South African architect Peter Rich is dedicated to the creation of authentic, contemporary African architecture. Striving to create places and spaces that are meaningful, moving and uplifting for all who occupy them, Rich has a strong focus on respecting the natural environment and local people. At the 2013 AZA Architecture Conference he speaks about some of his recent work and creating a “different world out of the earth”.
For Rich each project is different, demanding a bespoke solution. Working closely with clients and communities, and through sustained research into local contexts and conditions, Rich develops solutions that are unique to their context.
My life has always been centred round community-based work and preserving cultural heritage, says Rich.
For him architecture should be a thing that can be smelt, touched and tasted – a very different approach to contemporary commercial structures. As an example of this approach he talks through his Umudugudu project that looks at settlements in rural as a collective cluster.
Being a student in the ’60s, Rich decided that instead of being a political activist he would live with different African communities before they were uprooted by Apartheid in order to understand their rituals and what placemaking involved for rural South Africans. This experience resulted in a paradigm shift from Rich and sensitised him to the needs and aspirations of the people he would be designing for in the future, “this sparked my lifetime commitment to understanding what African people think of space making”, he adds.
Rich further gives insight into his current work in Ethiopia, where he is trying to save a heritage site from developers and potential destruction. For the design Rich drew on the design language he developed for his award-winning vaulted structures of the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre and adapted its design principles to suit the needs of the local context in Ethiopia.
Architects need to get off their pedestals and engage with local people and communities in an active yet respectful way, says Rich.
While Rich doesn’t consider designing golf estates and private residences as wrong, he urges architects to question where they invest their energy and where their real passion lies, “you can move outside the comfort zones of the normal stereotypes”, he adds.
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