UJ_UNIT2 student, Simon Ngubeni and myself travelled to Zurich to attend the Future of Open Building conference.

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Zurich, with its juxtaposition of old and new, offered a great background to the conference and the process of learning, networking and socialising. Meeting with old Open Building pioneers and friends of the Open Building network in South Africa was one of the highlights. Many of the pioneers have previously been hosted by myself in South Africa such as Frans van der Werf (Netherlands) and Jorge Andrade (Mexico) in the below image.

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I had a number of roles to play – the UJ_UNIT2 team submitted a paper for the academic paper sessions on building transformation in the South African residential sector. I was a member of the scientific committee so I had also been involved in the reviewing of academic papers, a moderator for the paper sessions and convened a panel debate. The panel included:




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The topic was:


This proved to be a difficult topic and some of the statements made were very controversial (especially refering to Alfredo Brillembourg who said things such as: “we need to teach them” and “go and build in the global south because there are no rules” and “build half a house”).

Common threads that emerged from the various presentations may be presented in two points:

  • Architects many times have to think beyond the narrow definitions of conventional architectural practice – thinking of cities, neighbourhoods and urban concerns and establishing relationships with diverse role players. It is also evident that many future architects, being trained today, will exit architecture school and have to create, invent and innovate new roles for themselves. This must be taken into consideration in the educational systems. Is it possible to strengthen the professions identity through shared principles and methods, while at the same time allowing for the discipline boundaries to adjust so as to accommodate for the shifting dynamics and demand in the real world?
  • And secondly, as architects/designers, “we are inevitably drawn into the realm of the political” (ALFREDO BRILLEMBOURG, URBAN THINK TANK (VE/BR/US/CH) and “architects/urbanists need to understand politics or become politicians” (PROF. DR. BERNARDO GOMEZ-PIMIENTA, BGP, ARCH. ANAHUAC UNIV. (MX/BE)). Our professional roles demand that we have the skills to listen and facilitate between diverse stakeholders in the built environment, as well as to help articulate solutions and manage conversations between professionals and non-professionals.

The themes that emerge may be grouped into socio-political issues and technical, financial and management issues, therefore the debate was structured around framing statements/questions in terms of SOCIO-POLITICAL ISSUES and TECHNICAL, FINANCIAL AND MANAGEMENT ISSUES.

Many different interpretations of Open Building were evident and may voices of reason that emerged – one of the most powerful presentations was by Rene Chow. She explained that the term Open Building is a verb and not a noun, as it seemed to have been understood by many of the speakers.

We were also able to join the tours and I saw a few cooperative housing projects in Zurich.  The most interesting architecturally, spatially and in terms of the mix of functions on site was Kalkbreite (http://www.inyourpocket.com/Zurich/Kalkbreite-an-urban-laboratory_73489f) – communal facilities, a creche, library, shops, built over a tram station with very beautiful, human-scaled spaces. The internal scale is in contrast with the external facades which are more solid and urban scaled. Sunnigehof (http://www.burkhalter-sumi.ch/projects/sunnigehof) was great to photograph but spatially was not as well considered as the previous project.

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Kalkbreite (above) and Sunnigehof (below) cooperative housing, Zurich.

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Simon and myself had a great experience and also got to interact with the guest of honour at the event, John Habraken as well as many Open Building practitioners and thinkers from many different contexts. The business meeting of the CIB 104 Open Building Implementation group was a very serious discussion about the future of the group, its leadership, the term Open Building and old and new partnerships/networks.

Simon’s blog may be found at this link http://www.missionarch.blogspot.co.za/2015/09/the-future-of-open-building.html

More will follow on the themes of the conference as well as the Bern city tour of the INO Hospital and other OB projects…