IN: News

Q&A with Anton van Reenen

Anton van Reenen’s innovative concrete light led to his crowning as the Industrial Design Runner-up at the 2018 PPC Imaginarium Awards.

Share

  • Tell us about yourself. Where are you based and what projects/undertakings are you involved in currently?

I am a partner in a small construction firm. We specialise in upmarket residential construction in the Johannesburg area and have a reputation for our high-quality off-shutter concrete work. We are currently busy with several projects. One of them is a unique residential property in the Muldersdrift area that has off-shutter, raking, curved roof structures, and which was designed by well-known landscape architect Patrick Watson. In collaboration with Pieter Smuts, a well-known architectural steel manufacturer, we are also constructing an aviary at the Palazzo in Steyn City. The aviary was designed by DBM Architects and incorporates sculptures by Charles Goddard. This has turned out to be a very exciting and unique project.

In parallel with our construction work, we are currently developing a range of architectural concrete mouldings with the aim of creating stand-alone products that can be bought off the shelf (and which enhance new and existing spaces) and products that can, in collaboration with architects and interior designers, be incorporated into new designs. This will be like building a new ‘toolbox’ for designers, giving them modular tools to create concrete elements – a process that, up to now, has been too hard or too expensive to do in situ. We believe this will add value, especially in the smaller project environment, where contractors’ skillsets typically involve no complex ‘off-shutter’ concrete work. 

The Z-light entered for the PPC Imaginarium Awards is part of the lighting product range we are developing.

 PPC Imaginarium

  • At what point did you become interested in industrial design? What sparked the desire to enter a creative field?

From my childhood, I have always busied myself with creative things – I loved to draw and make ‘stuff’. My choice of careers was between architecture and mechanical engineering. When I heard I had been accepted for mechanical engineering, I did not proceed with the architecture selection process as I doubted my creative abilities … something I later learnt is very common among creatives.

I left mechanical engineering in 2002 to start my own property development company. I was very closely involved with the architectural design of our projects and loved it. We scaled down our company after the economic crash of 2008 and in 2010 joined up with Ewerd Brand, an award-winning master builder, to form Brandbild Construction (Pty) Ltd.

Being involved in upmarket residential projects requires a lot of creativity from the building contractor due to the high level of detail that must be resolved in any such project. I only realised how much energy I drew from this creative process during a big residential project, when the architect I worked with did not allow me to take part in the creative process. As a result, my career entered a very ‘dry period’, in which what I did no longer made sense. At this point I realised how important being creative is to me, and how dependent I am on the projects that allow me to be creative, and even then, that the confines of the project limit how creative I can be.

During this time, I began digging through my architectural books and started drawing again. After reading Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist (a must read for all creatives), I learned that it was OK to draw inspiration from other artists and designers. I began copying shapes, lines and concepts from architects – my favourite at this stage being Zaha Hadid’s early works. In this time (the first half of 2017), the idea of turning some of my sketches into concrete mouldings emerged, and I began turning these mouldings into lights, modular walls and other items.

As I continued to explore the creative possibilities of concrete mouldings, combined with our experience in the construction industry, I realised that there is enormous scope for us to create new products and add value to the built environment. Our only limitation is our imagination!

 

  • Do you have any formal training and/or qualifications? If so, from where?

 I received a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Pretoria in 1994.

 

  • Who and/or what inspires you as a creative?

My biggest inspiration comes from architecture. I have also drawn from furniture design to a large extent. Most of my favourite architects – like Le Corbusier, Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry – designed furniture at some stage in their careers. Furniture design goes hand-in-hand with architecture, since the former is about the human experience of a designed environment or object. I find things like Le Corbusier’s ‘Le Modulor’ fascinating and have worked with it to incorporate the concepts into some of my designs. I believe that shape, form, light, shadow and proportion have a big effect on one’s experience of a building or object – more so than elaborate details. By surrounding yourself with simple beauty, form and proportion – be it through architecture or furniture, or even just a light, whose design acknowledges what I believe to be ‘natural laws of form and proportion’ – I believe one can contribute to one’s overall well-being, including one’s sleep, exercise and diet.

 PPC Imaginarium

  • What is your opinion of the arts and design industries in South Africa?

I think the standard of visual arts in our country is very high and that we are blessed with a lot of really gifted artists. With that said, I do find it sad that good, original art is often unaffordable to the middle-class art lover. I built my house with a small art gallery; however, I have taken years to fill it with original art purely because I cannot afford most of the art that I love…

My opinion of the architectural design industry in South Africa is not as positive. Regarding what I believe to be the problem with architecture in South Africa, perhaps the bottom line is the same as with the affordability of art – money. Not the lack thereof but the striving therefor. The same way some artists find a recipe and rework it over and over, because the masses buy, architects tend to find a recipe and then adjust the shape and size per the project. The look and feel remains the same. I believe it is because copying and pasting is quick and easy, whereas to create and innovate is hard and takes time. And time equals money. 

What makes this worse for architecture, however, is that, whereas artists typically develop their own ‘recipe’, architects tend to copy trends. Hence, most new buildings – especially the smaller commercial buildings and residential projects – start to look identical. Like in the time of Tuscan architecture, we are beginning to get stuck again in this new form, with framed, boxed structures and very little innovation. This is where I think architecture is lagging behind visual arts in our country. There are just too many ‘more of the same’ buildings and not enough innovative work. With that said, the drivers of this ‘lack of innovation and creativity’ are as much the clients as they are the architects. Often the client wants to play it safe, and go with the trend, since the project involves a massive capital investment. On the other hand, where architects are willing to be original – to create and to dare – clients willing to dare with them often appear as well.

  

  • As a creative, what part of the PPC Imaginarium Awards did you find the most rewarding/fulfilling?

 It was great to see so many artists doing so many different things with cement and concrete. The level of skill and pure artistry has been truly amazing. It has inspired me to look and think more widely about the product ranges we develop and broaden my thinking about the application thereof.

Having never formally studied art of any kind, I have never been confronted with the ‘conceptual statement’. In the end, I wrote about my passion for and relationship with concrete. After hearing and reading many conceptual statements at the Imaginarium Gala Event, however, I realised that there is a lot more to draw from in the creative process. In the same way that I believe art and design can bring about emotion that in turn leads to improved overall wellbeing, as an artist, I have learned that I must draw from emotions that drive me to create for inspiration. To do so will lead to a higher form of design – with much more meaning – and a greater sense of personal wellbeing.

 

  • What role can a platform like the PPC Imaginarium Awards play among emerging creatives in your industry?

 I think a new understanding of the application of concrete has emerged in the built industry over the last few years. However, the rate of learning, understanding and development can be greatly increased by a platform like the PPC Imaginarium Awards.

I also think that the Awards play a big role in educating the consumer on the multiple uses of cement and concrete. Without the PPC Imaginarium Awards, many would see these as limited to the building of the foundations of their houses. By educating the consumer, the PPC Imaginarium Awards makes the task of opening up new market opportunities much easier for up-and-coming creatives.

 

  • What are your plans for the future?

 We are hard at work finalising our first range of concrete lights and modular products. If all goes according to plan, we will go to market with these by the middle of 2018. After that, we will set out to collaborate with architects and interior designers to implement our modular ‘toolbox’ in new designs and existing spaces.

 

Related Articles