Three of the architects from Paragon Architects, who have driven the design of Alice Lane 3, gave WALLS & ROOFS some insight into their different roles on the project and being young, female architects in general.

Tell us a bit about yourself?
Alex: I was born in Bulgaria in 1988. (Yes I know, spring chicken.) My family emmigrated to South Africa in the late 90’s. I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2009, and my M.Arch (Prof) in 2012. I received my professional number and have been practising as a professional architect since 2014.

Laura: I was born in Pretoria (1986), where I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Pretoria. I obtained my Masters’ degree at the University of Johannesburg ((MTech) Arch (Prof) 2013).

Kim: I completed my Undergraduate degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2008 and then travelled around the United Kingdom for a year. Once I returned, I worked for a year and then completed my honours and masters’ degrees part-time while working. I completed my M.Arch (Prof) degree in 2013 at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Your favourite feature of the building?
Alexandra: This is a difficult question as every element speaks a story and has gone through rigorous design processes to achieve the final product. I am, however, particularly fond of the auditorium, atrium and the overall aesthetic of the building.

Laura: By far the atrium and lift lobby ceilings. An imported stretched ceiling product, Barrisol, was used for the vertical lighting elements on every floor. Repeating bands of light on the atrium bridge ceilings are visible from the ground floor all the way to the 15th floor, drawing the eye upward and accentuating the slender verticality of the atrium. At night, this effect is even more powerful, and the building’s spatiality becomes legible from the outside.

Furthermore, I find the detailing in the auditorium awe inspiring, especially having been witness to the development and behind-the-scenes complexities thereof.

Kim: The auditorium was my favourite part of working on the project. It was the first time in my career where I was able to see a project through from the initial design to the final product. The lack of 90-degree angles in the space made it challenging and a lot of onsite meetings were required to get it right.

The biggest challenge?
Alexandra: As with many developments, budgets are our biggest hurdle. Creating something that is inspirational and well crafted, but also practical and within the allowable budget, is difficult. However, there are great learning opportunities in going through the process of value engineering a product. Anything is possible with a bit of creativity and resourcefulness.

Kim: It was inexperience. At varsity you learn how to design and detail in theory. But what happens on site is very different. You have to think on your feet and often make changes on site as problems arise. Thankfully, I was working with a great team at Paragon and was also grateful for the WBHO team on site, both of which I learnt a lot from.

What drives you as an architect?
Laura: Process and development are just as, if not more, important as the finished product. I continuously strive to learn new things, and explore new ways of thinking and making. These explorations take on various forms, including drawings, ceramic art and paintings.

What do you like most about your job?
Laura: Working with some of the most talented people in the industry on a day-to-day basis inspires and motivates me. These craftsmen and -women continuously push boundaries to make the seemingly impossible a reality.

Kim: The fact that we have the opportunity to see an idea on paper come to life.

What are some of the challenges women architects face?
Alexandra: Fortunately for young women architects today there has been a footpath created for us by great past leading ladies. There is still a clout of preconceptions that women have to deal with, but I believe that attitudes and preconceptions are now quickly overturned when we show how capable we are in this industry. Our determination, perseverance and resilience are paying off.

What opportunities are there for women architects today?
Laura: Regardless of gender, there is a growing need for architects to rethink how things have been done in the past. The current socio-economic climate simply demands greater sensitivity from designers. An increased awareness of the tangible (people, programme and place) together with the intangible (poetry) often makes for interesting, layered architecture, and many of the women I have worked with have a heightened consciousness of these elements.

Any advice for young upcoming architects?
Laura: The architectural industry is as challenging as it is rewarding. It will most likely be a long journey, but seeing your efforts manifested is worth every late night and grey hair.

Although Alexandra, Laura and Kim each played a leading role in the design development of Alice Lane 3, they are quick to point out that this project was a major team effort from start to finish, with many other people contributing throughout.

Those include Duanne Render who was the lead architect on the project, Warren Wesson, who designed the beautiful piazza and was responsible for the structure and penetrations, service coordination, as well as screeds and waterproofing, and Jackie Adelfang, who designed the stairs and was tasked with the brick and wet works, finishes and signage.

Read more about the Alice Lane 3 building on page 70.