From Constantia wineries to Kramats, it was a gentle but wonderful start

View from Beau Constania tasting room

I had a gentle and much appreciated start to my explorations as I was met at Cape Town airport by architect and teacher Kevin Fellingham and his wife, curator Winnie Sze who whisked me off to Beau Constantia, a beautiful winery overlooking False Bay. I can think of no better way to get over jet lag than to have a glass of delicious South African white in hand, appreciating architecture in good company. We sat in the tasting room a glass box atop one of a series of pavilions designed by Jon Jacobson that nestle into the hillside amongst the vineyards. The siting of the pavilions, including a converted shipping container took advantage of the topography, creating a synergy between landscape and buildings. Windows framed views into the surrounding landscape – even the toilet pavilion (below) had a spectacular view over the valley with Stellenbosch in the far distance.

We then went on to Klein Constantia, yes, another winery, but at this one it was pure archi-appreciation. Gawie Fagan designed a cellar in 1986 just up the hill from the original Cape Dutch homestead. The building greets you with a wide upward-sloping entrance and gently lures you through a deep archway door and along a solidly built corridor with light filtering down the stepped, side-wall. Lovely details are everywhere – slots in the wall glimpse to a parallel space now a shop, a flagstone in the tiled floor denotes a threshold into a top lit octagon space, and is a sign to look up and glimpse Table Mountain through a specially placed window high in the wall ahead. The simple form of the building can be appreciated when standing in the working yard to the back, with a parred-back facade. It feels like a farm building that has been given just enough intention to feel like architecture.

Down the hill sits the Kramta (Muslim shrines that mark the graves of Holy Men) of Sheik Abdurachman Matebe Shah who was one of the three teachers who brought Islam to southern Africa in the seventeenth century. The more magical Kramat however was that of Sayed Mahmud, 10 minutes further along the road in Groot Constantia designed by Frank Flemming (a partner of Herbert Baker) with gardens and a washing block recently added by Gawie and Gwen Fagan. The whole place has an atmosphere of calm and peace – the shrine located at the vista of a gentle slope that encourages slow movement towards it. The washing building is reached via a simple but subtly joyous concrete pergola covered in vines. The long, facing wall of the washrooms, is adorned with a beautiful mosaic and the inside reveals one of the most serene spaces I have entered in a long time.

In pursuit of generosity – my journey begins

My trip to South Africa has begun, and I have been greeted by sunshine and smiling faces on arrival here in Cape Town, filling me with a sense of possibility and excitement. The trip is part an Art Connects Us grant from the British Council, that is aimed at developing connections between the UK and the creative sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa. To give myself what can only be a taste of the local architectural scene in this short period of time, I have arranged to see buildings and meet a few architects of different generations – from young students to the great masters. I will share as much as I can through this blog and on Instagram as I go (although I already a day behind!). These works and conversations will be approached in consideration of what it means to be generous – a quality that I believe should be central to architecture, especially at a time where social and economic inequality is rising across the world.

This ‘research’ is approached without a fixed outcome in mind, instead I wish to pursue ideas and conversations to see where they take me, letting the material I gather and encounters I have help define the product. I have intentionally not overfilled my schedule and am trying to allow time for reflection and absorption, accepting that this will not be a comprehensive survey, but will hopefully give rise to a few meaningful connections.

Where did I begin? Underlying almost everything I have done in recent years is a pursuit of a human architecture. This has often focused on a discussion about experience, because when lived, inhabited and occupied architecture becomes interwoven in our existence, having an impact on our emotions, psyches and bodies – or more generally to our well-being.

I sought a word that would encapsulate my interests. I tried empathy (which I think has both possibilities and problems), and care (which is loaded but interests me because of its ties to the etymology of curating) and landed on generosity, as is a quality I greatly admire in people and is about an attitude as well a quality in architecture. Generosity to me is about listening and acceptance, about give and take, about a relationship of reciprocity and about partaking. A generous building carries these qualities and allows us to be who we are, allows and supports difference, encourages humility and generosity in its occupants.

Generosity also raises questions about the relationship between a benefactor and recipient, of the role of the architect and of the client, of the individual and society. Does a generous attitude of creators of buildings result in a generous building? What are the forces at play that might prohibit a building from fulfilling its potential to be generous? I hope that by involving others in the discussion I can help give greater definition to what might constitute generosity in architecture and how it might be achieved.

