Facebook reminds me that I was in Korea two years ago today. (Thank you Mark). Sadly though we are no closer to building an International Convention Centre in PE today than we were then (nor sadly closer than we were in 2005 when the city first commissioned a business plan that gave the “green light” to build it.) Perhaps its time for the private sector to become more aggressive in insisting on this game changing project. Perhaps business leaders like Nomkhita Mona, Mkhuseli ‘Khusta’ Jack , Thembinkosi Matunda and Mandla Madwara will take the reins and bring our city to its rightful place in the world economy?
There was beautiful rain on the farm on Saturday night. It’s been very dry here, so the sound of rain on the tin roof as we huddled in front of Netflix was even more pleasant, even more comforting than it would usually be. Except of course that the tiny cottage we live in is located in a little patch of third world where, for some reason, the internet goes down every time there is the smallest drop of rain.
With no connectivity, activity in the cottage quickly gravitates to reading, playing chess or trying to teach our enormous great dane “Tank” to add “lie down” to his small repertoire of tricks. My grown son Litha, was slouched behind the Weekend Post. “Dad…What can we do to get it opened?” He asked, referring to the headlines talking about the “Disgrace” that the beautiful Red Location museum remains closed to the public for six years now. “It’s not that simple” I mutter vaguely as I try for the third time to reset the WIFI router. His question interests me though and we end up debating the issue well into the rainy night. The exchange got me thinking about the issue and wondering if this whole matter has been thought through properly.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that the buildings that make of the Red Location Museum precinct are the best collection of contemporary buildings in the province. The buildings were lovingly designed by Jo Noero, an architect deserving of the highest levels of respect. I suppose, though, the question still remains “Why does the museum remain closed?”
Perhaps there’s more to it this than the lawlessness of the local neighbourhood? Perhaps there is more to this than the fumbling incompetence of the three spheres of government that have power and sway here. I’m beginning to think that the real problem is that Red Location Museum was way ahead of its time. But not in a good way.
I have visited Berlin. There is a Holocaust museum there (as there are in many other parts of the world) While these museums are all different, they have one thing in common. They were built after the holocaust was over. Just like the Vietnam War memorial was built after the Americans lost the Vietnam war. Just like the little memorial I visited in Buenos Aires was built after the Falklands war. I suppose it’s a matter of timing.
Mayor Nceba Faku was the best Mayor PE has ever had, but perhaps he got this wrong. Perhaps he declared victory in the struggle for liberation against apartheid too soon. Perhaps the people struggling in desperate poverty to this day in Red Location and hundreds of other places like it, may say that it is even now, 25 years after 1994, still too soon to celebrate or to memorialise victory.
After all, our World War 2 hero, Winston Churchill did not declare victory on “D-Day” when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy. No. They pushed on, did the dirty work and cleared Europe of every last Nazi Pantzer, released every last Jew, Gypsy, Gay and Slav from the concentration camps and then, and only then, declared victory on Armistice day.
I guess that the city’s great thinkers, like the erudite and well-spoken Rory Riordan, who worked tireless to ensure the Red Location museum received funding, got built and became more than a mayor’s pipe dream, will argue that I am misguided. He will point to the projected economic impact and how the tourists could flock there, spend their Euros and Pounds and Zim Dollars and thereby stimulate the economy and create a better future for the poor and destitute of Blawa, Ndokwenza and Katanga. Well friends, I am afraid the jury is out on this one. In the thirteen years since the museum was opened in 2006, it could not even generate enough tourist spend to keep its own little museum restaurant running, let alone stimulate the rest of the region’s tourist economy!
I am afraid colleagues this project is a failure. It is a failure despite the good work of Noero, Faku and Riordan. It is a failure by the ancient measure of that most famous of roman Architects, Vitruvius. Even before the time of Jesus, Vitruvius helped us understand that in order to for Architecture to be enduring and cared for, it must prove itself against the age-old tests of “Firmness, Commodity and Delight”. Yes, Red location Museum is “Firm” (It hasn’t fallen down). Yes, it is delightful. But no, it does not offer “Commodity”. It is not used. It has no function in this particular time, in this particular economy and under these particular social conditions. By the measure of the great Vitruvius therefor, The Red Location Museum is failed architecture.
