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SAOTA – International reach

Online since 28.06.2017 • Filed under Professions - Architecture • From Issue 21 page(s) 34-36
SAOTA – International reach

Greg Truen is a director of Cape Town-based architectural firm, SAOTA. Among other things, he recently served on a discussion panel at the launch of the Africa Architectural Awards, and the announcement of the master jury for the Awards 2017. To Build chatted briefly to him at the event, leading to his practice being featured as our Edition 21 architectural practice.

Greg is a graduate of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, 1991. He spent his first years in a relatively small practice in Durban, where he worked with a friend. However, in 1995, he joined with Stefan Antoni in Cape Town, shortly to become SAOTA. Since then, SAOTA has become an established practice on both the South African and African architectural landscape. According to Greg: ‘SAOTA was partly a response to our combined names in the partnership, creating a very unwieldly name and an attempt to create a brand that would move the company away from individual names. We’ve been able to grow it into a global firm which has been very exciting. We’ve grown into a group of 240 people with architecture, interior architecture and design as well as a furniture studio. Most recently we’ve started a virtual reality software development company called Tenebris.’ To Build asked Greg a few questions about his career, interests and aspirations for architecture in Africa.

What turns you on about architecture in general and the work you do in particular?

Our architecture is very concerned with the relationship between building, site and context. Seeing projects that create exciting powerful spatial connections is always a thrill. Most architecture today is mundane and disappointing, so any attempt to create something special needs to be applauded.

SAOTA has become an international brand. How do you position yourself globally as a company?

We’ve leveraged our residential work to design villas for clients in more than 50 cities around the world. Often these relationships result in commercial projects.

At the launch of the African Architecture Awards you disagreed that there is a uniform African vernacular, but that it was rather a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood phenomenon.

Can you expand on that?

Africa is so diverse; 54 countries, almost 2000 languages with every kind of landscape imaginable. It’s not homogenous and I think trying to consolidate it into a single idea doesn’t make sense. Architecture should be particular to the place it comes from. If you look at historic architecture across the continent it’s not homogenous. Dogon buildings in Mali are different to Zulu buildings in KZN, which are different to Swahili buildings on the east coast.

Any advice for young and emerging architects?

You must integrate 3D modelling and virtual reality technology into the way you design and communicate.

Good architecture is valuable, don’t give up too early, it’s a difficult profession.

Project case history: GH Airport Hills – Accra, Ghana

According to Greg, this project in Accra needed to respond to a tropical climate reducing direct sun and maximising cross ventilation. ‘The design says something about how we handle public and private space. At its core is a strong social space for the family which is an important cultural response. We were also concerned with buildability and are using local materials, albeit in very new ambitious ways,’ he explains.

The sculptural residential project, set within the Teshi suburb of Accra, encompasses and emphasises the difference between the client’s private and public life and its union. The design is set by two main walls that frame a double volume space where the main characteristic of the project lies.


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Issue 21

Issue 21

July 2017

This article was featured on page 34-36 of
To Build Magazine Issue 21.

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