• Concrete Beauty: Towards an Architectural Language

Date: 25/11/2013
Location: University of Nairobi, ADD
Architect: Paragon Architects
Guest Speaker: Henning Rasmuss and John Peska.

Highlighting the key elements of architecture as design, details, computers and people, Henning Rasmuss, a practicing architect with Paragon Architects in Johannesburg, South Africa, opened the lively discussion in a room filled with an audience eager to learn what concrete had to do with beauty. He began by stating that the greatest limitation of an architect would be ‘drawing a building that could not be built’ and with that he emphasized the need to have the right tools throughout the design process.

Using some of the works the team has done in South Africa, the presentation aimed at showcasing the benefits of concrete in its fluidity, solid design and ability to be proportioned appropriately through proper control and moulding. In addition to putting effort in green building design through proper orientation and strategic planning, Henning urges architects on the importance of proper communication in order to achieve desired results. He says, “in the end, architecture is plan, section and elevation,..”

Material variety brings forth an interesting solution in ‘The Creative Council’, a project that has brought mixed reactions from the general public and other practitioners as well. Concrete defines the silhouette of the building, while metal sheets were used for the conical forms. The challenge here was to specify the right materials, while keeping to the fluid (true) nature of concrete.

Based on the experience from the construction process of the Alexander Forbes building he recalls the triumph in the concrete work that provided an excellent experience in achieving dynamic forms at reasonable cost using the shuttering available. It wasn’t an easy task but it provided a much needed break from the norm.

Equating the architect to a chameleon that can easily adapt and with an exceptional set of skills in order to get work done, he stressed the importance of the knowledge of materials and building technology. “Architecture is unforgiving, you have to know your stuff , and you also have to be prepared to change either the design, the material” or the contractor’s point of view.

The BDO project, in Wellington, South Africa, as discussed by John Peska, a practising architect with Paragon Architects brings forth a creative form of concrete, glass and brickwork in the design of a corporate building. John Peska explained that corporate buildings are all about efficiency, and one should maximise on the built up area. The success of this design is not only in the integration of a variety of materials but in the proper understanding of the context during the design and implementation process. Here, concrete is used extensively in the cantilevers, both in the interiors and exteriors.

Further discussions went on to expound on the benefits of precast concrete, which has been embraced by Paragon Architects as a powerful way of building with concrete. Precast concrete reduces failure and improves on quality.

What came out quite clearly from this presentation is that the architect must think through the entire design from its inception to its implementation.While he is faced with the challenge of giving value to the developer by designing buildings that are highly flexible, he must be creative, communicate effectively and design buildings that are buildable.


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