Venice: A Place Where South Africa’s Work Shines

June 26, 2018adminMedia

Three leading SAIA architects represent South Africa at the year’s Venice Biennale and concurrent Time Existence curated exhibitions. Here are their impressions of this event:

Peter Rich

“It was truly an honour to be invited by the 16 Venice Architectural Biennale curators (as one of 71 architectural practises from the world), to curate an aspect of my work at this year’s Venice Biennale. It was an elevated platform – this year focusing on humanity, beauty and generosity in the affirmation of Architecture as the mother of all Arts.

My thanks and appreciation go to Yvonne Farrell and Shelley Mc Namara, who curated this exhibition-like conductors of an orchestra. Their aptitude and insight, working from strong core principles of architecture ensured that I received valuable critique regarding my exhibition, while their efficient logistics made it a pleasure to participate in this the sixteenth International Architecture Exhibition.

There was furthermore reverence for those we learn from, and the buildings in which we exhibited the generosity exercised by the curators seemed to neutralize both ego and “ism’s” from this occasion.

During the exhibition I was able to display 15 drawings of eight selected projects of mine, including the Mapumgubwe Interpretive Centre and the Stone House in China. The drawings focus on the organic aspect of my work which the curators felt responded best to the ‘Freespace’ theme of this year’s Venice Biennale.

The sketches of these projects were reproduced on a monumental scale on printed canvas and transparent textile sheets. These were suspended from the Arsenale’s six-metre-high ceilings from a mobile structure designed and built in Johannesburg from South African Kiaat hardwood and aluminium.

Through this exhibition I was able to pay tribute to the context of the Arsenale as well as to all buildings inspired during the thirteenth to fifteenth century in Venice. The beautiful southern light, filtering through, gave the exhibition an ethereal feeling, as though the Arsenale was converted into a ‘temple of light’.

Looking forward

Whilst the exhibition is on display in Venice until the 26 November 2018, I intend to raise funding to allow for an exhibition which will travel throughout South Africa, I will also l be conducting architectural sketching workshops alongside the exhibition.

My recommendation to all SAIA architects is that, should you be given the opportunity to exhibit at the Venice Biennale, grab it because it will be an experience of a lifetime.

My wish is for SAIA and SACAP to support the Venice Biennale by facilitating assistance and helping to fund the exhibitions of South African architects, including ensuring a budget is made available by the Department of Arts and Culture. In this way South Africa’s finest architecture will be placed on a world stage, where it its uniqueness and substance can be profiled.”

To read more about Peter Rich and his work, go to

Charl de Villiers

On receiving an invitation from the GAA Foundation to exhibit at this year’s private Time Space Existence exhibition, hosted by the Centre for European Culture, concurrent with the Venice Biennale, I worked on a time, cost and material efficient exhibition with highly pleasing results.

I have been working on this project for five years; a period in my life which has, at times, been challenging from a professional perspective, as well as a beautiful and richly rewarding opportunity that I have fully embraced. The project is the Mountain Home which is not only a private residence but also a so-called Light Seed, that is, a Secular Sacred Space, offering meditation and Noble Silence opportunities through a petite amphitheatre in the garden and a wetland courtyard, populated with indigenous fauna and flora. A three storey high concrete wall on a public street will feature a Sanskrit prayer.

Through this project I demonstrated how previously unused council land can be used for urban densification purposes, a universal theme which is presently particularly relevant to South Africa. I trust this will inspire other similar projects in future.

Presentation of the Mountain Home

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Photo Credit: Mountain Home at Time Space Existence exhibition photographed by Andrea Ferro

Photo credit: Time, Space, Existence Catalogue photographed by Rupert de Beer

My exhibition took the form of three large vertical banners, in black and white, printed on high quality Ferrari PVC. These were couriered to Venice. The curators installed the posters superbly. They were placed in a main room in Palazzo Bembo, filled with bronze male nude sculptures and featuring a spectacular doorway (with marble architraves) leading onto a passage. The posters were wall-mounted in this passage in such a way that they are centrally framed as seen when looking from the sculpture room though the doorway.

Experiencing the Time Space Existence exhibition concurrent to the Biennale

The exhibition was spread over several palazzos (palaces) alongside the Grand Canal and at the vernissage evenings (opening nights) a party atmosphere was tangible. Italian delicacies such as parma ham and parmesan cheeses were in ample supply on arrival and the prosecco flowed. The exhibition presented the perfect opportunity to connect with fellow exhibitors from around the world, both architects and artists, allowing for new friendships and connections to be made and thus broaden both my life and professional experiences, given South Africa’s sometimes insular local architectural landscape.

