Influencers: Earthworld Architects

WORDS Annette Klinger PHOTOS GETTY IMAGES, DOOK, Lourens Uitenweede, Charles Corbett, Arné Gunter

Ever wondered who (and what) inspires our current generation of architects? For Pretoria-based architects André Eksteen and Braam de Villiers, the muse presents itself through history and technology, materials and craftsmanship – and visionaries like the late Louis Khan.

While Braam de Villiers and André Eksteen That’s not to say that there wasn’t also a wealth were earning their degrees at the University of Pretoria’s Department of Architecture in the mid-1990s, the concept of sustainable architecture was virtually unheard of. Yet André vividly remembers one of their lecturers, Dr Dieter Holm, insisting that his students heed the warnings of the environmental NGO Club of Rome, whose now- famous “The Limits To Growth” report (published in 1972) predicted that economic growth couldn’t continue indefinitely due to Earth’s finite resources.

Influencers: Earthworld Architects
Braam de Villiers and André Eksteen of Earthworld Architects

“The 1980s saw the rise of mass-production drafting, where theme parks and malls became the norm in Pretoria,” recalls André. “Developers were counting their cents, and the buildings were not designed to last for decades. Most of them have been redeveloped or demolished.”

That’s not to say that there wasn’t also a wealth of architectural inspiration to be found in P-town for André and Braam, who cite Brazilian-inspired government structures such as the TPA building, as well as residential architect Peter Hattingh’s Goff and Wright-inspired organic architecture, along with PP van den Berg’s innovative work with found objects, as hugely influential. “You realise the impact of these buildings only later in your career, when you get to understand the complexity involved in designing and erecting buildings that fall outside the generally accepted norms,” says André.

During their studies, André and Braam became drawn to the works of Late Modernism architects, including Tadao Ando, John Lautner, Renzo Piano and Richard Meier. “I like to refer to them as the ‘Materialists’ – the golden thread being craftsmanship, detailing and a thorough exploration of technology,” says André. The teachings of Modernist American architect Louis Kahn, known for his monumental scale and expressive use of building materials, also made a lasting impact on André and Braam’s design approach.

Almost 30 years – and many awards – after founding Earthworld Architects, André and Braam are still fighting the good fight in Pretoria: creating meaningful spaces while treading lightly. Highlights have included the Stortemelk Hydro power plant with its façade of jauntily arranged, oxidised-steel rectangles, and the I-Cat Eco Factory with its curved Brutalist-esque brickwork. “Finding a balance between new manufacturing technology and the traditional is key to sustainability in our industry,” says André. “As a result, we work a lot with how we can integrate new modes of manufacturing with a more traditional and sometimes unskilled labour base.”

Perhaps the best expression of this philosophy can be found in the Future Africa innovation campus at the University of Pretoria, which has earned a raft of accolades, the most recent being the International Urban Project Award 2020. Comprising a main building, a conference centre, housing units, a common area- slash-dining hall and an edible landscape, the brief to Earthworld was to create an environment that, once you resided there, would make you think differently. “We created prefabricated, digitally manufactured components that were then hand-assembled on site,” says André. “We utilised digital manufacturing concepts, but designed in such a way that it required the human hand to complete the process. It’s a synthesis of almost three decades of experience – and a base for new things to come.”

Looking for more architectural inspiration? Check out this Midrand family home designed by Earthworld Architects.