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hl next Level 2018: architect thomas chapman

Trevor Stuurman


Architectural Record magazine just named Local Studio, founded by architect and urban designer Thomas Chapman  and based in Brixton, Johannesburg, one of its ‘Design Vanguards’ for 2018, placing it among big names like David Adjaye and Bjarke Ingels as one of the world’s most exciting practices working today. Thomas says he is inspired by ‘just how much work there is for me to do in Johannesburg’. Currently everyone is talking about Local Studio’s work on the new skatepark in Westdene and an ophthalmology centre for Hope for the Blind in Modimolle, Limpopo, which caters for paying and non-paying patients – a heart-warmer of a space.

 how did you get started?

I worked for Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens for seven years on and off but always had a side-hustle doing public art installations and community outreach work. This gradually grew into a viable enough practice for me to leave my job [with them] in 2013.

did you always want to be doing what you’re doing now?

When I was very young I wanted to be an inventor, and in a sense this is what I do now.

do you have a favourite project among those you’ve worked on?

My favourite project to date has been the Outreach Foundation Community Centre in Hillbrow. It was my first new-build project and even though we made a lot of rookie errors, is still the project I am most proud of.

what has been your defining career moment to date?

Local Studio has just been selected by Architectural Record magazine as one of its ‘Design Vanguards’ for 2018. This an annual award given to their 10 of the best emerging firms internationally, and past laureates include some big names like David Adjaye (2002), Jeanne Gang (2001) and Bjarke Ingels (2009).

are there any creatives on your radar at the moment?

There are a few up-and-coming local architecture firms that I am watching with interest: the MAAK and Counterspace Studio are two of them.

and any artists you look up to?

Locally I enjoy Haroon Gunn-Salie and Dave Southwood, who shoots all our buildings. Internationally I am a bit out of the loop, but Luc Tuymans is my favourite painter.

where do you find your inspiration?

With a nod to Chuck Close (‘Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work’), I can concede that I am inspired by just how f*cked Johannesburg is, and how much work there is for me to do here.

what is your earliest visual memory?

Drinking milkshake at the Café de Paris in Hillbrow, probably 1987.

which single place would you recommend that people visit?

The Monastery of Saint Antonios Qozhaya in Lebanon: the plaza in front of the main church is pretty extraordinary.

what’s the most memorable piece of interior design you’ve ever seen?

I was blown away by the interior of Monsieur Bleu, a restaurant on the ground floor of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris that was designed by Joseph Dirand.

what is the next project that you are working on?

One of the most interesting projects we are working on is a rural opthalmology centre that caters to paying and non-paying patients. The project incorporates an arts centre so that patients cured of ailments such as cataracts can experience something beautiful after not being able to see for a long time.

Learn all about the game changers who are taking things to the Next Level in our #HLNEXTLEVEL2018  issue.