Sub Saharan

Sub-Saharan: I have received a research grant from the British Council to travel to South Africa in
March 2018 to meet young architects and creatives and pursue on an ongoing interest in
architecture and generosity. I will be blogging about my experiences and documenting the
conversations I have, the people I meet and the work I uncover, on this site and on Instagram.

“Architecture and Well-being” – Creative Aging International, Talk 2018

Part of Prelude Talks, an online series celebrating scientific and creative investigation into the determinants of a healthy brain, for Creative Aging International, based in Dublin.

“We need to change the way architecture is framed within society and culture – expanding it beyond something that is functional with the primary purpose of providing shelter – to recognise the profound importance it plays in human existence. To do so, the conversation needs to shift towards the complexity of the lived experience of architecture rather than simply the architects intentions, or the performance of  a building such as whether it represents value for money, efficiency, functionality, sustainability, structural innovation etc – all measurable and important, but when viewed in isolation from human experience they can lose their relevance and potential to make a positive impact upon the world. Because it is when lived, inhabited and occupied that architecture becomes interwoven in our existence, and therefore has a deep impact upon our emotional, psychological, physiological states- to our overarching well-being. Architecture can take us towards the sublime and the ephemeral, and not just through rarefied experience but through ordinary. In order to realise its full potential, it is important to have awareness and ideally comprehend of the expansive and varied ways in which architecture can do so – and to appreciate the active relationship we can have with our environment. Over the next 50 mins or so, I hope to take you on a journey through these ideas…….”

Architecture Masters: Episode 8 For the London Festival of Architecture 2017


A far-ranging interview with Owen Wainhouse, in which I discussed my 15 year (gulp) career at the Royal Academy, reflecting on the changing position of architecture within the institution and in public interest in general. We spoke about Sensing Spaces, about Australia and about what I believe is still an inadequate role that women play in shaping the built environment.

Episode Eight – Kate Goodwin

Architecture impacts everyone. We need to inspire greater visual and spatial literacy for all (2017)

Published by the Royal Academy at the time of the RA250 programme launch and a renewed commitment to architecture. 

Debate has long raged as to whether architecture is an art or a science. For me, it’s the inter-relationship of these two fields and the resulting tensions that make architecture so interesting.Art can change how we look at the world; it can inspire, surprise, alarm, delight, and our relationship with it can change with time and familiarity. These are all possibilities that architecture can offer too. But unlike most art forms, architecture must also operate on both a functional and practical level, with technical demands such as weatherproofing, structural stability, and regulatory controls coming into play. Quality architecture is about meeting these practical demands while creating spaces that are poetic and human. The experience of being in buildings that successfully negotiate the tension between practicality and delight is memorable and enlightening.Architecture is a socially-engaged art form and consequentially has an impact on us all in some way or another. It doesn’t exist for its own good but instead must address political, social, environmental and economic imperatives. It must also engage with the world of ideas, of culture and imagination. The conversation about architecture must therefore be wide reaching – one to which we all contribute. That’s why the Royal Academy, an independent artist and architect-led institution, is a fitting place to forge such a debate and provide a broad and inclusive platform that questions, provokes, inspires, innovates and educates on all aspects of architecture in our lives. From Brexit to the recent tragedy of Grenfell Tower, the past year has made it dramatically evident that the conditions in which we live – and to which architecture must respond – are continually evolving. By understanding the past, and critically interrogating existing situations, we are better able to propose solutions for the future. At the RA, we want to create a platform, and incubator, for fresh ideas about architecture; not just presenting current thinking but also developing new ideas.

Architectural projects – in this case a refurbished campus by David Chipperfield Architects that opens in 2018 – provide a moment to refocus ambitions. Architecture has been an integral part of the RA since its beginnings, and for nearly 25 years we have had a dedicated programme that focused on architecture. This programme has grown in response to an increasing public interest and a necessity for critical debate on the subject.

Our announcement about a reinvigorated commitment to architecture at the RA, supported by the Dorfman Foundation, shows that architecture, far from being on the professional periphery is vital to our lives and culture. An international awards programme, a new Architecture Studio, annual temporary exhibitions and a beautiful new lecture theatre to host debates, will enable us to reach larger audiences and harness different spaces and mediums for engagement while addressing critical issues, locally and globally. An architect’s knowledge and agency reaches far wider than just creating buildings and needs to be understood and harnessed.

The best architecture is created through a shared vision between client, community and architect that is garnered through listening, evaluation and leadership. Heightening the spatial and visual literacy of us all can only assist in this process. We want to enliven the public discussion and equip architects with a broad frame of reference that assures aspirational architecture is created for everyone. We hope you’ll be a part of it.

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