WORDS Tracy Lynn Chemaly PHOTOS Ina Oosthuizen and Reinier Bronn
Free State architecture is getting a shake-up after two of its independent Bloemfontein-based architects joined forces.
Bloemfontein-based Sergio Nunes and Paula Gutter last year established XO Architects, combining their offices to expand their practices and take on larger projects.
“It’s more of a studio environment, increasing our resources, creativity and output,” says Paula, who won a 2019 South African Institute of Architects award for a home she designed on Bloem’s Naval Hill. Sergio won the same award in 2015 for his design of Bloemfontein’s popular art space and coffee shop Gallery on Leviseur.
“Our design and personal philosophies are different but complementary,” says Sergio, who cites Critical Regionalism, Alvar Aalto and Álvaro Siza as inspirations. “There are influences in my work drawn from Modernism, but adapted to take into account each project’s unique characteristics. My goal is to design buildings that reflect and reinforce their sense of place while simultaneously being ‘place-making’ in and of themselves.”
Paula views architecture as an emotional and physical connection to one’s surroundings. “For me, it’s a field where various tools can be used and experimented with to shape our environment, and to continually improve our way of living, working and socialising,” she says. Her various renovation projects, particularly on old Free State farmhouses, point to this interest in bettering lives through a responsive approach to the environment and an honest use of materials.
The duo are currently working on student housing, mixed-use developments and a comprehensive aesthetic revamp of a prominent shopping centre in Bloemfontein, as well as residential projects in George and Knysna.
For more information, visit xoarchitects.co.za.