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Meet the Judges – Hermann Kamte, 2018

Award-winning Cameroon-based architect Hermann Kamte joined the judging panel of the 2018 PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture. Kamte discusses the challenges up-and-coming architects face as well as judging the competition

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  1. Your firm, HKA | Hermann Kamte Associates, is the recipient of several awards for outstanding architecture, including the WAFX Prize in 2017. What would you say has been the highlight of your career?

In 2017, we were honoured with several prestigious international awards including the American Architecture Prize, where we won the Green Architecture category.

It was great to win the inaugural WAFX Prize on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the World Architecture Festival, and I think this award is the highlight of my career. We are proud to have been one of the award-winning teams with ‘Lagos Wooden Tower’. To be shortlisted in the Future Residential category was a huge accomplishment but to be among the winners was incredible for a team as young as ours – especially when you consider the range and quality of the projects put forward. Winning the WAFX Prize has given credibility and respect to the work of the practice, an unquestionable merit that speaks for itself; as a result of the win, we are being taken seriously as a genuine player in the industry despite only starting out.

We are also proud to be one of the shortlisted teams in the inaugural 2018 WAF Research Programme, of which the first category open for entries is WATER. Our proposal is titled ‘The Forgotten: Dead or AliveWill we let the Lake Chad Die?’

The team is very proud of its creativity and success. We just want to move and go ahead.

 

  1. Who (or what) inspires you as an architect?

I was born in Africa, where I grew up, studied and practiced. In short, like many people who have the same experience, I intrinsically know that we must focus on the sustainability of our future. For too long a time, Africa has been knee-jerk in solving its problems in the case of an emergency; we all know this approach doesn’t work.

There are limited solutions when people are struggling to survive; in addition, architecture and urban planning are facing various crises, including rapid population growth, inadequate housing and homelessness. We are exploring the best solutions to construct the most sustainable and well-built cities. My primary motivation is to contribute to the shaping of a better future and the well-being of communities. It is essential to understand that before we can influence the global populace, we have to start with local solutions.

Above all, I want to impact on people’s lives positively through architecture and design; we can improve the quality of life with cool and quirky approaches. To be useful is the most important thing I can contribute to the world. I believe architecture has to be agile across the world and that an architect can impact anywhere through clever intervention. The good news is that there is already a solid database that has been constructed; simply by reading the archives, you can learn about past solutions to current problems.

Today, I am happy to say that our small contributions towards shaping the world help people to better visualise their future. Our proposals include projects like ‘Lagos Wooden Tower’ – tall timber housing in Nigeria – and ‘The ForgottenDead or Alive’, an intervention designed to regenerate Lake Chad.Architecture can anticipate the urban mutation and needs of humanity and thus contribute to its well-being. But architecture also needs to be resilient. That is why at HKA, architecture must be as preventative as possible – curative solutions are not without scars.

 

  1. What projects/undertakings are you involved in currently?

Firstly, I am working on the development of my company with my associates. The team is working on several projects – of which many are still in the conceptual phase. We are currently working on an extension for a prestigious secondary school in Cameroon.

Another interesting project is a centenary building that we were chosen to work on in the southern region of Cameroon. The structure is a church/cathedral where the Bishop leads his congregants. It is a great adventure to restore a building like this and it is a huge challenge to give it a contemporary appearance without altering its old image and symbolism.

 

  1. As an architect, what project have you found to be the most challenging creatively?

Humbly, I believe that in architecture there are many good projects and bad ones too. You also have those that are very creative and others that are not creative enough. Many projects are creative within their contexts and that is good news for humanity.

Regarding my own creations/projects – it is difficult for a parent to tell which of his children is the most creative. In a family, no child is ‘the best’. I love all my creations equally: they each contain a part of me and taught me something. I am no prouder of ‘Lagos Wooden Tower’ than of ’PIXA’. Even if one appears to be more successful than the others, it is no different in my eyes. Each of these creations was produced as a solution/proposal for a very specific challenge.

 

  1. What challenges does one face as a young architect entering the profession?

In practice in general, the difficulties vary. We are based in Cameroon and it is not a docile country in terms of architecture; it is complex and difficult to define. Paradoxically, there are many public-facing opportunities but very few opportunities by which to access them.

For a young team such as ours it is like leaving Mario Kart to try solving a Rubik’s Cube – it’s worth it but it’s not easy. I also need to be a shrewd businessman; it’s difficult but rewarding. I have to learn about many things in a short period, but this stage is important.

Young architects ought not to be afraid. I am aware that the practice of architecture depends on the country, with each space having its own specifications with its own rules. With time, you may learn how each individual system works. I encourage young people to enter this intense experience. I’m not saying it will be an easy adventure; however, as the saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

 

  1. What was your impression of the entries of the 2018 PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture?

In general, I was impressed with the quality of the entries considering the level is ‘undergraduate’. It was an honour and a pleasure to be part of the judging panel alongside Nadia Tromp, Heidi Boulanger and Enrique Browne with whom I had several positive exchanges on the architectural expression of the projects presented. I think there were a lot of interested projects; the students showed great skill!

In general, the standard was good, some projects could have won in different contexts, but unfortunately architecture is context specific.

The judging panel was impressed at the level of creativity among young people. I can only advise that they use this experience to advance their craft.

 

  1. What advice do you have for future entrants of the PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture? 

I have one piece of advice: ‘follow the context’. The 2018 PPC Imaginarium Awards outlines the motif of ‘We the City: Memory and Resilience’ – which is the theme for Architecture ZA 2018 (AZA18). Though there were many good projects, some lacked context; in architecture, everything you make needs to be defined according to a context. Without this, you’re going to struggle with problem solving. It was a pity to see some beautiful projects fail because of the absence that lay between the idea and the context. I labelled these projects as ‘Good Design, Bad Ideas’.

For future competitors in the PPC Imaginarium Awards and other competitions, there are several key factors that I would recommend checking before you submit your ideas. Which of the following categories does your project fall into?

  • Good Idea, Good Design (You will probably win or be honoured.)
  • Good Idea, Bad Design (You could be a finalist or be honoured, or a very lucky winner.)
  • Bad Idea, Good Design (You may win if you are lucky, but be surprised if you do.)
  • Bad Idea, Bad Design (You will probably lose or be disqualified.)

Good luck!

 

  1. What role can a platform like the PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture play among aspiring architects?

Architecture is about challenges. Events like the PPC Imaginarium Awards help students and aspiring architects to share their vision and solutions to challenges that the world is facing; very important for us and for society in general. Through theoretical projects, it is good to find out how the next generation of architects will envision the future.

Competitions also help students to teach themselves: it’s important to explore your own limits. The platform also allows students to learn from other projects.

Architecture is its own culture and the award recognises the effort of teams/people en route to solving critical issues. I strongly encourage young people to engage in competitions.

For me, the PPC Imaginarium Awards is a good example of challenging ourselves: we are competing not with others but with ourselves. We must strive to exceed our own limits!

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