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Q&A with Anna Stelzner and Ilaena Napier

University of Cape Town students Anna Stelzner and Ilaena Napier were crowned Runners-up for the 2018 PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture.


  • Your entry for the PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture aims to “help regenerate District Six and make the area accesible to all”. What was the inspiration for this work?

We were inspired by the old roads of District Six. We overlaid them on the site plan and used them to influence our circulation through and around the building. This is called ‘palimpsest’ and allows one to see traces of one’s past. District Six has a history that should not be forgotten and how we use the land should be well considered. The mosque also played a huge role in the placement of the buildings. A public plaza is hugged by the buildings, opening onto and respecting the mosque. This building acknowledges the past but also realises the potential for a future of learning, creating and showcasing together. 


  • At what point did you become interested in architecture?

Anna: At school I loved the theory of art and its practical application. I loved the idea of creating something from a concept that was in essence a personal response to your environment and experiences. At the time I didn’t link this to architecture but after taking a gap year I was inspired. Travelling, job shadowing and working in the design industry in Cape Town while it was the Design Capital in 2014 confirmed my desire to pursue architecture.

Ilaena: I became interested in architecture at a young age when my mother introduced me to the graphic artist M.C. Escher, who made mathematically inspired artworks through the use of geometries, symmetry and perspectives. A lot of his work includes explorations of perspectives in architecture. I found his work fascinating and enjoyed the link between mathematics and art – two of my strengths. This led me to choose to study architecture.


  • Who or what inspires you as an aspiring architect?

Anna: I am hugely inspired by context, people and the environment. My designs are informed by the architecture of an area, the culture and preferences of those who it is for and how it can impact the environment least. I love the truth of materiality so I let the building materials and the tectonics of the building speak for themselves without alternative coverings. I’m also hugely inspired by the social context of South Africa and therefore dream of creating buildings that evoke cohesion, accessibility and a sense of pride in our country. 

Ilaena: Experiencing and exploring buildings and spaces around the city excite and inspire me – whether it is going to a new coffee shop, walking around an art gallery or exploring a building on campus. How we experience space on a human scale is so important to understand and engage with when designing buildings on a bigger scale. As a young designer, one needs to understand the environment in which we live, how it functions and what works, in order to design within it.


  • What is your opinion of the local architecture industry?

Anna: I have only been working in the industry for six months so I don’t have much experience. However, the domestic housing industry in which I find myself currently is very competitive. I have also found that their style is commonly influenced by Western countries. 

Ilaena: From what I have been exposed to within the local industry, in South Africa, many architects and designers seem to be striving to help South African architecture find its unique voice. A lot of the time, as a student, you feel that you need to turn to international architecture for all the answers. There are so many inspiring buildings around South Africa that respond to socio-political, economic and environmental issues that we can relate to. It is exciting to know that as an aspiring architect, I will hopefully be able to contribute positively to this.


  • How has being declared the Runners-up of the PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture impacted your impression of architecture in general?

Anna: It was such an honour to be a part of the competition. I think the brief of ‘memory and resilience’ was so relevant to our context and should always be considered when designing architecture in our country. The competition affords space to express your architectural position and pushes you to develop your technical skills. The competition demonstrates what architecture could be, a platform with no restraints when it comes to solving social circumstances. 

Ilaena: This competition has shown me that young designers are able to make an impact on, and inspire people in, the industry. It has also shown me how creatively different everyone is and how we are able to learn from and be inspired by other young designers around us.


  • What part of the competition did you find to be the most rewarding/fulfilling?

Anna: The exhibition held at the AVA Gallery was really fulfilling for me. Seeing our work displayed for the greater public was surreal and gave me such pride. I didn’t realise how much positive exposure the competition would bring. 

Ilaena: The most rewarding part was researching and learning about the area of the site and the history of District Six. It is a controversial and scarred region in Cape Town where potential densification ideas are being questioned and considered. It is rewarding knowing that a potential building such as this one could become a precedent for future development in the area, encouraging public space and cultural growth and ultimately linking District Six with the city.


  • What role can a platform like the PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture play in nurturing the next generation of local architects?

Anna: The PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture is such a great platform for students to showcase their work and see the competition entries from other universities. It gives you appreciation for, and confidence in yourself as you enter the workplace. 

Ilaena: The PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture is an influential platform where aspiring, young and local designers are able to voice their ideas to the industry. It is a space that allows for freedom of expression through critical thinking and provides a platform that shows the next generation of local architects that they are being taken seriously and that their voices matter.


  • What are your plans and/or hopes for the future as an aspiring architect?

Anna: I am still learning and finding my voice as an architect and I know that the industry is constantly changing and growing as technology develops and people’s desires progress with the times. This is the beauty of design. I hope to design architecture that is focused on environmental sustainability, that is considerate of the user, and designed to be robust and simple in its beauty. I look forward to finding my niche. I believe architects have the ability to create spaces for relationships to grow and therefore I have a human-centred approach. I hope to study overseas but South Africa is close to my heart and I would love to be a part of our future here.

Ilaena: I would love to gain experience and skills from local architects that inspire me and use that knowledge to design buildings that are sustainable, innovative and beautiful. I hope that these buildings in turn inspire other architects and aspiring designers as well as the buildings’ users.

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