African Design Magazine February 2016 - Page 78

architecture should be integrative, instead of just stopping at the threshold or site boundary line. Growing up during the last years of apartheid and having grappled with the ethics of being white, privileged because of race, as well as a contested African identity, makes me very concerned with issues of community. Understanding context and responding appropriately to context, helps to resolve this search for identity. Namibian vernacular architecture inhibits classification, as it depends on culture, climate, and availability of skills and resources. How is practicing in such an environment where these factors vary from region to region, town to town, and even family to family? Architectural design in Namibia is as much a matter of contextual response as anywhere in the world. To a large extent such response is forced on all of us here through distance and cost, as it is seldom possible to justify the importation of “exotic” materials and skills. In that way, Namibian contemporary architecture is subject to a certain uniformity, but development of a true regionalist vernacular is prevented by the influence of international media on architectural design. I am personally influenced by land- and bio-form, which requires investigations into wider fields such as anthropology, geology, botany and zoology complemented with inter alia languages, contemporary culture and local traditions. Such investigations can only benefit architects in local practice, but few seem to recognize wider interests as relevant. This may be due to the current global adherence to “Architecture” as almost a belief system in itself rather than a component of a larger world. Namibian practices are generally small. Single architects supported by one or two technicians are responsible for entire projects, unlike the much larger project teams in many other countries. This can result in very individualistic approaches, but also creates a lack of depth in most work, unless thorough research and design development is done. I agree with Dr Jaco Wasserfall that among Namibian architects time pressures due to lack of resources often lead to shortcuts taken in these two areas, resulting in mundane design resolutions. In many countries, water’s role in construction is taken for granted. But in Namibia, the absence of it forced you into becoming quite frugal and inventive in your design process. What are some of the unique lessons you’ve learnt from being in an environment where the very resources one needs to build are scarce? Scarce resources mean that minimalism is so much more than a matter of form. Inventive use of basic materials, rethinking the uses of space, using the outdoors as extensions of indoor space, are all strategies born from this scarcity. Locally available materials and skills can also be manipulated to create a kind of modern local vernacular, an architecture which is born of its place and time. And it is much more fun – creatively challenging – to be inventive than to just choose something from a catalogue. Should architects be proud scavengers? Oh yes. However, the time demands of modern practice as well as restrictive regulatory environments can make it difficult. In rural Namibia, we have the rare freedom of working with very little regulatory demands, which opens up creative opportunities. Click to read more 78