Architect of Happiness: Chris Van Niekerk

Gracing the page of The 2017 Field Report is a redesigned Bo-Kaap cottage belonging to Crema Design’s Craig Raeside. Craig initially set out to do the renovations himself but fortunately he befriended architect Chris van Niekerk from The Fold Architects, and under his guidance good architectural principle prevailed resulting in the 25 year old cottage being completely redesigned and rebuilt.

Chris chats to us about his work and the future of architectural design and construction…

Do you see architecture as emotional as much as it is mathematical?
I think architecture affects you on a psychological level in ways that aren’t always perceived or immediately obvious. This is perhaps deeper than an emotional response.  Buildings are such strong physical objects made of real materials and are always part of our subconsciousness. Mathematics of course governs all things physical.

Describe your signature style
I dont think its so much of a style as an approach to using materials in a way which is true to their inherent properties. I’m more interested in real things than concepts because real things affect our moods, feelings etc. I try to ensure there is an underlying sense of clarity in what I do. Hopefully sometimes it works.

What do you believe are the 2017 trends in architectural design and construction?
There seems to be a trend or resurgence of pastel colours in materials and objects like dusty pink and soft mint green. Personally I’m more interested in the large scale terrazzo surfaces which I’m very fond of revisiting after a trip to Venice earlier this year which has so many beautiful terrazzo surfaces. Having said that I try to engage methodologies / ideas which are not en-trend as I don’t think its an appropriate category for architectural discourse.

If you could share one thought to young architects of today, what would it be?
Don’t let your computer software usurp your innate talent or design sensibility.

What is the future material for construction?
I think there is something noble about materiality and the fact that our perception of the world happens by coming into contact with materials that existed before we did. We have a responsibility to engage materials respectfully. The future material is most likely the application of technologies in order to modify existing materials to perhaps make them greener, more durable or more recyclable and of course more cost effective.

Which project to date gives you the greatest sense of achievement?
Any of them that have happy occupants

What’s next for The Fold?
We are busy with the planning stages of an exciting small mixed-use building in the CBD with a multitude of constraints and restrictions – I sometimes enjoy this type of challenge.

All-time favourite architect and construction?
Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Peter Zumthor are probably some of my perennial favourite architects – there’s a quiet austerity about their work. Having said that, at the moment I would say I’m interested in an anonymous architecture or buildings which seem as though they have no author and are in the background. I become bored with the notion of architecture becoming an exercise in branding.

A few of Chris’s favourite projects include:

Stiletto Table

ELLE Deco SA
Mild steel structure, oxidized solid brass sheet, black wax, 2016. This table explores the weightiness of its component lasercut steel sections, yet assembled in such a way so as to impart a sense of lightness. Its tapering legs direct the weight to a diminutive footprint. This project was exhibited as part of the Southern Guild Exhibition ‘A New Wave’, 11 August – 23 September 2016.

House III^

ELLE Deco SA
A typical Bo-Kaap semi-detached row house is remodeled in order to take advantage of two crucial site conditions – a continuous servitude running the depth of the building and the possibility of elevated views across the city if access can be gained.

Crema Design

ELLE Deco SA
Retail Interior Parkhurst, Johannesburg, 2016 A sister showroom to the high-end furniture and lighting retailer, Crema based in Cape Town. Inserting display elements around the perimeter best displays them for sale and maximizes the limited space.A curved mirrored ribbon is inserted into the centre of the space nestles between existing trusses. This serves to enlarge the size of the space and creates interesting and distorted reflections of the beautiful objects. cremadesign.co.za

Foord Asset Management

ELLE Deco SA
Pinelands, Cape Town, 2013 – 2016 Commercial Architecture and Interior Foord Asset Management (Pty) Ltd is a boutique asset management company with offices in Cape Town and Singapore. Extensive work was carried out to rejuvenate the exterior of the building complex, most notably the replacement of the existing roof with zink roof sheeting. A new glazed linking bridge element was introduced between two wings of the building, to respond to increased requirement for space and also to give the building a sense of identity in keeping with a high-end corporate business. Interior spaces were fully customized and furnished.

ENJOYED THIS?

Then you may want to read Deco Icon: David Adjaye and Landscape Architecture With Terremoto’s David Godshall


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The 2017 Field Report is not about fleeting trends – its about quality and perfection, about bringing back traditional skills and craftsmanship. We speak to the visionaries, icons and experts who shape their unique, lasting and life-enhancing concepts for us to embrace through their designs, recipes, buildings and explorations. Pick up your copy today and tell us what you think on Twitter @Elle_Deco using #2017FieldReport.

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