Bhisho: The Premier's office complex
Proletariat i levoe isskustvo" ("The Proletarat and Art of the Left")
The architectural strategy and methodology is based on a palimpsest of abstract mappings which produce and suggest architectural enclosure and form. The result is a open process of exploration, intuition and rigor at the conceptual level. The design approach deliberately rejects a preconception of civic building, and seeks to investigate the potential for a unique and site specific response. The response creates a building which responds to the basic elements of architecture but equally presents a dynamic and ever changing set of spatial experiences at the urban and architectural scale. The forms and spaces are both stern and restrained at the scale of the human, but collectively resonate as a horizontal and discrete element. Dogma is replaced by a language of pristine concrete, glass, and timber which places the spatial experience of the human at a premium. Space, light, texture, materials, and an elemental attitude and respect of context unlocks a syntax of interest, delight, and the unexpected. The design is an inspiring and subtle homage to a turbulent past, and the role of the citizen, by making a statement of a state building as an integral element of the context. Vertical becomes horizontal, the groundplane is an elevated public park and meomrial, the building hovers and wraps around the site, unfolding and shielding public space.
The architectural strategy is predicted on a number of conditions and analysis that seeks to advance and suggest alternative trajectories for a civic building in which the ethos of an egalitarian and socially responsible republic can find a unique architectural expression. The Bhisho premiers residence represents an opportunity to unlock a sensibility which honours and locates traditional practices, local art production and the cultural fabric of the Eastern Cape into a deliberately 21st century dialogue with the people. The western paradigm of state building has by and large, been an expression of vertical dominance, where buildings present a monumental aspect and oversee the landscape and terrain in which it is situated. The famed Tower of Babel for example represents this approach, where the buildings are seen as instruments that express power over the people, the land and even the Gods. The frailty and the inevitably fallible nature of the human condition seems to suggest that an architectural approach of grandeur, that does not have people- or the everyday citizen at its core, creates an architecture and building form which rapidly loses it’s cultural impact, and becomes a stark example of the state excluding the citizen. The traditional architectural response, a building with obvious symmetry and or references to the classical language of state descends into banality. Post modern interpretations of this also collapse into architectural cul-de sacs. Collonade, pilaster, pediment, and other such motifs do not advance any understanding of who we are as South Africans, nor does it elevate the rich culture and struggle credentials of the Eastern Cape to its proper seat.
Similarly an approach which would literally absorbs the notion of the traditional office block into a recognizable form of administration, only replicates what is already painfully familiar, unimaginative and environmentally unsustainable. The modern office block, with a deep modulor plan requiring excessive amounts of artificial lighting, and mechanical ventilation, maximises building envelope ratios at the sake of lifecycle cost management. It presents an unrefined understanding of efficiency as it elevates the initial capital expenditure at the expense of the social and environmental investment that architecture represents.