Jürgen Kieslich x Die argitekte and VIA TV

WORDS Celeste Jacobs

From BCom to BSc – African studies, archaeology and psychology – Jürgen Kieslich finally arrived at the architecture department. Here he shares more on how he uses his past learnings to create buildings that consider the earth and our connection to it.

What previous project are you particularly proud of and why

Off the top of my head, there’s Studios on Park in Stellenbosch, and Studio Vijf in particular, where we did 62 prefabricated, modular boarding rooms and stacked them on top of each other to get the building completed in four months. This was a remarkable achievement and we had an incredible team in Hodevco and Remey. It set a new tone for things to come in the area, you’ll notice a distinct difference in the buildings prior to 2013 and after 2014.

On a more humble scale, we took elements of this and prefabricated a house to achieve a faster and cheaper build in Woodstock. That was back in 2015, I think, and I recall it because I just recently went back there to take pictures and the clients had just sold the house, a remarkably quick sale!

jürgen kieslich

Can you tell us more about how you’re a part of the VIA TV series, Die argitekte, and what it is about?

I was handling the renovation with a small team for the most amazing clients, Izelle and her husband Charl, last year, and they had lots on their hands with COVID-19, work and life. They chose to leave things in my hands and we had the most amazingly fun time with the building and transformed it on a tight budget. Izelle was so impressed she asked the Thank You Kindly Bobby team to contact me.

They were the most remarkable crew and even though I’m not Afrikaans and nervous in front of a TV camera, they made it come together with a client’s house we did in Llandudno, where Etienne Hanekom and I collaborated on it.

What inspired you to become an architect?

While I was working, during my B Comm days and hating auditing, I realised I couldn’t wait to get back to renovating my first flat I’d bought. I’d work until late at night, building kitchens and tiling before heading home. The love of creating beautiful spaces made me realise I was doing the wrong thing.

Whose work influenced you or helped foster your love for architecture?

Probably the first architect I fell in love with was Charles Correa, particularly his Kanchanjunga Apartments in Mumbai India. The sections with double volume areas and balconies to die for made me want to do something like that. Also his Gandhi Memorial museum based on a traditional Indian village I found remarkable.

Later, after visiting an important University of Cape Town architect, Julian Elliot at his own house in Newlands, I knew without a doubt that that was the most beautiful residential building I’d ever seen until that point. A space so beautiful because it was so humble and generous beyond words. It got me hooked on residential architecture and I’m still there!

How would you describe your philosophy and approach to architecture?

We strive to create architecture that feels settled in its context, drawing inspiration from South Africa’s awe-invoking natural environments, her history, and her people.

Our aim is to design spaces that resonate with a sense of place through the considered use of materials, craftsmanship, and the dialogue between indoor and out. Often, the space left untouched is more important than the space occupied. Honest simplicity harmonising the site, its occupants and the Earth is what makes magic happen.

Embracing a minimalist philosophy, we work with what’s cherished and let go of all that’s not. Consuming fewer resources and less space, we tread more lightly on the Earth. Letting go of the unnecessary provides time and energy for the things that are important and loved, and allows for something new to emerge. Embedded in this letting go are values of humbleness, honesty and humility – that there is such a thing as enough – all of which are important ethical principles that take work and courage.

These principles are often sorely missing in our modern world of consumption which mostly measures happiness and success by what a person can buy.

As cities and life get more frenetic, we need to remember our connection to the earth, to landscape-time, to the rising and setting sun.

What drives you to continue working in the field?

A desire to do what little good I can with each home and client that comes my way.

Has it changed what inspired you to start?

Yes, it has changed, initially I’d put every green gadget known to man to make the building “responsible” but with time I’m realising things like flexibility of the plan, keeping things simple and using humble materials sparingly is much more satisfying and productive.

What are you looking forward to next?

Etienne and I are working on a secret project that’s keeping us both very busy. Hopefully, come winter we can tell you more! Working on our own house is super exciting and a new project is due to start in Woodstock, that promises to be a delightful puzzle to crack.

If you missed Die argitekte, you’re in luck and can still watch the repeat on VIA TV (channel 147) from Mondays to Thursday at 16:30.

Love this series? Check out our interview with Jane Visser who also features on Die argitekte.