Building a Presence

The Financial Mail
14 August 2014

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“In the run-up to the UIA2014 congress, the SA Institute of Architects and Corobrik presented their annual awards on August 1. Eight architectural projects received awards of excellence, the most prestigious prize. Three of these projects were from practices led by women.

The event, a worthy precursor to the UIA2014 congress, focused on changing global architecture practice, by honouring top female architects in a male-dominated profession. SAIA notes that less than 20% of its members are women.

The women winners were Anne Graupner, principal at 26’10 South Architects in Johannesburg; Michelle Sandilands, principal at MSa Michelle Sandilands Architects in Cape Town; and Charlotte Chamberlain and Nicola Irving, partners at Charlotte Chamberlain Architects in Cape Town.

Graupner is a South African-born architect who grew up and studied in Austria, returning to SA in 2002. She practises with her husband, Thorsten Deckler, at their innovative home/studio in Brixton, Johannesburg. It was this project that won 26’10 South Architects the SAIA award. A former corner-shop and cooking school, the Brixton building was restored with care as an office for the firm. A green courtyard connects the workspace to the family’s living space in an adjacent building on the property.

Asked to describe what constituted a successful project, Graupner said: "Turning constraints into opportunities often requires reading between the lines, amplifying what already exists and challenging the status quo. Designing spaces that creatively encourage the end users to inhabit them would constitute a successful project for me."

Sandilands received the SAIA award for her firm’s work on an extension to the Unisa campus in Parow. The elegant and climatically responsive building houses administrative functions and teaching rooms. She has run her Cape Town practice since 1998. She says: "Buildings that have a minimal impact on the carbon footprint and that set sustainable examples are a focus of ours."

Chamberlain and Irving joined forces after practising in Australia for five years and returning to SA. The two UCT graduates, who also have experience of working in Europe, started a firm with the goal of improving lives. Their award was also for an education building, an extension to the Springfield Convent School in Cape Town. The new preschool and art buildings provide a playful addition to the school.

When asked about the role of women in architecture, Irving said "We don’t really see that women have a specific role, but we truly do need representation and diversity in our society, and in all aspects and forums to do with our built environment, in order to continue evolving and growing in a worthwhile direction."