Corobrik Honours Top Architectural Student Of The Year


University of Johannesburg student, Harold Johnson, is Corobrik’s 28th Architectural Student of the Year.

He collected his award at the prestigious annual Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards ceremony that was held at The Maslow, in Sandton, Johannesburg last week.

Apart from the accolade of being recognised as one of South Africa’s best up and coming professionals in his field, Johnson took home a prize of R50 000. This is in addition to the R8 000.00 prize that he earned when he won the regional final last year.

Corobrik Managing Director Dirk Meyer, who congratulated Johnson on winning the award, said that the Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Award was created to promote design excellence, to acknowledge and reward talent among graduating architectural students.

This year’s awarding winning thesis was entitled The ‘Dark’ City: Critical Interventions in Urban Despair, presented as a fine example.

When asked what inspired his thesis, Johnson replied that he was bored with polite, predictable student projects! “I wanted to set my own brief where I could explore the limits of architects’ skills and their training. From this, I was driven to challenge the normative student project convention of: ‘Problem-then-a-Solution’ (the building usually being the solution) and the tendency to design finite, jewel-like end-products. I asked myself: What if a project could potentially have multiple manifestations or outcomes? And presented a detailed process of thinking, making, seeing and inventing that accrues over time?”

He said that he wanted to do a project in the inner-city as typical architectural projects were usually within/on an open or clear site and are therefore safer and less challenging. “I was aware that inner-city development, in Johannesburg, was largely outsourced (by the City) to the private sector – so I wanted to know what happens when the city abandons its buildings and people.”

Johnson said he believed that his project demonstrated the ability of architects to re-frame and redefine any scenario/structure/environment.

“Winning this award, in terms of the cash prize, means I can now contribute to continuing our research in ‘Dark City’ and the other buildings we are working in. When I won the (regional) first place for R8000 (from Corobrik) at the University of Johannesburg last year, I put 40 percent of that amount towards our work into this research. In continuing this pattern, 40 percent of this Corobrik (national) award will also be put towards the continuation and amplification of this research and design,” he added.

Professor Lesley Lokko, who supervised Johnson’s thesis and congratulated him on winning this award, said that this project showed a determination to get as far under the skin of any given situation to be able to understand it properly, deeply and without compromise. The project was also unusual in that it was both a design thesis and a design thesis critique.

She said the win was a validation of Harry’s determination and considerable skill in pulling it off as well as a validation of the school’s position – that it was the school’s job to provide the critical framework for as wide a range of interests and ideas as possible and to resist a design orthodoxy that forces students to conform.

“Although his thesis is very firmly rooted in South Africa – and in Johannesburg in particular – his critique can be said to be global. The architectural profession is moving in so many different ways, encompassing so many different fields from engineering to disaster relief, from project management to project coordination, from urban to intimate, from socially-responsible design to high finance and sustainable materials, that it is almost impossible to train an architect to do everything,” she added.

A commendation for excellence in architecture was awarded to Walter Raubenheimer from the University of Pretoria for his thesis “Redefining industry: Architecture as a constructive extraction”.

Commendations for Excellence in Architecture are given for exceptional projects that the juror panel considers able to compete on a world stage. “The juror panel deemed Raubenheimer’s thesis project exemplary given the comprehensiveness and completeness of the investigation, as well as the maturity, confidence and skill evident in the architectural resolution of the buildings and the urban design framework for the precinct,” said Meyer.

Raubenheimer extended the sustainability of the project making use of waste material on the site for the manufacture of bricks that were incorporated into the architecture. For this consideration and the appropriate application of the bricks consistent with the design, Raubenheimer was awarded a R10 000 prize for the ‘best use of brick’.

Raubenheimer said that the birth of this dissertation was rooted in a personal fascination with the industrial archetype which has developed over time from crude mechanistic structures into refined, sophisticated edifices of technological and structural ingenuity.

Looking back over the work submitted by all of the finalists, Meyer said that what came through with “the school of 2014” was the contribution that architecture could make to uplifting marginalised societies, regenerating disused sites, the adaptive reuse or extension of use of the existing to advance the value of the built environment in eco-conscious ways.

He said that through effectively “recycling” old buildings and disused sites, some of the students were looking at the issue of legacy in a whole new way. He said that this came at a particularly important time when South Africans were questioning the legacy left behind in the form of inner city buildings, historical sites and artifacts.

The various theses reviewed suggested that the legacy embedded in the built environment was not static. Instead, they actively explored the possibility that this could be re-invented or updated in order to not only address mounting social needs and differing world views but also adding a whole new sustainability dynamic.

“The students from participating universities have certainly pushed the boundaries with their 2014 projects – some from a theoretical basis, others from a more practical perspective. Looking at the architectural design concepts presented, it is apparent that they have not only been influenced by personal perspective but by sound research and, of course, the teachings and the perspectives of their respective faculties of architecture,” he said.

Meyer pointed out that, while it is accepted that architecture is very much about legacy, the students’ work was strongly influenced by the sustainability imperative with different amounts of emphasis placed on key social, economic and environmental aspects.

Imaginatively and thoughtfully recreating the existing built environment and dilapidated structures and spaces not only means that precious resources can be conserved but that space constraints within cities that are increasingly under pressure due to relentless urbanisation  can be addressed economically without contributing to urban sprawl.

“One can only be in awe at the execution of the different students’ work. The thought they have given to architectural place making and its relevance to societal needs and our rapidly changing world is meritorious,” he said.

Key to creating, leaving and reviving a legacy in the built environment was the use choice and use of different building materials, he said.

He said that, from a specification perspective, it was apparent that students grasped the fundamental value that different materials brought to architecture. He said that the students clearly gave considerable thought to how to use common materials in innovative and modern ways.

He added that the wonderful thing about thesis projects such as those presented to the judges for this award was that they allowed students to push the boundaries of their imaginations and knowledge.

“Imaginative intellectual approaches were evident in the architectural resolutions of all the projects. All of the top students from the eight participating universities are clearly on top of their design game’s and ready to make a positive contribution to tomorrow’s architecture and our built environment,” he said.

This year’s judges were Karuni Naidoo of CNN Architects in Durban, Chris Wilkinson of Chris Wilkinson Architects in Tshwane and Malcolm Campbell of ACG Architects in Cape Town.

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