Of course, we are concerned as tax payers that we have spent so much money on these buildings. We feel therefore that something productive must be forced upon them. This mistaken thinking, friends, is the “sunken cost fallacy” AKA “throwing good money after bad”. Even the Berlin Wall and the Sardinia Bay Life Savers Club were demolished when we reached consensus that building them was a mistake.
Perhaps then, if anyone ever resuscitates Mayor Faku’s great plan to demolish the freeways that devastated the once bustling and thriving Strand street, they may also be so wise as to add the Red Location Museum onto the list structures to be dynamited!
There is a Natural Order to things. I see it when I look around me.
Our dog “Tank”, a huge Great Dane, is friendly and sociable. He is a pack animal. Being friendly and sociable comes naturally to him. It’s also completely “natural” for him to chase the chickens, lick his genitals while we’re watching Netflix or bark at our assistant, Roy, when he comes to work in the morning. It would be completely “unnatural” for Tank to live in a fishpond or to eat a raw, low carb, vegan diet.
Of course, the idea of the existence of a “Natural Order” is not new at all. Lao Tsu spoke of it 4000 years ago already. The idea of a “Natural Order” makes perfect sense when we apply the thinking to dogs or even to people like you and me. We can see that there is a natural way to be that just seems comfortable and right. My thinking though has (over the last 20 or so years as an Architect in private practice) meandered to the question of whether we can find a “Natural Order” that will guide the design of buildings, objects and spaces.
- Is there a way that a brick wants to “behave”?
- Is there a way that a piece of timber or a roof sheet wants to “behave”??
- Is there a natural way in which a landscape or a building site would like to express itself?
- Is it possible for an architect to facilitate the expression of this “Natural Order” through a conscious and mindful design approach?
- Is there a “Natural” way in which a team can come together to design and build beautiful things?
When I begin to doubt myself I ask: “What is “Natural” anyway?” Perhaps a better word to use would be “comfortable”? I’m not sure. What I do know is that I can easily spot when something is not natural, when it feels uncomfortable. When a building is “pretentious” and “over designed”, I can feel it. When a building is overly decorated or overly complicated or when it is just unresolved and clumsy, I can feel it. I have no doubt that can feel the absence of a “Natural Order”. It is this quality, this “Natural Order” I seek in our buildings and in the spaces we design. It is this quality we set out to achieve at the Bhisho Contact Centre, The Gqebera Advice Centre, the Missionvale Library and many other of our precious projects. The quest for a Natural Order informs these buildings geometry, their relationship to the site, their use of materials and their play with light. Theses buildings seek to answer the question, what was “meant to be” on this site. These buildings seek to answer the question: “What would this space / surface / door / window / ceiling / component look like if it were to look like it were “meant to be” like that? This is what we have come to see as the “Natural Order” of design. I have come to see that this design approach is crucial if we are to play any part in creating a Natural Order Habitat.
To be clear, I am not speaking about a search for minimalist simplicity like our respected friends Mies van der Rohe or Tadoa Ando.
I respect that quest and I love the work of these and other great Architects like them.
But I have come to see that sometimes the Natural Order of things is very simple but at other times it can deliver surprising complexity. Also, to be clear, my quest to find a Natural Order in design should not be confused with attempts at “Bio mimicry”, where we learn lessons for the building of a staircase from the geometry of a sunflower or where our parquet tile floors are inspired by the patterns in the scales of an Armadillo. I love all that, but that’s not my quest right now.
My colleagues and I have been searching for this Natural Order for a long time. Yes, we are very interested in the design of buildings, but it is the design of the contemporary human “HABITAT” that dominates our thoughts. That HABITAT includes buildings. It includes the spaces between buildings and of course it includes the landscapes that we move through and live in on our way to and from buildings. The quest for a NATURAL ORDER HABITAT permeates our attitude toward design and also, perhaps even more importantly, our attempt to find a comfortable and natural “feel” in the interpersonal collaboration that makes up the design and construction process. Some say it’s a silly quest, some say it’s a waste of time. I say though, that it’s a quest that I know may not reach a clear answer, a specific result or a particular destination. I know that this may in fact be true, but I also know along the way we will learn. Perhaps like the Alchemists that searched for a way to make gold from ordinary stuff, we may not find this elusive “NATURAL ORDER HABITAT”, but we will learn many lessons along the way.
