelmed by in­creas­ing so­cial divisions.

“We aren’t sep­a­rate from the en­vi­ron­ments we cre­ate. To be re­silient we have to think and re­spond pos­i­tively to change,” Du Plessis said.

Spon­sored by the South African Coun­cil for the Ar­chi­tec­tural Pro­fes­sion, the Na­tional Home Builders Reg­is­tra­tion Coun­cil, PPC and Boogert­man + Part­ners, Ar­chi­tec­ture ZA18 of­fered a plat­form for en­gag­ing with ideas and so­lu­tions that are re­gen­er­a­tive, adap­tive and di­verse — in dis­cus­sion with some of the in­dus­try’s key thinkers and prac­ti­tion­ers.

Gabriela Car­rillo, se­lected Mex­i­can ar­chi­tect of the year in the 2017 Women in Ar­chi­tec­ture Awards by The Ar­chi­tec­tural Re­view and the Ar­chi­tects Jour­nal, said she had de­vel­oped cop­ing strate­gies because Mex­ico was al­ways in cri­sis.

“It’s all about work­ing with what you have and be­ing as in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble while trans­form­ing. We are in con­stant di­a­logue be­tween the con­tem­po­rary and the orig­i­nal. It is im­por­tant to take ad­van­tage of the old struc­ture when think­ing of re­newal,” she told del­e­gates.

One of her projects was a court for a coun­try where many peo­ple are in­car­cer­ated for decades with­out trial, of­ten in­no­cently. “It was about cre­at­ing democ­racy for peo­ple who don’t have lib­erty,” Car­rillo said.

“The main dif­fi­culty was to ad­here to strict se­cu­rity rules while at the same time sug­gest­ing a space that would give ev­ery­one a feel­ing of free­dom and trans­parency.”

She said that city spaces could trans­form so­cial en­coun­ters. It would be es­pe­cially valid in SA, which still had racially seg­re­gated liv­ing ar­eas.

“We need to prac­tise ar­chi­tec­ture that can evolve and em­brace prob­lems.”

Car­rillo said she was con­stantly aware that most peo­ple could not af­ford ar­chi­tects; only 7% of Mex­ico’s population used them. “We have to look at ways to do it eco­nom­i­cally by, for ex­am­ple, re­mind­ing peo­ple where they are.”

In Mex­ico’s ru­ral ar­eas wood was freely avail­able, yet peo­ple pre­ferred to build with bricks and con­crete.

“We can help build ev­ery­one’s dig­nity, which is part of cre­at­ing well­ness for ev­ery­one,” she said. “Bet­ter-qual­ity spaces are im­por­tant, but we politi­cise space,” she said.

Car­rillo stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture at a largely free univer­sity that had a mix­ture of stu­dents from wealthy and poor back­grounds. “Many of us still teach there even though the pay is dis­mal,” she said. “We know the dif­fer­ence it makes to lives to learn in this kind of in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment.”

She chooses her projects very care­fully and prof­itable work al­lows her to take on other projects in which she might not make money. “I don’t make much money but my life is rich in many dif­fer­ent ways.

“My job is not a job, it is a pas­sion,” she said.

Still in the early years of his ca­reer, Cameroo­nian ar­chi­tect Her­mann Kamte de­signed for his peo­ple while re­tain­ing a spirit of Africa in all his work.

“It’s im­por­tant to pre­serve who we are,” he said.

Wood is his pre­ferred build­ing ma­te­rial and he won much at­ten­tion in the ar­chi­tec­tural world by de­sign­ing a Lagos­based wooden sky­scraper for an internatio­nal com­pe­ti­tion.

Because the area in which La­gos was built was a trop­i­cal rain for­est, it made sense to turn to wood. “It’s about our past and what it rep­re­sents sym­bol­i­cally,” he added.

“Peo­ple think you are sim­ply pro­vid­ing food for ter­mites”, but he used wood to ex­press a mo­ment and place, and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the peo­ple and their en­vi­ron­ments.

Kamte said he strongly ad­vo­cated for the cul­ture of a place to be re­flected in its ar­chi­tec­ture so that it be­came a legacy be­tween the past, present and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. And then go bold, he told del­e­gates at the con­fer­ence, which is ex­actly what he does with his Yoruba-dic­tated de­sign and pat­terns in his wooden tower-block build­ing, which won the WAFX prize in the in­au­gu­ral cultural iden­tity cat­e­gory in 2017.

Only two days into his Pre­to­ria visit, he re­alised that bricks and con­crete were the pre­ferred build­ing ma­te­ri­als in the city.

“You have to pay at­ten­tion to the cul­ture,” he warned. “You can’t make it hap­pen, but you can make it pos­si­ble.”


Yorubain­spired: La­gos’s Wooden Tower by Cameroo­nian ar­chi­tect Her­mann Kamte, which won the WAFX prize in the cultural iden­tity cat­e­gory.

Her­mann Kamte

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