the women behind counterspace share their favourite african architecture


All roads led to Johannesburg for Sumayya Vally, Amina Kaskar and Sarah de Villiers, who hail from Durban, Pretoria and Joburg respectively. Their firm Counterspace specialises in urban and spatial problem-solving in architecture, installation and art, and was started as a fierce reaction to traditional practices. As three of our Next Generation stars for 2017, we asked the innovative trio to share their favourite examples of architecture in Africa.

sumayya vally

1. olalekan jeyifous
counterspace Image credit: Inhabitat

The architectural drawings and sculptures of Nigerian-born designer and architect Olalekan Jeyifous show a searching for new form. Inspired by the conditions and uniqueness of place - while managing to transcend beyond these, too - his works are capable of projecting possible architectures. Though similar in nature, Jeyifous doesn't simply present an Africanised interpretation of the works of German painter Wolf Vostell or Korean American artist Nam June Paik. Rather, his imaginings are a true testament to the worth of speculative paper architecture. 2. kariakoo market, dar es salaam
counterspace Image credit: The Atriums hotel

This piece of architecture is an exceptional example of how something purely pragmatic can also be remarkably beautiful. The building marries the utilitarian structures of water funnels supporting the roof with the plain, Neo-Brutalist facades of 1970s Western urban architecture. This could have been a merely eccentric combination if not for the conscientious handling of textures, including those left by the vernacular carpentry of the columns. 3. zeitz mocaa, cape town
counterspace Image credit: The Culture Trip

I love an unexpected architectural moment that throws people into the sublime. The Zeitz MOCAA shows an interesting return to the early years of deconstruction, when simple interventions, such as cutting across solids, were used to defamiliarise high modernist forms such as concrete silos and other utilitarian spaces. This confrontation between cut-and-fold derived geometries and 20th-century industrial form reached its highest expression in American architect Daniel Libeskind's The Jewish Museum Berlin, and has lain dormant for a long time since.

amina kaskar

1. hyatt regency hotel, joburg
counterspace Image credit: The Planner

I often drive past the Hyatt Regency hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Peering into its heavily recessed windows on its face-brick facade, I invent the stories that could exist behind the hundreds of flapping white curtains. I enjoy the irony of the hotel mimicking the form of Italian architect Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery, and it is these sorts of anecdotes that tell the story of the building. In exactly this manner, the particular narratives that people develop about a building or a structure depict a particular time in the life of a city - as well as in the life of its architecture. 2. the watershed, cape town
counterspace Image credit: Ashworth Africa

One of my favourite recent buildings is the Watershed designed by Wolff Architects, who has created an internal street within an existing shed in Cape Town's V&A Waterfront district. This street forms a pedestrian thoroughfare along the lengths of the shed, connecting several sites around the V&A Waterfront area. The building transforms the surrounding area and serves as more than just the intended business incubator, reclaiming public space and becoming a device for conversation, socialising, retail and work. I have always been attracted to industrial architecture and interesting use of colour, and the lightweight, playful nature of this structure creates an enchanting space to be in. 3. council chambers, joburg
counterspace Image credit: Business Tech

Another architectural fascination of mine is the Johannesburg City Council Chambers designed by Studiomas Architects. The new addition to Johannesburg’s civic landscape is an elegant rotunda of curved glass that sits snug in its Braamfontein context. The monumental radial form with gold steel 'fins' is a necessary contrast to the Brutalist architecture of the existing council building that sits behind it. For me, the view looking towards the building from Rissik Street is the most striking, however. Driving north along this street, the building creates a bold statement and a sense of arrival to Braamfontein.

sarah de villiers

1. circa gallery, joburg
Image credit: Arch Daily

A prominent moment of architectural delight stands on the intersection of Jellicoe and Jan Smuts Avenue in Rosebank. Circa Gallery’s fluted aluminium skin girdles one in, as it spirals upwards from its outer passage on the ground floor to the main exhibition space on the first floor. Sunlight and the muffled sounds of the street seep in, attributing to a most sublime experience for its visitors that is simultaneously apart from the craziness of the city, yet subtly connected to it. The oblong form of the gallery provides a distinguished platform for its featured artworks, a favourite hang-out spot during the city’s First Thursdays' events. It's a definite architectural anchor-point in my mind, a kind of yardstick for a version of experiential and exciting architecture, demonstrating the great extents and sophistication of 21st century South African design. 2. uganda national theatre, kampala
ugandan theatre Image credit: Cory Doctorow

Recently on my radar is a remarkable 60-year-old modernist theatre, situated in Kampala. It has recently been written and talked about with great fervour and concern – and rightly so, since the property was newly put in the line of redevelopment into a large 36-storey commercial space, which will be a real tragedy if undertaken. The building has housed many exquisite Ugandan performers in its rich, voluminous interior. The exterior is laced in an intricate and rhythmic concrete brise-soleil, gently shadowing the theatre behind it. The building is a compositional masterpiece, and would be an urban sculpture sorely missed in the Kampalan cityscape if it were to be developed. 3. baragwanath taxi rank, soweto
bara taxi rank Image credit: Johannesburg Tours

Encountered during one of my explorations as an architecture student, the Baragwanath Taxi Rank is a structure of unforgettable presence in Joburg. Built in an effort to connect Soweto to Johannesburg as well as further, far-reaching African cities, the site is trafficked by thousands on a daily basis. The designers and client have demonstrated an agile and resilient approach to what I imagine was a very challenging brief – designing a transit note 1.3km long. The spine of the building, which flutes west to east across the site, offers access to the vibrant activity adjacent to it, such as fruit sellers, taxi operators and commuters. It's a combination of interesting sculptural forms constructed from off-shutter concrete, accentuated here and there by brightly coloured glazed ceramic tiles. The result is a beautiful melting pot of different food, colours, smells and sounds, and is a really fascinating and rich spot to witness.
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