Dear Other Architects.


Charles Holland, director at FAT, an award winning architectural practice based in London, writes a cynical open letter to Other Architects on his Fantastic Journal. He insists we should all stop entering architectural competitions. He gives ten reason. I think he might be right.

They are a pretty terrible way of procuring a building. Imagine a system where you want something but you’re not sure exactly what it is. So you make a list of things you think you want and invite everyone in the world to send you their ideas for what it looks like. You have no other interaction with them, communicate – if at all – by email and, in the end, hope for the best and pick the one you fancy. This is the architectural competition process. It’s similar to internet dating, but less fun.


Mamelodi Shopping Centre, Mamelodi, Gauteng. MDS Architecture for McCormick Property Development.



Architect Africa reports that Mamelodi Shopping Centre is now under construction, with completion due in late 2011.

Is there really no alternative to this? A string of giant, faceless boxes in a sea of parking. With no connectedness to its urban context. South African architects and developers are capable of so much more. Aren’t they?


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Six, Cape Town CBD. Arthur Quinton & Darryl Croome Architects for Leisure Development.


Excuse the terrible photo. If you have a better one, please add it to Flickr.

Edit: More images and discussion at Via rfataar on Flickr.  

I’ve spotted this a number of times on my way into and out of Cape Town CBD. I’ve watched its construction over the past months, and it’s bothered me. I wasn’t sure why. And then they painted the top grey!


I realised that the building has no roof. No top. At least not any meaningful top. Not a top that responds to the scale of the building. It’s all… middle! Well, perhaps there’s a bottom too. You can’t see that from the highway and I can’t really be bothered to go look.

The building goes all the way up and then—apart from that limp-wristed, skinny metal lid—it’s just sky! Simply painting the upper floor grey does not a top make.


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Sarah Calburn’s Call to Arms.


A Call to Arms

In answer to this question: ‘Is there anything unique about South African architecture?’ from Nicole Hijbeek of Design Mind following the Open Think Box debate, I wrote this… “South African architecture is unique to South Africa: in its weakness…”

Office, Umhlangane, KwaZulu-Natal. Ruben Reddy Architects for Eiger Group.


So, this is dull. The northern edge doesn’t address the street in any meaningful way. The western edge flat-out ignores it. It ignores the sun too! I’m not sure how the wavy bit relates to the rest of the scheme. Materials have been applied to surfaces in what must be a desperate attempt to distract us from the fact that the building’s really a plastered lump, painted a smoggy grey-blue. And the red? Really?


The southern elevation tries a little harder. But becomes an essay in the disparities between the vision sold and the cynical, developer-trodden reality.



Greenstone Mall, Edenvale, Gauteng. Unknown for Sasol Pension Fund


Room Without a View from The Naked Architect.

Contextually this mall is as absurd as the developments surrounding it. This constant reassurance that the area is now vibrant and young, with new energy and market power, does little to squelch our insecurities. Where are the parks and playgrounds, the open entertainment venues ? Does the mall not consume this enormous void and create a false sense of validation for the entire development?

Greenstone Mall

Lincoln on the Lake, Umhlanga New Town / Gateway, KwaZulu-Natal. THA Architecture & Design for Growthpoint, Louis Group and Key Developments.


Seriously!? It’s usually pretty difficult to knock buildings in the Umhlanga New Town / Gateway precinct. They generally have their urban hearts in the right place. There’s a decent mix of residential and commercial, with retail along the street. Parking is concealed in a way that doesn’t leave the pavement lined with carbon-monoxide-exhaling ventilation and little else. Indeed, this scheme – although still under construction – looks as if it might just tick all those boxes.

But, I guess this is what happens when the major contextual indicator is a shopping mall of Disney proportions. The building borrows liberally from the City Beautiful movement of the 1890s and 1900s in Chicago. Which in turn borrowed from the French Beaux-Arts that preceded it. How is this relevant to an African town centre in the tropics? In 2009? It isn’t. Not even a little bit.

And it has the audacity to tout itself as an environmentally appropriate response. I don’t see any sun control.