Highveld Hieghts

Africa's highest building may be coming to Centurion. Dubbed "Centurion Symbio-City" by its conceptualizers, the ever innovative @126, the development would in fact consist of one residential and two office towers. At  110 storeys and 447m it would be the 14th highest tower in the world, and surely (given the highveld's 1000m plus elevation) the highest above mean sea level.
According to the Mayor of Tswane, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, "The development is a reflection of the range of economic opportunities, cultural experiences, safety and a quality physical environment that Tshwane offers."
We are not sure what to make of the very ambitious design other than to say it will leave that other strange highveld structure, the Voortrekker Monument in the shade. Either way the press generated from the scheme may encourage potential clients and the architectural fraternity to take a look at some of @126's other offerings, most notably the innovative, mould-breaking "rethink" service. We would love to hear more about that...

image courtesy and copyright of @126 Architects

Rhino Burn

A friend from the most excellent Uthando South Africa sent me some pics of the Rhino burnt at Afrika Burn 2012. The project was conceived in cardboard model form, filmed on a mobile phone, sketched up, modeled in Revit and then sent for CNC wood routing. All before being taken up to the Tankwa Karoo for exhibition and, well, burning. The rhino consists of body parts whose separated forms only come together when seen through the crosshairs. A potent symbol for some of South Africa's problems, eloquently described in a cross-over between sculpture, drama and architecture. Conceived by Andre Carl and made possible by Anton de Kock and K/M2K

Taste in Wine

Tired of Cape Dutch gables? Bored of twee stoeps? Well, there have been a number of successful (Tokara springs to mind as does the fabulous tasting room at Beau Constantia) and less successful (De Wetshof... really?!) wineries built in recent years. It is a rare privilege, however, to have an addition designed by Makeka Design Lab. We haven't been but the photos whet an (admittedly easily convinced) appetite for architecturally inspiring wine tasting. Other nice wineries, whilst we're on the subject, include Richard Perfect's elegant Steenberg and the strange apparition that is the tasting room at Ataraxia.

As usual, Makeka tells it best: 

"How does a utilitarian wine shed become the new home for a young wine, and become a gateway for new audiences to wine and unique food? How does one engage with a Dionysian culture whilst creating a calm Apollonian and cerebral spatial experience?

"We had to create a fresh and lightweight architectural response to the existing shed and environs, employing what we call "cascading space", where spaces lead and flow unto each visually and physically. The architectural language of glass, steel and wood is designed to create a sharp and arresting contrast with the setting, whilst allowing views of the vineyards to penetrate deep into the interior. Clarity of approach and slights of hand with axial and asymmetrical elements allow for the space to be clearly understood, and yet with enough difference in detail and architectural moments to offer delight to the visitor.

"The palate of colours were restricted and disciplined so as not to compete with the wine and food pairings, the intention from the outset was to create a comfortable space and place for the everyday visitor and endearing design clues for those who are familiar with cutting edge contemporary design. The design effectively creates an intimate experience that inspires recurring and subtle wonder. The architecture is intentionally athletic, unadorned with unnecessary clutter, and blends a type of minimal timelessness into the design that lifts the brand of Leopard’s Leap.

"The brief called for an existing shed-like structure, on a farm just outside of Franschhoek in the Western Cape to be converted into the home of Leopard’s Leap Wine. Spatial requirements included a tasting area and private tasting lounge, a demonstration kitchen and culinary studio for world renowned chef Liam Tomlin, a boardroom, offices and other associated functional spaces. Most of these requirements could be accommodated in the existing facility and it was only necessary to add two new structures to the South and West. They are treated as discreet elements separated from the main building with glass “gaskets”. The existing building was gutted and a horizontal “cut” at a height of three meters was made through the structure in order to open it up to the outside and the spectacular views of the Franschhoek Valley. This cut set up a datum line which organized the space vertically and determined all ceiling heights and the mezzanine level. Lightweight steel structures and elements were added to contrast with the heaviness of the existing and a feeling of airiness pervades the space. Major elements like the tasting counter, fireplaces and ramps were treated as sculptural pieces and provide focal points, as well as guiding one through the space, eventually ending up at the extensive veranda overlooking the vineyards."

"Finishes were chosen to be muted yet sophisticated and includes polyurethane resin for the floors, opaque white Perspex for the ceiling, and solid Oak timber for all joinery. The colour palette also complements the brand’s corporate colours. Extensive landscaping complements the interior and features a steel sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli, waterfeatures and a herb garden that supplies the kitchen. Sustainability was addressed through the implementation of performance glazing, solar water heating with heat pumps, and energy efficient lighting. All timber was sourced from responsible forestry.

