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'Students would laugh designs out of studio'


A careful inspection of 'Wilford and Dyson's Africa vision' illustration (AJ 25.11.04) shows a hint of a mountain range and what appear to be fields of lavender. In fact, these mountains dominate the vineyards of the Spier Estate site, with existing buildings following evolved traditions of integration with the landscape, climate, local materials and skills. Wilford and Dyson's design makes as much sense as if it were being proposed for, say, Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds - 16m-high romantically crazed earth walls might be suitable in dry-hot Djenne but that is some 6,000km away from the Cape and the Mediterranean climate that prevails. The 'Cape Doctor', summer's howling dusty southeasterly wind, should sort out the figures and fountains on the flat plaza, and possibly the wooden lattice as well.

The pods are probably inevitable, but the present craze will pass. For eight years the thirdyear students at the school of architecture at the University of Cape Town have been dealing with the wealth of very real and urgent contextual issues of the province, and coming up with brilliantly conceived ideas. This imposed 'African vision' would be laughed out of their studio.

Africa is a large and multifaceted continent, deserving better treatment than this. It is sad to see formalistic nonsense coming out of a practice with such a rich past history.

Keith Murray, via email

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