As we learn, I will share with you.
Tim Hewitt-Coleman 20180927
(This piece by Tim Hewitt-Coleman first appeared in the Weekend Post on 24 March 2018)
On our way to swim in the ocean on Wednesday morning, we were chatting in the the car about Human Rights day. As we drove, I gave a little lecture explaining how on the 21st of March 1960, 69 unarmed protesters were gunned down outside a police station in Sharpville. “Why were they protesting?” asks Mandisa. “They were protesting about the “pass laws”. They burned the papers that they were required to carry as evidence that they had permission to leave the “homelands” in order to seek work in the city”. Mandisa silently nodded her head in the backseat as she continued to flip through Instagram, but Poppina said: ”You know, come to think of it, not much has really changed since 1960! If you walk down any Hillbrow street today, you run the risk of being thrown in the back of a police van if you don’t have the correct, ID papers, Refugee papers or Asylum papers”
I thought about this statement as I bobbed in the ocean that morning. Mandisa and I swam to the end of the pier. Poppina strolled on the beach. “What has changed since 1960?” I asked myself. Yes, things are much better for a whole lot of people that happen to have the right papers, but really, we have fallen into exactly the same thinking of the apartheid government. Then, the state said: “If your ancestors come from the wrong side of the Kei river, you go back there and do whatever your ancestors did there” All that has actually happened since 1960, is that the state has now just changed the rivers that they choose to use as reference points for their cruelty and brutality. “You dare not set your foot on “our” side of the Limpopo River. Go back to where you came from! Go do there whatever it is that your ancestors did there!”
We feel good about ourselves and justify our cruelty by referring to concepts such as “The Constitution” or “The Sovereign State”. My friends, I am writing to you today to remind you that these, and many such like fabrications, are merely “concepts”. They are just ideas formed in the minds of people. They are neither real nor tangible. What is real and what is tangible is the tremendous suffering of many millions of people across the globe and especially in africa that are unable to flee drought, famine, war, rape and slavery because of the notional concept of a “sovereign state”, with borders that cannot be freely crossed without risking death and imprisonment. People are dying (and worse) for the sake of these concepts. The “lucky” few that make it out of whatever desperate situation that has driven them to give up their ancestral home and their families, find themselves in a situation in a country like South Africa perhaps, where they are, at best, treated as second class citizens. They struggle to get a bank account, they struggle to own land, they struggle to get the same wages as those who have the “correct papers”, they struggle to access education. They are harassed by the police, they are exploited by the criminal underworld.
As we speak, right now, somewhere north of the Limpopo, young girls are being captured by rebels and sold into slavery. As we speak, right now, children are embarking on foot on a thousand mile journey in the hope of escaping the hell that has driven them to find the courage to flee. As we speak, in this town of ours, young girls from Somalia or Zimbabwe, or the DRC or Sudan, with no papers, no means of support and no hope, are trapped in a living hell of drug induced sex slavery. Tell me my friends, why, why, why do we think of this unspeakable injustice in different terms to the way we have come to think about the crime of apartheid?
We are deluding ourselves to think that this is in any way OK!
It must stop right now!
I am not a prophet and I do not pretend to be one, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that we will look back at this time and we will judge ourselves for tolerating this situation. We will be embarrassed that we committed our energy to attempts to rid the oceans of plastic bottles, arguing against backyard dog breeders and whether our leaders should be permitted to smash each other’s heads with water jugs. We will judge ourselves for dedicating our time to this relative pettiness while this tragedy of human suffering continues as the result of our silence in condoning the rubbish idea of “Sovereign” borders.
The reality is that our species is a wandering species. From the time when we first emerged from the Cradle of Humankind near Krugersdorp, we have wandered. We have moved our families on to new lands when the conditions we were facing became unpleasant. This movement over thousands and thousands of years was a gradual process, but a fundamental ingredient to our continued success as a species.