"From an urban perspective the existing entrance was moved to the Western facade to address the street and to announce the building to the context. An elaborate approach has been orchestrated that leads the visitor through the vineyards to the formal approach and into the home of Leopard’s Leap.

Architect and Principal Agent: Makeka Design Lab - Mokena Makeka, Riaan Steenkamp, Jani Truter.
Quantity Surveyor: AMPS - Heren Mannie, Jesse Sui Sang How.
Structural Engineer: De Villiers & Hulme - Mark Hutchinson. Aurecon – Jonathan Edwards.
Civil Engineer: De Villiers & Hulme - Ryno Odendaal.
Electrical Engineer: Triocon - Ian Botha.
Landscaping: Futuregrowth SA - Werner van Zyl.
Water features: Richard Morse.
Sculptor: Marco Cianfanelli.
Interior Designer: Christo Barnard.
Photographer: Dave Southwood.

The rather less egnigmatic Mansion

A little while back we posted some pictures of a rather scary construction in Camps Bay. Today some more photos landed on our desk. They are even scarier. Make what you will of Cape Town's take of a very Californian kind of Mansion...

A For Sure Conclusion

According to the papers one of the losers in the R700m CTICC expansion architectural competition is taking the organisers to court. Greg Truen of SAOTA in his formal complaint pointed out A) that VDMMA and Stauch Vorster were very much involved in creating the brief they went on to win and B) that Anya van der Merwe is married to someone closely involved with the CTICC management. Well for those in architectural circles the result of the competition was never really in doubt. However we do feel that more needs to be said about the winning design.

According to Mokena Makeka ""Using the DNA code of the 6210 plant species endemic to the Cape Floristic kingdom plus one dedicated to humanity, 6211 transforms the convention centre into an iconic living artwork that celebrates and raises awareness about humanity and nature for the passive enjoyment of local and global audiences."

That smells more than faintly of post-rationalisation.  What counts, surely, to the "passive enjoyment of local and global audiences" are the forms and spaces in which they find themselves convening. Here the focus appears to be not on the forms or spaces but on an oblique decoratif motif so arcane that few visitors (local or otherwise) will stand any chance of understanding it let alone becoming more "aware" about "humanity and nature". It seems to be rather pretentious and patronising - as does the assertion that such enjoyment (once we have understood the cipher) will be "passive." But it was with Van der Merwe's sound-bite- the new buildings are "a seamless extension of the CTICC"- that our collective hearts dropped and we found ourselves backing Mr Truen. What we don't want, surely, is more of the same; more of the elegantly detailed but frankly uninspiring spaces, more blind windowless sheds to drive past on the elevated free-ways into town. What we see in the four renders submitted to the public is more of the same, updated a bit and given a trite little waggle and a gimmick about DNA. What we wanted, surely, was twofold; an inspiring building to bring people all the way to the tip of the world for an expensive, carbon-loaded alternative to increasingly effective virtual substitutes. And, secondly, an iconic building, something befitting a World Design Capital, a design that talks about its surroundings in a meaningful and accessible way (i.e. not Deoxyribonucleic plant code) and maybe, just maybe, a solution that grasps the gaping opportunity to reconnect a port city with its port - and its mountain with the sea. 

Rashid Toefy's comment is valid: ""Convention and exhibition spaces like the CTICC are our modern day cathedrals or city halls - this is where we go to meet, learn and be inspired." Ironically the winning entry looks more like those other temples to modern vacuity, the shopping mall. Of course we should not be too quick to judge based on a few slick renders but it is worrying when they look like the artist's impression of a rather pompous Westfield. It is not enough to overlay that with a veneer of "symbolism" especially when it is really no more than a code; which, when translated, has little bearing on the forms of the building. We can only hope that our much abused cityscape will be spared another vapid building- though it's a result which, like the competition itself, we would be willing to put money on.

A SA Case Study

We love this reinterpretation of the Case Study House No.18 up on the Highveld north of Johannesburg. Look forward to seeing plans- it will be interesting to know how the traditional SA "schuur" "H" plan has influenced the layout here. Amazing detailing too - to quote Visi

"Stripped-down architecture requires meticulous detail and Gavin points to this detail as “moments of sheer genius on behalf of the architect”. There are no skirting boards, carpet trims or even plaster, meaning there was no place to hide and all work had to be perfect"

Project Name: House Rooke
Location: Monaghan Farm Eco Estate, north of Johannesburg, South Africa
Architects: Thomashoff + Partner
  Visi and Dook 
Text: za_architecture and