Big ideas in Pretoria

WORDS Adéle de Lange

Where do “big ideas” begin? Is it about pushing the boundaries of technology or is it to be found in the simple things around us, in our every daily lives or even in our past? This was the hot topic of conversation at the PIA (Pretoria Institute for Architecture) Idea Design Conference 2013 held from 23 to 24 May in the capital city.

Back by popular demand after it’s first event in 2011, this year’s conference line-up had architects, designers, students and scholars alike flock to the Brooklyn Theatre in Pretoria to be awed, inspired and entertained by a selection of proudly South African creative gurus with expertise ranging from the performing arts, advertising, textile design, photography and architecture, not to mention the incorrigible Nataniël.

So what was the big idea? In short, perhaps it was best summed up by Ross Chowles – seasoned creative director from advertising agency Jupiter Drawing Room – who captivated us with his opening challenge: “Life’s too short to leave behind something ugly!” Setting the scene for those to follow, his personal anecdotes illustrated how obstacles and restrictions have an uncanny way of sparking creativity.

Continuing this line of thinking, architect Henning Rasmuss of Paragon Architects recounted his experiences across the African continent to remind us that good ideas can only come into reality if you put in the energy to go the extra mile.

Inextricably interwoven into our everyday lives, we’ve all experienced the possibilities that technology offers, but then also the maddening restrictions that come along with it – and design software technology is certainly no exception to this rule! The techies in the audience were all wowed by Gordon Jubber’s exposé of limitless design possibilities through the latest software technology. Haldane Martin also wowed the audience by showing how this technology makes it possible to create the complex organic shapes that distinguish his iconic furniture designs.

Regardless of the professional diversity of the speakers at the conference, one common factor bound everyone together: being South African means being connected to the rich cultural heritage of Africa that has captivated and inspired creative minds for centuries. The result is beautiful creations with a local flavour that are globally sought after. The stunning textile designs of Amanda du Plessis from Evolution Product, for instance, translates the stories from our past into unique products; the community-driven architecture of Noero Architects transcends the boundaries of language; and the unorthodox photographic work of Bernard Viljoen with his “I was shot in Joburg” project has not only become an export product but has touched and transformed the lives of many street children.

The PIA set out to bring design to the public with this conference. In the process they managed to gather a truly inspiring selection of South African design thought leaders under one roof – an extraordinary experience not to be missed next year!

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