“To provide meaningful Architecture
is not to parody history but to articulate it.”
– Daniel Libeskind
South Africa is a country rich in diversity and culture so why does our architecture lack the language of the rainbow nation? Why is it demeaning to certain genders and traditions? The history of our country – our struggles and our achievements – has the potential to give rise to more than just skyscrapers and concrete columns and it now lies in the hands of a youth empowered by selflessness and passion.
Gabriella Rodrigues is a South African who loves everything about our very diverse nation. Hailing from a Portuguese family, she was raised around a very rooted family dynamic. Gabi is an adventure seeker and yearns to find a meaning for the world around her.
“I am inspired by those who have made success stories from tough upbringings. I hope that in the future my day-to-day life is never mundane, and I hope to fulfill my passions of a creative life and merge this with the idea of giving back to those less fortunate.”
Gabi’s Architectural love affair began when buildings made her eyes sparkle and her smile grow even larger. Their beauty and ability to evoke such strong feelings from her at such a tender age were her first hints that she had found her life-long passion. In a male dominated field such as architecture and as opposed to ones expectations, she has not faced too many difficulties when it comes to acceptance and equality and has managed to firmly carve a space for herself. The institution she attends has ensured that female students do not feel inferior to their male counter parts and ensure the females have equal opportunities. They’ve even gone the extra mile to bring in passionate female lecturers in the field to inspire these upcoming young women..
“I remember always being asked when I told people I want to study Architecture that, “isn’t that a male dominated field?”. My response was always maybe, but I don’t see why that must stop me.“
However several times she has been told stories of how females on construction sites are always questioned, or times of women seeking to buy building materials and were only taken seriously when their husbands asked. Being the feminist that she is, things like that infuriate her. She is aware that she may face challenges upon entering the workplace as a female Architect, however she has hope for our future generation in that our male counterparts will never feel the need to undermine females in the field.
“I think that our youth already shows positive changing mindsets towards women, these changes I can already see in my own tertiary institution which I think is where the change needs to take place. I know that when I enter the field I will be a woman force to be reckoned with, and I know my knowledge and skills will take me above gender stereotypes.”
When asked about the relevance of South African history towards architecture:
The history of everything and anything is always important. South African history is one of great difficulties and successes. We are still a growing nation with many people who are still affected by our past. Understanding this as an Architect is important to design. I always believe that design ideology that focuses on the people is the most important thing. We must be aware of the different cultural backgrounds of our nation and their historic challenges in order to make positive changes in the built environment. Whether it be an Architecture that looks to include all races and cultures or one that specifically impacts one culture, understanding their upbringing and beliefs is vital if we want to make positive change.
As a South African I believe decolonising Architecture may never happen, or take a very long time. When we look around at our built environment we see influences from all around the world. This is partly due to our very diverse nation but also because I believe South African Architecture doesn’t have its own iconography.
I feel we are still trying to find our feet on what our own stand on Architecture is. I think if there’s one type of Architecture which showcases a decolonized stance it is Mashabane Rose architects.
Their Architecture sings in a South African feel – It is raw, humble and doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. Their architecture takes simple materials and makes them beautiful, it doesn’t try to be fancy and flashy, it sits peacefully in its surroundings. I think this is an Architecture that doesn’t look to western ideas or imagery.
“I also believe that as a South African our institutions don’t focus on teaching us African Architecture, which is a huge problem and a problem I believe is why our Architecture just looks like things that can be found all over the world and doesn’t take an African stance.”
Architecture provides a place where people communicate, interact, laugh, smile, cry and play out their lives. Although people may not be aware of it, (those not studying Architecture of course) as architects we define the sort of emotions you will feel when you enter a space. Or this is something I believe architects should try to achieve. If we don’t design spaces that make ordinary people feel something, I think we aren’t successful. Being surrounded by a beautiful space can uplift anyone. I think once all architects decide to take into account that people are what makes our buildings come alive, and design with this in mind, only then will ALL Architecture start to uplift communities.
When asked about gentrification and its drawbacks:
When I read this question I actually had to google what gentrification meant. Once figuring it out I think this definition summarized it, ‘when people with money start fixing up poor neighborhoods’. The nice way of putting it is this, ‘the process of renovating or improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle class taste’. Although this may seem positive, in many cases it is not. These renovations are so extreme that those who lived there before have to move out because they cannot afford the new changes. This I believe is the biggest drawback.
I have always believed that once you overlook certain situations or people your Architecture is not successful. I don’t think those who ‘hope to improve’ certain districts have the less fortunate in their minds. This then becomes a type of architecture which discriminates against our poorer communities. I think so many of today’s architects get lost in the idea of flashy architecture that they forget humble Architecture can be beautiful too. I wouldn’t think of gentrification with rich people in my mind, I would take a limited budget and master the use of cheaper material in a beautiful way as to uplift the people’s lives who can not afford to live in flashy apartments and house blocks. Sometimes as an Architect you have to understand that
“it’s not always about the Architecture that makes it into magazine covers, sometimes it’s about being humble and making a positive change to those less fortunate.”
I believe that architects who take simple materials and limited budgets to make beautiful spaces at an affordable price will be successful. It’s about making people’s lives better, so if gentrification only aims to make rich improvements it will fail.
When asked to comment on predominantly white neighbourhoods vs neighbourhoods of colour:
I was very fortunate to be raised to never see colour. I have always looked at different races with something to learn. I honestly love learning about how our different communities live and what their beliefs are. I think something I have learnt most about black communities is that they have a deep respect for their history, land, families and ancestors. I think this is something a lot of white communities lack. We are not half as rooted in our backgrounds and histories as black communities are.
Something I admire about Indian communities is how rooted they are in their religious beliefs. They are deeply concerned about morals and a higher power, which in turn makes them better people. For some reason when I thought about how I would answer for the coloured communities I laughed in my head. When I think of coloured people I always smile or laugh because they are some of the happiest people I have ever met. The coloured people I have been around in my life have never failed to make any moment dull. They are full of life and always have the most welcoming families. I think to break down any racial barrier in Architecture you have to fully immerse yourself in understanding each race and culture. We are all unique in our own way and once you understand this as an Architect you can fully apply yourself to create spaces that do not discriminate.
“My final message to architects is this. Please don’t get lost in trying to be the next Mies, Le Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright. Be yourself. Don’t get lost in designing forms that only architects can understand. Be an architect who designs so that ordinary people can relate to it too. Be South African in your design approach. We need to take a stand in our own way of life and not only the western way of life.”
Hope you enjoyed this interview.
Stay tuned for the next post, I will be interviewing the passionate and empowered Mapitha Sithole.