IN: Inspiration

Q&A with Roark Robinson

University of Cape Town student Roark Robinson won the PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture for a new vision for District Six.


  • Your winning entry for the PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture seeks to envisage a “public, connective architecture” for District Six, Cape Town. What was the inspiration for this work?

For me, architecture is a process, a palimpsest of ideas that eventually click into place to create a building. A large selection of the ideas behind this building were created in the writing of my theoretical paper “Creating spaces that build unity within institutionally and spatially segregated modern cities”, which looks at strategies aiming to heal the wounds of the post-apartheid city. In order to express these ideas, there needed to be a connection between the two segregated communities and a public square at this gateway to facilitate the coming-together of people.


  • At what point did you become interested in architecture?

Growing up with architects as parents increased my fascination with the design process from a very young age. This fed into a deep interest in solving problems and building things, an interest that was spurred by a captivating design programme at school. This led me to consider industrial design, but in the end, I chose architecture for a more well-rounded and integrated design education.


  • Who and/or what inspires you as an aspiring architect?

As architects we shape the world around us. That is a daunting yet incredibly exciting opportunity to change people’s lives and the environment we live in. I believe that the ideas behind our architecture can be more powerful than the building itself, if we are able to share those and inspire others to create better environments. I am inspired by architects who are able to tell these stories, creating architecture that means something, and aspire to get there myself.


  • What is your opinion of the local architecture industry?

I think the industry has a tough job living up to the aspirations we develop as students. Theoretical projects tend to interface with city-scale issues that real-life briefs often struggle to accommodate. That being said, there are many local firms that consistently create beautiful architecture, which we can be proud of. Unfortunately, like in many fields, the brilliance of a few is often over-shadowed by the mediocrity of the masses, among whom development is driven by economics and security, creating disconnected, isolated and poorly integrated developments. The struggle practice faces is the incredibly complex requirements to build that leave little time for pushing the boundaries that we are able to explore as students.


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

I think the biggest impact for me has been the realisation that buildings have the power to facilitate change by providing a platform that creates opportunities on-site. Whilst one cannot say how successful a space like this will be, as humans have unpredictable ways of inhabiting built form, we can be certain that the building will do everything in its power to facilitate these opportunities – something that cannot be said for many inner-city buildings.


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

Reflecting on the project afterward has definitely been the most eye-opening part. In the run-up to the competition there is a lot of consideration that goes into telling the story of a complex, multifaceted building such as this one. Only when the dust settled did I really have a moment to look back at what had emerged and the true impact it would have on the city. The brief for this project has created some very interesting responses to real issues in our country, the depth of which I didn’t fully comprehend until it was all up on the wall.


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

The PPC Imaginarium Awards is a powerful platform, giving aspiring architects the voice to put our ideas across to the industry. When responses are charged by such a powerful brief, the case study becomes one worth sharing. The advantage of theoretical projects such as these is their ability to respond at the critical point and with the freedom to best facilitate both private and public functions as equal priorities – something that is rarely the case in real-world projects. Exhibiting at AZA18 is a powerful way of sharing these responses with the wider architectural community and one of the biggest successes of the competition. Having won the PPC Imaginarium Award for Architecture, the platform I am afforded is incredible and I hope that my response is able to inject some thought into resolving the problems within our cities.


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

I aim to ensure that my design philosophy manages to continue evolving and developing around the unique problems and circumstances presented by each project. As a student I managed to use every project as an opportunity to learn new skills and push new boundaries, something that has served me well in the past. I can only hope that I am able to continue in that vein in order to continue pushing my architecture to the next level. The fact that this is only the beginning is an exciting realisation.

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