Impermeable national boundaries are unnatural! They cause untold suffering and must abolished without delay. We are a species gifted with profound intelligence. We split the atom. We send our representatives to the moon. We have credible plans to colonize Mars. Trust me, we can figure out how to overcome the challenges that emerge out of the removal of national boundaries. What do you think?
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I love design, I love simplicity. I love the idea that we can rethink cheap readily available materials and use them in a way that was not imagined by the manufacturer. So in the video below I show how I use 75 mm diameter PVC down pipe as a guttering system. Building a rain water harvesting system normally takes a complicated range of fittings brackets screws and masonry anchors.But very often the same objective can be achieved using only 75 mm diameter PVC down pipe and elbow fittings.Watch this short video to see how we use this idea at Pebblespring Farm.
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I love building! The hammer and nails, the step ladder, with cordless drill. The pain in my joints in the evening as I rest after a day of sweat and pain. Building of course starts way before any hammer is swung or any brick is laid. Building begins like all other created phenomena. In the mind as an idea, a notion. It may then find form words in discussion with a loved one, an argument with a banker, then later it may take the form of text, a letter, a blog post, an idea in a journal, emerging only later perhaps into sketch form growing over self-confident: a serviette in a late night restaurant at first, a koki-pen drawing on a desk pad soon after. Each step of this building process comes closer to completing the vision and giving physical form to what was just a notion. The bricks mortar, timber an steel follow when the idea is strong enough to survive in the physical world.
I love the feeling of freedom that building gives me. The freedom to move beyond all the “reasons” why something cant be built. Overcoming the “reasons” and excuses and physically seeing the from emerge to completion.
While building is my great interest and passion, so too over the years I have come to be very interested in “Freedom”. I have become interested in what this word “Freedom” actually means to to me, and how the idea of Freedom may be different to you reading this post right now. Also I have become especially interested in the idea….in the truth that Freedom is not something that we simply stumble across, but rather that it is something that we build for ourselves. Freedom is something that must start out as an idea, then find its way into conversation, eventually into text and writing, then documented plans and ultimately in the concrete action in the physical and spatial world.
This website is about Building Freedom. Not about marching for freedom or fighting for freedom or voting for freedom. Here we test the notion that for freedom to be lasting and meaningful, it must find its expression first at the level of the individual. (You and I). Sure we can collaborate, pool our individual energies where we can align ourselves to obtain such freedom, but here we will explore there idea that you and I must first define for ourselves what it means to be free in our own lives. Having defined that freedom for ourselves we can choose to become free or to remain imprisoned.
Imprisonment may come in different forms for different people. You may be imprisoned in poverty, you may be imprisoned in your dead-end job, in your sexuality, in your family traditions, in your relationship. Most people reading this will not be physically imprisoned or enslaved, but sometimes those that are physically held captive are in a way more fortunate in that there is know doubt in their mind that they are not free. They have no doubt in their mind that they are being held against their will. If they try to escape their captors, they will be instantly met with violence.
In 1986 and 87 I was held captive as a conscript in the South African Defense Force. The army at the time was a brutal institution known for it cruelty and intolerance. Never once did I try to cut my way through the razorwire fences that surrounded our barracks or risk being shot by the guards. The threat of violence was though imminently clear and evident. The public punishment of those that did try to escape was enough to discourage me and most others not to even try. In that system I knew that I was not free. It was made clear by the fences, the guard towers the barbed wire and the armed guards and by the military police. It was made clear by the suffering of those held in the notorious “detention barracks”. I had no doubt that I was not free. I had no doubt about who my captors were.
But what about you and me today? In our ordinary jobs, in our ordinary families in our ordinary relationships. Are we free? What does it really mean to be free? I have thought about this quite a bit. I have played with a few different definitions and I suppose what I have settled for is “freedom is choosing without fear”. So, In other words if I decide to stay inside the military base because I love the accommodation, the food and the camaraderie then I am free. But if i stay because I fear getting shot by the Military Police or being held in the detention barracks, then I am not free. If I stay in my job because I fear that my children will not eat, then I am not free. But you may say “well of course we need to feed our children”. But hear me. To be clear, I am not saying for a minute that anybody “deserves” freedom. All I am saying is that many of us (maybe most of us) are not free, because we are motivated everyday by fear to get out of bed and endure what we endure.
