SAOTA is an award-winning architectural firm based in South Africa with several major projects running simultaneously in other parts of Africa. Having made enormous progress with implementing environmentally sustainable designs, the firm continues to be the standard to which other architectural firms across Africa are held. SAOTA recently granted Omenka special access to two of their newly completed projects.

What major structures have significantly influenced your design style?

Our buildings draw on a rich tradition of regional modernism; Oscar Niemeyer in Brazil, Gawie Fagan and Issy Benjamin in South Africa, Luis Barragan in Mexico, The Case Study Houses in California, Paul Rudolph and more recently, Zaha Hadid’s incredible work.

Some architects specialise in structures that serve specific functions. Which area do you specialise in?

We made a choice not to specialize and are able to work on a very wide range of projects from private villas to university buildings and commercial projects.

Architects are leaning towards using recycled material in their work, to what extent is this applicable to your own designs?

It depends to some extent where you’re working. In many places, basic materials like concrete and brick are made from recycled material from demolished buildings. In other places these kinds of materials just aren’t available.

Which of your works holds the most importance/significance for you?

We’ve worked on some incredible projects. Our flagship projects currently are probably Epique, an island development in Bodrum Turkey; NOOM a Pan-African hotel brand, the School of Engineering at the University of Cape Town and the residential work we do across the world.

Till date, any architectural structures undeniably bear major influences from the West. Is there such a thing as African architecture, if so how would you define it?

We’re always nervous to reduce African architecture to pattern and colour, for us architecture belongs to a place when it responds to the context it finds itself in and provides an appropriate response. In Africa, we’re blessed with great climate, which means that our understanding of shelter is different to societies living in cold climates where the emphasis is on separating and protecting people from the environment. Our architectures often let people live inside and outside and are more about sheltering roofs than protecting walls.

In any event Africa is not a homogenous thing, its many countries and regions have very different cultures, climates and histories so a single African architecture is an unrealistic concept.

Do you consider your design projects to be historically durable, if so, how?

That’s a good question! I don’t think it’s really possible to say yet. Perhaps some of our residential ideas have had an influence.

How do you hope to raise awareness, to the public and other architects, about environmentally sustainable structures?

Hopefully the buildings themselves will show people how passive design principles like shading, daylighting, ventilation orientation, and so on can be used to reduce the reliance on powered appliances.

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The Noom Project, Guinea

What new strategies should sustainability-led companies adapt in dealing with current economic trends and the desires of their client?

A key principle in the early stages of the design process falls broadly under the heading of “orientation”. This encompasses not only how a building or a space is oriented on a site but how the path of the sun is exploited through the seasons, how shading and glazing mitigate its impact and the degree to which visual connections to the landscape are enhanced.

Simple moves – such as using generous overhangs to provide shade during the summer whilst allowing low Winter sun to penetrate deep into the plan, and a simple analysis of prevailing winds and the provision for cross ventilation, can radically improve the thermal comfort of a space. And choosing locally sourced, recycled or reused materials can dramatically reduce a building’s carbon footprint.

All too often ignored, the precious commodity that is water will also play a key role in defining future designs. Again relatively simple steps can be taken to ensure that water is harvested efficiently and reused where possible. Irrigation systems can also be designed to use grey water recycling and the choice of sanitary fixtures can massively reduce water consumption.

Often overlooked, the importance of building management systems will become more widely recognised. Again there are many expensive and complex systems used to monitor and manage everything from energy usage to waste control. But relatively straightforward decisions – designing sensible lighting circuits, exploiting the climatic conditions with ‘thermal mass’ and providing transparency within a building – can, respectively, dramatically reduce electricity wastage, prevent constant climatic changing and reduce the artificial lighting requirements.

What are these new cities or districts bringing to the table, and how can African designers compete in emerging economies?

African designers need to find ways to share their work with their peers and potential clients, which is often difficult to do. If no one knows who you are, you’re never going to get the chance to compete in the first place. We have put a lot of work into our website and social media for this reason.

What legacy do you hope to leave behind with your work?

As an African architect I hope we inspire other young architects from the continent to have the confidence to tell their stories.

SAOTA is dedicated to reducing carbon footprints globally; can you explain more about your energy efficient designs?

SAOTA has come a long way in reducing our carbon footprint, both in our office and in our design methodology. We are dedicated to energy efficient design and have developed design principles to ensure that new projects are designed with this in mind. We have transformed our approach to sustainability and are constantly implementing these changes in new projects and introducing new policies to strengthen this commitment. SAOTA recently completed the New Engineering Building for the University of Cape Town. The building was designed to achieve a 4 Star Green rating. Together with Green Consultant, a speculative rating tool was developed, combining the Australian tool with the local office building rating tool as there isn’t yet a developed rating tool for educational buildings in South Africa. Energy modelling and analysis show that the New Engineering Building would use approximately 50% less energy than a notional building designed in accordance with South African National Standard 204, which addresses Energy Efficiency. Two key members of our team were also involved with the BP corporate headquarters in the V&A Waterfront designed by Kruger Roos Architects. The BP headquarters was one of the pioneering green buildings in South Africa and got a 4 Star Green rating.

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Beachyhead Project. Plettenberg Bay, South Africa


Image credits: SAOTA

Ateroghene Almaz Akpojiyovbi holds a first degree in Social Science - with majors in both Law and Psychology from the University of Utrecht, Netherlands. She has also earned a Post-graduate Diploma in Psychology from Aston University, Birmingham, United Kingdom. She enjoys a widespread genre of music - from Broadway show tunes to rock, and spends her time updating her collection.

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