By Jason Wiggin, imagineer, IID president.
South Africa has a lot to offer in the architectural and design industry, both in terms of materiality and design. Yet we still source a lot of materials from abroad and are looking elsewhere for design inspiration. Surely this runs counter to our pursuit of sustainability.
If we keep on importing our materials, we are never going to reduce our footprint and become economically sustainable. If clients want to do their furniture shopping at the Milan Furniture Fair, we are the ones who need to encourage them to rather opt for local design and materials. It is the only way that we can really continue growing our architectural economy.

Upcycling
We have a lot of unexpected resources available to us. Invasive alien trees, such as the blue gum, are not great for our environment and water levels, and have to be controlled. But it is a really sturdy timber, so once chopped down, it could be used for construction, especially flooring.

Also, trees that are cut down to make way for development can be upcycled, for example using circular disks of timber for flooring or even wallcoverings. In addition, peach pips make really interesting floors.

It is this continuous consideration of materials that would typically go to waste, that we can in fact do something with.

A floor consisting of peach pips that are packed onto a glued surface and filled with a silica sand and resin mixture, then sealed. The sharp edges of the pips were sanded to expose the red hue of the pips and make it comfortable, almost therapeutic, to walk on with bare feet. The floors are natural, uniquely South African, and the design and colour can be customised. Source: https://nowathome.wordpress.com

 

A floor made from end-grain log wafers and sawdust grout. Source: Pinterest

Use what you have
I think it is time that we relook at old, simple ways of design and bring some of these back on trend. Something like a mud floor is incredibly durable. Although it might not be fitting for a corporate office, there are areas, especially in homes, where this option is viable.

The rammed earth technique is also an exceptionally sustainable way of working. On top of that, it offers a lot of versatility in terms of colour and texture, which is a large component of how designers try to express themselves.

I’ve seen many recent designs where materials such as shutter-ply pine have been used for both walls and floors, but a lot of this is happening in funky offices or at exhibitions. There is no reason why we can’t apply it in residential designs – it is affordable, durable and actually an incredibly beautiful material.

House Horak in the Boschhoek Mountain Estate, just outside Modimolle, features a beautiful rammed earth wall. Courtesy of Adriaan Wooding Atelier

Concrete
The architectural movement of brutalism is quite under-appreciated in South Africa, but concrete is one of the most cost-effective, versatile materials to design with. It is malleable and aesthetically pleasing, and one can create the most beautiful designs. One can cast it into different shapes, create patterns, add pigments to create a variety of colours, play with light and use it on both interiors and exteriors, whether it is floors, walls or soffits.

Over the last few years, the PPC Imaginarium Awards have showcased the incredibly wonderful and innovative designs that can be achieved with concrete. We’ve seen printing on concrete, jewellery made from it and much more. The possibilities seem to be endless.

Embossed letters on a ribbed concrete surface. Courtesy of VDMMA

South Afican talent
As for design inspiration, South Africans don’t have to look far to find some. While some of our most incredible projects are publicised and even featuring on international sites, we don’t create enough hype around them. It needs to be brought to the public attention more so that they can also feel a sense of pride.

While thousands of people have walked on the Boomslang walkway in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, designed by Mark Thomas and Henry Fagan, not many realise the exceptional design. We have to do more to exclaim that it is a Proudly South African design.

It is time for us to become proud of the architectural and design work that we are doing, because at the end of the day it is representative of our beautiful country.

Jason Wiggin

Caption Main Image:
The Boomslang walkway in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, designed by Mark Thomas and Henry Fagan. © Adam Harrower