Each month, Leading Architecture puts the spotlight on an industry leader. This month we speak to Craig Canter of Parallax Architecture.
Q Tell us about your background.
Parallax Architecture is a young dynamic firm specialising in modern design. I established the firm in 2005 with an aim of providing architecture in South Africa that could compete with the best in the world. In 2008 Stephen Parkes joined the firm.
Both Stephen and I grew up in Johannesburg, going to school and university there, but we were both fortunate to have travelled widely. There has always been a desire to see the world and bring the best of modern design and ideas back to South Africa and translate it to something truly South African. Stephen also brings his experience of living in North Africa, and his study of African architecture to Parallax Architecture
We are very design driven, each project is an exploration into what is possible, how we can challenge the impossible and what we can offer to our clients.
Q Where did you study and what qualifications did you receive?
Both partners were educated at the Architecture Faculty of the University of Witwatersrand. I graduated with BAS (Hons), while a couple of years later Stephen graduated with his March (prof) while also receiving numerous awards. After studying both of us gained experience at some of South Africa’s top architecture firms. Both studying Architecture at wits has shaped the way they both approach design.
Q How did you get involved in architecture?
Architecture was in my blood – it can be seen as far back as my early school days when I would be found with various scraps of paper with sketches of houses on them. This fascination with architecture only developed more in high school where I would often visit show houses of the best architecture of the day on Sundays. There was always an attempt to discover what made each house special. It was this fascination with design and the desire to create magical spaces that brought me to study architecture. It is not a job; rather it is a passion. Although some would say it is an obsession!
Stephen on the other hand came to architecture by accident. He spent most of his life as an artist and sculptor. He always had a fascination for materials and the art of making. After receiving many art awards in his school days he enrolled at the art school at the University of Witwatersrand. During this time he also studied psychology and philosophy at Wits. One project at Wits led him to team up with the architecture department and from that moment he was hooked. He took some time off to experience architecture in other countries and spent some time living in North Africa studying African architecture. He eventually returned and enrolled for architecture at Wits. For Stephen, architecture and sculpture are the same, each project explores the craft of sculpting space.
Q What about South African architecture inspires you?
The greatest thing about South African architecture is the landscape. We are blessed with an amazing country and a beautiful climate to enjoy it. It is when these aspects are found in South African architecture that special spaces are made. Some of the greatest pieces of South African architecture are those that form an integral relationship with the land and the surroundings. Where the architects have developed a greater understanding of materials and the way light brings form to life. It is where the line between what is built and what is natural becomes blurred that magic happens. There are some amazing examples of South African architecture that we can be proud of, and there are some very talented firms really pushing the envelope in terms of design. That is what inspires us, we are very competitive and seeing some of the amazing work being produced in this country inspires us to push our work and design even more.
Q Do you think SA architects provide their clients with a good service?
As in any profession, there are those that excel and those that get by. Architects in South Africa are very competitive with one another, which is good as it constantly pushes us to develop better architecture. However, there are still a few with the mentality of ‘give clients what they want regardless of design, impact and effect on our natural and build environment.’ We believe, as professionals, that it is our duty to educate clients about the options, provide them alternatives and to create architecture rather than buildings. We are also responsible for educating the client on issues of sustainability, materials and sensitivity to our environment.
Q What has been your favourite project to date?
For us the last project we do is always our favourite. Every project we try to push the levels of creativity and design and every project becomes a joy to work on. We have been fortunate to have had many open minded clients who’ve allowed us to fully explore their projects. In South Africa we are blessed with so many cultures and lifestyles that every new client always brings the unexpected in the brief. As a result every project becomes a learning experience which has allowed us to be very playful in some of our designs. It is this which makes each design unique and our favourite.
Q What existing project do you wish you could have been involved in?
We have always had a passion for the way people live and desire to give them a better space. One project we wish we could have been involved in and still hope to be is the development of low cost houses. We have a passion to positively shape our surroundings and give people a better home. Good design doesn’t mean more expensive and we believe there is still so much potential in what we can offer as housing.
Q What are you currently working on?
Currently we are working on some exciting homes in Johannesburg and Cape Town. We also have a beautiful boutique hotel going up on one of the seven hills of Kampala in Uganda, as well as a contemporary office building in Uganda that we hope will get the highest green rating for its environmental design. We are also working on some conceptual projects that we hope to develop into fully sustainable low cost housing.
Q Where do you see architecture going in the next decade?
South African architecture firms are doing some amazing things and we think that the next decade will be very exciting. Already we are seeing firms steering away from imported styles to architecture designed around our climate and lifestyle. We believe architects are starting to develop a vocabulary for what South African architecture could be. There are challenges that we will need to overcome which we believe many firms are starting to do. They involve the challenges around responsible and sustainable design for the lower income earners. Today sustainable architecture is seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. However, with the progress of technology and the innovation of local architects, we feel that South African architecture has a very bright future.