I have come to see in my life that it must be my mission to live free. Perhaps I will never achieve this objective. Perhaps until the day I die I will be striving toward achieving a life motivated by joy and not by fear. But what I have decided is that I will not resign myself to a life of fear. I have decided to build freedom. I have decided work in the same way we would set about building a house or a church or a hospital. I have decided to build freedom in a methodical way. Starting first by recognizing where I am not free, then conceptualizing and designing a new, free place and new reality. Then working hard to build it. To make it real.
August 2016 THC
I have never yet been a civil servant and I don’t have any immediate plans to become one. In fact I have my doubts that I am really “employable” in that the sense of the word. But if I was employed by the taxpayers, I suspect I would be a little miffed that Minister Malusi Gigaba thinks that it’s not such a bad idea that the PIC (the public investment company) bails out ever-ailing South African Airways with the savings of ordinary working people who have contributed a chunk of their civil servant salary month after month to a pension fund they believe will look after them in the years when they are too old to be a fire man, or that guy that comes around to your house to be sure that you have a TV liscence
But I am not angry at Minister Gigaba. He like many of my otherwise intelligent friends, labour under the continued belief that the only way any of us can ever fly from PE or Joburg, or from Cape Town to Singapore, is if we use taxpayers money to own and run airline to do so. But I must admit, I struggle to get it. Is it a matter of national pride that we fly to Doha in a plane marked “South African”? Is it a huge embarrassment if I fly from Mangaung to King Shaka International in a plane owned by Comair or some other privately owned enterprise? I don’t think so. So why then, I ask, are so many of us obsessed with the idea that we need to year after year be called upon to bail out SAA, or the Postal Services, or Eskom or Sanral? I’ll tell you why. It’s quite understandable actually. You see, there was a time, not very long ago, where the only way to get an airline up and running was to use tax payer’s money to do so. There was a time, not too long ago (before email and couriers) when the only way to effectively get important messages to each other was through a Postal Service paid for by the tax payers. There was a time, not to long ago, before Skype, WhatsApp and Cell C, when the only way in which we could ensure effective voice communication was by the taxpayers investing in a telephone network now called Telkom. The reality of course is that times change and as great minds bring new innovation. We figure out ways in which projects can be made to happen in such a way as not to depend on violently extorting funds from the public (remember tax would not be collected unless there was the violent threat of Jail time). There was a time that it was the accepted general consensus that the only way humanity to get into space was through the efforts of publicly funded programmes like NASA. Now companies like Space X embrace advances in technology in order to make it possible to do so without any government support.
Where am I going with all this? What I am trying to do, in a roundabout way, is to open a conversation beyond the political poles of “statists” and “anarchists”. Where the extreme “statists” would argue toward the state controlling everything (like in North Korea) and the extreme anarchists would argue for a “government free” situation as we may find in Somalia. What I am trying to argue is that as technology and innovation advance, the things we think we needed government for become fewer and a fewer. Right now, I believe that we need government to, for example, see to basic education and to address the wealth gap. I am however completely open to the idea that we will very soon have access to innovation and technology that is able to achieve these critical objectives without the requirement of a state. It’s just that I can’t yet imagine how this could be done. But then again, it was inconceivable a few years ago that we could bypass the state in the creation of a reliable currency to use as a means of exchange. Now we have Bitcoin and Ethereum (Google them if you’re out of the loop)
I saw on Youtube the other day how the IBM Artificial Intelligence platform “Watson” was able to compete and win against very able human players in the US television game show “Jeopardy”. That’s not very exciting in itself, what is exciting, is that there are now stories of UK Law firms and Japanese Insurance companies buying the Watson computer and as a result being able to retrench dozens of graduate attorneys and actuaries. I begin to ask myself then, if even these highly complex professional posts can be replaced by computers, how soon will it be until we begin to reconsider our belief that the only way to, for example, keep our toilets flushing and out refuse removed is to have a 120 elected Councillors overseeing thousands of unionised municipal employees? It must be plain to us that it is only a matter of time until we come to see that the idea of government, was an “interim measure”; a mere blip in history until technology caught up with our desire to live in a world where we are free, but a world where still there is order.