I was struck by the use of hand-made models in Venice and I feel so inspired that I will be taking up my somewhat rusted modelling skills again now on my return. Being in touch with international trends certainly inspired me to approach my future work in a different way.

The exhibition provided a glorious reminder of what Architecture could be and it provides an insight into the numerous topical issues with which architects currently grapple with globally. It re-awakened my appreciation for how architecture manifests in so many different ways within its various international contexts. I recommend participating in, or visiting, the exhibition to all SAIA members looking for fresh inspiration.

Photo Credit: Charl de Villiers with Time,
Space Existence catalogue photographed by
Rupert de Beer

Modernist ode: Charl de Villiers’s
Mountain Home project in Pretoria

03 Mountain Home_Outbuilding Perspectives

Mountain Home – Outbuilding

05Mountain Home Progress Photo

Mountain Home – Progress

Click here for catalogue

Nadia Tromp

I received an invitation from the GAA Foundation in 2017 to exhibit at the Time Space Existence exhibition, hosted by the Centre for European Culture, in the context of the Venice 2018 Biennale.

The curators were interested in the way I practice architecture in an environment with limited financial resources and at times within hostile communities. The challenges that architects face are specific to the site, the client, environment and end-users. The socio-economic context of a project is a critical indicator of the way I approach a project. Our discourse in exploring the contributions that marginalised communities could make to society and how this research is brought into our work, became a point of interest for the curators.

My exhibition is titled ‘(re) occupying the city.‘ Under this theme, I chose to do two separate exhibitions

One exhibition inside the Palazzo Mora, focussing on two recent projects, the Westbury Clinic, which won the World Architecture Festival Award 2017 for Health category in Berlin, a Gifa Award of Excellence 2018 and SAIA 2018 Merit Award of excellence. This is a new build in a previously marginalised community where we looked to address the historical injustices of that community through creating a democratic public space that could be shared by all. The second project, the Esselen Street Clinic, is the re-purposing of a heritage building design by Willem Pabst in 1943 in the densely populated urban neighbourhood of Hillbrow.

Our second exhibition is a sculpture in the garden, entitled ‘refuge’, under the theme of ‘(re) occupying the city’. We have revisited the theme of this project over and over again in the past 10 years within our practice, developing our thinking around the refugee crisis in Europe and our local condition of migrancy within Johannesburg along with the numerous xenophobic attacks which have played out on our streets. The sculpture in the garden reflects both of these conditions. We are curious about the role that design could play in raising awareness around current issues facing our societies and humanity. We collaborated with Tebogo Ramatlo on bringing the sculpture to life. His video plays poignantly alongside showing how a migrant woman from the north of Africa makes her way, with her two children, to South Africa.

A physical disruption of the urban landscape can become the catalyst for change. It becomes a reflection on a society that is supposedly orderly and well-structured, being juxtaposed to the perceived invasion and disruption by the refugees. It forces dialogue around issues that may be uncomfortable to confront.

In this case, the physical transformation of the landscape is temporary, not unlike the drifting migrant. The tactile materiality of the space allows viewer to become immersed in the art and the narrative.

The entire exhibition was designed and built in our Johannesburg office. This exercise was not without its challenges, most especially the shipping of the sculpture. It had to be dismantled for shipping and then welded back together in a workshop in Venice. This gave me a unique experience of working with local craftsmen and collaborating with local architects.

While the experience of being part of the global architectural community through the Venice Biennale was a great honour, I feel that it is still too exclusive. We have so many amazingly talented architects locally that are doing a wide range of projects which demonstrate our local skill and innovation. We should be looking to showcase our own architects and create the elevated platform for people to share their work and have the exposure deserved.

Thank you to the PPC Group for their generous sponsorship of my exhibition. We have plans to bring the exhibition back after November 2018 and to take it around the country as a travelling exhibition. We are currently looking for further sponsorship to enable us to do this.

Nadia Tromp showcased community-responsive designs such as her firm’s refurbishment of the Hillbrow clinic (Giovanni Vio)

View Nadia Tromp’s work here (videos)


Venice Biennale: What is it about?