Design on the Edge, Architecture in Equatorial Africa was the topic for Christina Seilern of Studio Seilern Architects at the new event called May Design Series in London. She has been working on projects in West and East Africa, making her mark in challenging conditions. The studio’s recently completed residential project in Zimbabwe won the World Architecture News House of the Year 2012 Award.
The big question working in the extreme conditions is how to deal with nature. How to bring in the nature, and at the same time how to protect from it? Seasons are changing the landscape dramatically. The studio has learnt to use the landscape as a building material by building around rocks etc. on the location. It is about connecting the building to the landscape.
Another problem has been dealing with hyper inflation, which has caused to even go back to trading goods e.g. petrol instead of money. Also the availability of materials is an issue. In these extreme conditions the designing took place at the site by hand drawn sketches, since there is no guarantee that what was prepared beforehand can be used at the site.
The studio has also made a masterplan for the capital Abuja in Nigeria. The problem is that there is no data available and the speed of change is huge. Therefore the studio used a model of an African village as the base structure for a new waterfront boulevard. The village is always built around a specific form and set of rules which you can then be repeated to increase the scale. This creates a more organic growth, which is better for the community and identity of the place. The housing is also built around flexible modules of residential, office and retail building blocks.
Helen Hamlyn Center for Design is working together with architectural practices to create new layouts for office design. They are developed together with the users. The key challenge at the moment is to design a flexible space, that also has enough memorable characteristics.