A few weeks ago i decided it would be wonderful to profile some of Cape town’s most extraordinary architects and so i contacted VDMMA Architects as the first of the most influential architects working in South Africa today. Van der Merwe Miszewski are architectural royalty. I have for many years admired their residential designs – Bridge house, Tree House, Maison, Box House, Forest house (the list goes on)- but not until recently did I fully appreciate the scope of their work and their contribution to our urban landscape. The extraordinary list of their projects includes The CTICC, UCT School of economics, Maison, The Maison tasting Room, De Beers Headquarters, and in partnership with Heatherwick Studios and MDL – the Silo precinct at the V&A Waterfront,Cape town. VDMMA are the master planners for the precinct and resposible for The Precinct Urban Design of the Public Realm, as well as Buildings 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . The Grain Silos– being the conversion of the Historic Silo within the Precinct to be converted into the Zeitz MOCAA Museum and Boutique Hotel – Heatherwick are the Design Architects and VDMMA, with RBA and JP are Executive Architects. The entire project will include a massive art gallery, residential spaces, commercial and retail spaces all working within the framework of the historical grain silos. The scope of their past, current and proposed projects is quite simply mindboggling.
I was lucky enough to “chat” with Macio Miszewski of Van derMerwe Miszewski Architects about his design philosophy, influences and some thoughts on the future of architecture.
Macio Miszewski grew up in an architectural household, son of Maciek Miszewski (himself a highly respected architect). Consequently from the moment he could see he saw the masters of the 20th century and most of what had preceded the 20th century. “Until I was 20 I lived in 2 houses Maciek designed. Le Corbusier’s “Oevre Complet” lay on the coffee table he designed. I grew up with grainy black and white images of Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Villa Stein and many more. We talked a lot about theatre, film, literature and music at home. All these things, the sea the mountains, inspired me.”
What is your design aesthetic?
“There isnt one. Every site, brief and client is different. I dont know what the next building will look like and I do not follow a prescribed style. However I do believe in acknowledging the past, “listening” closely to the site, thinking hard about the idea of the building and thereafter producing the work in a way which is consistent with this thought process.” A passion for “unpacking” the way buildings are made – how they stand, what they are made of, how they work and why is central to the way Mr Miszewski works and brings to mind the most central of modernist architecural decrees – Form must follow Function.
Who are your favourite architects either current or from the past?
I’ve mentioned Le Corbusier – but there are so many more it’s almost impossible to list. From Alberti to Zenghelis. In my mind’s eye, I see the ’body of Architectural thinking’ as being free of any time, place or political restraint. I find interest in all the ages, all the cultures of the World. I ‘read buildings’ all the time where ever I am and inevitably will find something – a detail, a material, a device, a layout, a shadow pattern – which I subconsciously commit to my rather lengthy list of ‘favourites’. I admire also – the many builders who are not called ‘Architects’ or ‘Designers’, who have throughout the ages, constructed and shaped the environments in which they live. (what Rudowski termed ‘the Prodigious Builders’)
What is the future of architecture? What will it look like? What function will it serve?
“Perhaps the most intersting outcomes have been – the management of energy (green thinking), development of materials (thinner, stronger, lighter), electronics (automation, power generation, the cloud etc) and I think that these shifts within our evolution will continue. Patterns of work and living are continuiing to shift – the poor are getting poorer and the rich do as they do – and they will all live in built environments which will have to rely on natural resourses, space and sane political thinking. But ” Architecture is the art of the Possible” so whilst I dont know what our next project will look like and equally what the future of architecture will look like – I do believe that design is….needed.”
What struck me most in conversation with Mr Miszewski was the extraordinary passion and wonder that he brings to his projects and how the work is informed by so many disciplines and art forms. Coupled with that a real sense of humility and a constant hunger to know more, to be inspired and to grow.
Architecture has always seemed a most astonishing discipline to me as it requires in equal parts right and left brain thinking. The vision, creativity and sensitivity of an artist and the technical savvy of a mathematician and engineer. Our buildings house our dreams, inform our realities and give structure and certainty to an uncertain world – i believe that Mr Miszewski is right – design is needed to fully experience and explore our concepts of reality as well as what is possible for the future.