otswanian architect Kagiso Seloilwe explains why sustainable architecture matters and why it is paramount to include the construction sector.
Writer: Thomas Noppen
Images: RMJM Architects
How do you perceive the responsibility of a modern architect in creating sustainable architecture?
It is the responsibility of the modern architect, as well as any other individual in the position to make a lasting difference. If we want architecture to truly become a more sustainable endeavour of change we need to make sure that each actor involved in its application and conception is up-to-date in relationship to sustainable practices as well as deeply committed and engaged with the process. Apart from embodied energy, even climate-sensitive solutions will reduce running energy costs and have a cumulative effect on the world’s energy needs.
Circular economy is gaining traction in modern construction, what do you believe it can add to the construction business?
Re-using, recycling and refurbishing building components not only adds to their life span but also leads to a selective process of opting for the most versatile, adaptive and environmentally friendly components in future projects. With most of construction components coming from finite reserves, this is the obvious way to progress. Design challenges in the successful reuse and repurposing of building components can only enhance the solutions that can be achieved. To understand and overcome them one has to dedicate a significant amount of time and effort but the returns far outweigh the cost.
When designing architecture, do you look for traditional materials and building techniques that can be repurposed for modern and larger scale constructions and designs?
We do strive to use traditional materials and construction techniques or sensibilities, as this further roots our designs in their cultural, physical and historical context. Traditional construction also tends to be of optimum ‘Low Energy’ in design, construction and use which is in itself good enough of a reason for architects to dedicate more of their time understanding how the application of endogenous knowledge may benefit their work.
Do you look at yourself as an architect, a designer or something else?
I would say I am a designer, above all, since my work aspires to go beyond the built environment. My goal is never to merely design a project that fulfills the client's wishes, which is in itself a very meritorious and complicated task, but rather to have an impact, one way or another, in the wider society. This can be done by projecting a building that incentivizes public debate or by influencing the way people relate to specific area, their daily routines and interactions with their surrounding spaces.
How do you perceive ‘design thinking’? What does the term hold in your opinion?
I like to think ‘design thinking’ involves the creative analysis of situations and the finding of solutions through collaborative exchanges, precedents, and engagement with ideas often considered being ‘outside the box’. You’ll find more or less eloquent ways to describe what ultimately refers to that one essential process inherent to the work of any designer.
How have architectural practices evolved on the continent during the past decade and in particular in Botswana?
The positive evolution of architectural practices in Botswana in the past decade is evident and should be a reason for pride for Batswana citizens. The establishment of the Architects’ Registration Council of Botswana (ARC) has also signaled an important shift in the profession towards regulation, transparency and accountability. We should evaluate the merits of this development based on our socio-economic reality and avoid potentially unjust comparisons with other African nations.
What is and should be done regarding city planning and infrastructural development in the next decade? Which regions or countries provide inspiration?
South Africa has a developed approach to infrastructural development, as they address current needs while balancing it with the maintenance of existing developments. Although there are still numerous challenges and obstacles to be surpassed, there is more transparency and accountability in South Africa than in most African countries. A lot can be done to close the disconnect between infrastructure development planning and the population projections versus reality.
Which contemporary buildings on the continent do you admire and why?
Besides the multiple RMJM Botswana projects that I am naturally proud of, the Lycée Schorge Secondary School by Kéré Architecture in Burkina Faso is an exemplary case of sensitive use of local materials and construction techniques. The design responds uniquely to the local climate and strives to address the needs of the users without attempting to replicate the expected image of ‘Contemporary Architecture’.
Another project that I think represents the very best being practiced in the continent is the Ubuntu Centre by Field Architecture in South Africa. The building is fit for purpose as it aims to provide a serene and calming space for pediatric HIV testing. The material pallet is relevant and the form seems to grow from the very ground as the massing is derived from the township pathways that existed before the building itself. The result is a subtle state-of-the-art design that seeks to normalize and destigmatize the epidemic, all the while being firmly planted in its context.