With Safal Steel as title sponsor, the KwaZulu-Natal Institute of Architecture’s (KZNIA) New Paradigms Architectural Educational Conference, which took place on 26-27 October at the Docklands Hotel in Durban, created a platform to discuss, revisit, rethink and change perceptions regarding the architectural industry.
 
Architecture has reached a crossroads. And, as such, there is a need to rethink and redefine the current status quo of the profession – from education to architectural practices. What is needed, is a paradigm shift and imperatives for architectural education and design that keep communities, cultures and the environment in mind. These were some of the key discussion points at the KwaZulu-Natal Institute of Architecture’s (KZNIA) New Paradigms Architectural Educational Conference.

With Safal Steel as title sponsor, the conference, which took place on 26-27 October at the Docklands Hotel in Durban, created a platform to discuss, revisit, rethink and change perceptions about architecture. More than 120 prominent architects supported the event, making it the largest educational conference presented by the KZNIA to date.

A new way of thinking
Now in its fourth year, New Paradigms marks a positive development in the evolution of the annual KZN Architectural Education Conference. One of the objectives of this value-added theme was to raise questions around generally accepted architectural discourse. This ranges from practical aspects such as materials, approaches and tools to other more theoretical issues like teaching and networks.

According to Tammy Grove from Safal Steel, the limitless new paradigm should focus on three pillars – the environment, economy and society. As such, the conference covered diverse topics such as typologies of buildings, architecture and childhood development in urban areas, architectural education, urban ecology and positive engagement with the informal economy.

Strong ties with local educational institutions, such as the Durban University of Technology and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, ensured that quality education received its due place on the conference agenda, while the keynote speakers, Rajeev Kathpalia, an architect and director of the Vastu Shilpa Institute in India, and John Stevenson, an architect and educator leading professional programmes at the School of Architecture at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom (UK), gave an international perspective on industry developments.

Learning in a new paradigm
During the keynote address on the opening day of the conference, Stevenson provided more information on a unique learning programme, which the Oxford Brookes University has facilitated for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for the last ten years. This is the only programme in the entire European Union (EU) that enables candidates to become professional architects through office-based learning while in full employment – instead of attending university.

Stevenson mentioned that the RIBA office-based examination programme costs roughly one third of full-time university studies. In a country such as South Africa, where few people can afford fees or the luxury of full-time study – let alone the demands of a five-year qualification – this type of programme is an exciting prospect. Stevenson notes that even in the UK, university fees are prohibitive at around £9 000 per year.

A local perspective
Affordability, and the urgent need to transform the architectural profession in South Africa, was one of the key discussion points. During her presentation, “Rethinking the architectural profession”, Madelane Gerber from the University of the Free State noted that previously disadvantaged individuals still represent a mere 14% of registered architects. Thus there is a big gap that needs to be filled with innovative education solutions.

Open Architecture – a revolutionary new architectural learning platform
Launched at the conference, Open Architecture, an office-based online interactive architecture course, is aimed at South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP) registration at Pr.Arch. level. According to the KZNIA president, Kevin Bingham, negotiations are currently underway with SACAP regarding its accreditation and it is hoped to offer the first courses to SACAP-registered professional senior architectural technologists and draughtspersons, with the requisite practical experience, in 2014.

Open Architecture forms part of a legacy project when Durban hosts the 25th International Union of Architects World Congress, a global meeting that is expected to attract over 10 000 delegates.