21/12/2016
Africa: first world in it’s own right
Phill Mashabane on the stage of the Mannie Manim Theatre at the Market Theatre talking through the role of the architect with clients and how the expansion of this small ‘black box theatre’ was managed. This was part of a delegation visit from the Africa Union of Architects represented by Fanuel Motsepe (Bureau and Council Member of the Africa Union of Architects) and Anne-Marie Medou (Head of Ethics and Practice, Central Region, Africa Union of Architects)

Phill Mashabane on the stage of the Mannie Manim Theatre at the Market Theatre talking through the role of the architect with clients and how the expansion of this small ‘black box theatre’ was managed. This was part of a delegation visit from the Africa Union of Architects represented by Fanuel Motsepe (Bureau and Council Member of the Africa Union of Architects) and Anne-Marie Medou (Head of Ethics and Practice, Central Region, Africa Union of Architects)

As a distinguished member of the South African architectural community and Director of the award-winning practice, Mashabane Rose Associates, Phill Mashabane has been appointed as Ambassador for the Africa Architecture Awards 2017. Following his participation on the Master Jury in the inaugural Architecture for Social Gain Awards 2015, he will again be part of the Master Jury 2017, a role that will benefit from his extensive architectural knowledge and insight in practice.

As Ambassador, Mashabane believes that the Awards 2017 will play a significant role in shaping the future of African architecture by encouraging professionals to recognise Africa as a diverse and unique continent; and by inspiring the development of interventions that do not change the prescripts of what is African.

“It is essential to foster an understanding of the multi-faceted space of architecture in Africa,” he says. “We would like to assist incoming students, as well as emerging and established professionals, to see Africa differently and to understand the real meaning of “qui bono” – that is, the meaningfulness, the benefits and advantages of carrying out this award programme and the participation therein. These are some of the questions that will be addressed by the tapestry that will emerge from the involvement of the participants.

 “Often product manufacturers see Africa simply as a resource for distributing their materials – a perception that is based on an understanding of the professional end users who use their products. However, interventions should rather be motivated by innovation that compliments the African culture and methodologies, which have been almost eradicated by colonisation. Companies can only implement their strategies up to the point where they are acceptable to the end user. When thinking changes, end users begin to recognise what is possible in their own spaces including new interpretations of how building products are used, and then the market begins to shift.”

 

Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. Formation of an open public space, with church, community hall, shops and school. Aerial photograph shows scale and colouration being consistent with the Orlando West context of red brick houses and community buildings.

Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. Formation of an open public space, with church, community hall, shops and school. Aerial photograph shows scale and colouration being consistent with the Orlando West context of red brick houses and community buildings.

Mashabane emphasises the importance of understanding the essence of a place and a society in creating projects that are appropriate and responsive to context and needs, and that effectively make an attempt to be up to speed with socio-economic changes. He says that the key drivers in any built environment interventions are that they must be consistent with the climate, the culture and society, and the beliefs of people. This is particularly true in Africa, where architecture is in a state of flux and rapid development; and where, for many years, regional cultures have been disregarded and new elements have been imported into communities without adequate reference.

 “Professionals should consider what they find in the context of a site when they need to make an intervention; and new, innovative measures should be driven by thinking that’s adaptable in order to withstand the test of time.

 “Foreigners think that Africa is about motifs and craft. But in truth, African architecture is about the use of space and the hierarchy of spatial arrangement, the culture of usage and identity. Historically the design of African space is about trading and residence: the residence is where the family lives and conducts their lives outside the realm of business. And trade takes place in open spaces for the sake of transparency, to record dealings and interactions. These relationships are amplified by the materials used – whether it is a residential space that needs privacy as well as some transparency; or a business that needs to be transparent with some private areas.”

 In terms of international comment on Africa, Mashabane observes that papers are often developed on material that is not public knowledge and that is deemed to be newly discovered. But in reality, this knowledge already exists. “Local people take their knowledge for granted; it’s part of their daily lives. It takes foreign scholars unpacking this knowledge to motivate discussions around whether these interpretations are correct or not. This creates important space for dialogue.

 “Africa should be developed according to the prescripts of the place and people’s cultural persuasions, and in order to encourage its own standards. This is a cultural standpoint that cannot be duplicated or removed. Africa has never been third world. It is first world in its own right, and always has been.”

 In highlighting the challenges faced by African professionals, he observes that most local architects seldom find opportunities for exposure. In focusing on African architecture, the Awards programme aims to provide new opportunities for local players and a platform for change where an understanding of sustainability is key. Thus, the awards programme should encourage the embodiment of new innovations using both local and external knowledge.

 “The Africa Architecture Awards is for everyone – for established architects who are implementing best practice; and for emerging professionals who have a new opportunity to step up to the platform and be known for their work, and to then be recognised by senior architects, prospective clients and consumers.”

 Mashabane adds that a key opportunity exists in opening up the Awards to international entrants. “There are a lot of professionals who trained outside Africa, who are now bringing in important knowledge and strategies. If they are originally from Africa, they have an understanding of how to remodel spaces without offending or negatively impacting communities. The Awards offer an opportunity to those architects who can demonstrate an intimate understanding of African culture, and who have mastered their local playing fields.”

 He offers the following advice to prospective Awards entrants, “When working in a client driven process, you need to listen to the client, and try to place yourself in the position of the client. Similarly, with the Awards, you should carefully consider what is being asked for with an intention to foster innovative concepts and place making.

 “Our practice has won awards through its ability to move into a space and almost understand it completely; and then develop a different response without changing the intention of the context. The context plays a very important role.

 “In terms of your resource allocation, spend time and money on research. Because, if you receive an award, you will become a reference point for that knowledge. We premised our own business on competitions – our early work, work that has sustained us, and other commissions came from the recognition we gained from competitions and awards.”

Freedom Park Hlapo Museum. The architecture became a series of rock shaped volumes with cracks and crevices, similar to those found on the hill. The copper sheeting allowed for the walls and roof to be made of the same malleable material, and the slow oxidation of the copper to a green hue would impact less over time on the hillscape.

Freedom Park Hlapo Museum. The architecture became a series of rock shaped volumes with cracks and crevices, similar to those found on the hill. The copper sheeting allowed for the walls and roof to be made of the same malleable material, and the slow oxidation of the copper to a green hue would impact less over time on the hillscape.

 He goes on to advise young architects to be disciplined and ethical, and to behave morally in every aspect of what they do whilst being innovative – thus confirming the understanding and embodiment of “qui bono” – because everything they commit to paper will impact on the lives of the people who use their buildings or who have been involved in the process.

 He adds that students should be taught to communicate effectively because good communication skills often govern the positive or negative outcome of a process. “Architecture is a form of communication – how you communicate ideas, behaviours, and your own beliefs. If you can communicate effectively, people will respect your belief while holding their own space through their own effective communication.”

 Mashabane is excited about the awards and its underlying intentions – which are, amongst others, to encourage young people to find themselves in a practicing world. “Many graduates and emerging practitioners remain unknown until they find a client who believes in them. The Awards will offer opportunities for engagement and interaction, and will provide an important platform for people to gain exposure and recognition for their work.”

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