An interview with the directors of SAOTA about the interaction between indoors and outdoors in South Africa’s architecture and about the fascination of an international portfolio.
Based in South Africa, you work on projects worldwide. To start with your home country: Some of your houses here play, in a spectacular way, with the relation between inside and outside. How important is the integration of the outside space in South African residential culture?
South Africa enjoys a climate and surroundings that are conducive to an indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Our homes therefore facilitate interaction and flow between the two. Conceptually, Africans have a significant view of shelter: for us, the flat roof is more essential than the vertical wall. With a harsher environment, Europeans distanced themselves from the outdoors and became used to living with more barriers between them and nature. When they experience the South African aesthetic, they respond enthusiastically. That every SAOTA design responds at a visceral level to its context, whether the setting is a South African cliff edge, Swiss lake shore, Russian Steppe, middle-eastern oasis, or an iconic urban location, is what has presaged our firmâ€˜s global expansion.
Have lifestyles in South Africa changed a lot over the last years? What are the main criteria your clients ask for?
The fundamentals of our clients’ lifestyles have not changed much: we specialise in the design of contemporary, responsive spaces that enhance the life of their occupants by being perfectly suited to context and purpose, whether that is residential, commercial, leisure or retail. People are interested in quality, excellence and an architecture that has a personality and identity. These are universal concepts that are understood by everyone regardless of where they live in the world.
How important is the interior design for your work â€“ the surfaces, the materials, the furniture?
We donâ€™t see the distinction between interior design and architecture. The one canâ€™t exist without the other and at the end of the day they form one thing, one experience â€“ they should be considered together. Between the three brands in the group we deliver a full turn-key offering. Almost 15 years ago we established ARRCC, an interior design studio to complement SAOTAâ€™s offering. ARRCC has since matured into an independent brand with a global footprint almost as large as SAOTAâ€™s. The third brand in our stable is OKHA, which designs, manufactures and retails modernist furniture, lighting and decor that complements our projects. In terms of materiality, we favour concrete, natural materials and finishes that impart a serene and uncluttered ambience. There is always a combination of textured and reflective surfaces. Colour palettes tend towards calm neutrals.
The biggest part of your clientele is now international. In which regions do you see the greatest potentials today, the most exciting developments in lifestyle and respective architecture?
We are working on five continents with projects in around 40 countries. Currently we are very busy in the US, Switzerland, the UAE and West Africa. While we are focusing on these regions we see potential everywhere, and every project is exciting. We learn as much from a visit to our projects in Beverly Hills and Volgograd as we do from trips to those in Shenzhen and Lagos. We are working on a project in Miami where the original heirloom home was saved from demolishment, and relocated to another portion of the site. For a project on Palm Jumeirah we designed a home that would mitigate against harsh environmental factors as well as the tension between public and private spaces. One of our projects in Russia involved maximising the three months of summer and any available ray of sun thereafter. And outside Dakar, we designed a camp in a forest of Baobab trees. Few architectural firms get to work on such diverse, exciting projects. We count ourselves very lucky.
SAOTA is a firm of architectural designers and technologists led by Stefan Antoni, Greg Truen, Philip Olmesdahl, Phillippe FouchÃ© and Mark Bullivant. Based in Cape Town, South Africa, the company has an international footprint with projects on five continents. SAOTA counts among the most renowned African architectural firms and has received numerous awards and commendations from some of the most respected institutions worldwide.