Learnt in Translation

14 September - 30 September 2011
Main, Mezzanine, Multi-media Gallery

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‘We are in the midst of the great and terrible results of globalization. The importance of place is often lost .... (Peter Rich) reminds us that the world is full of richness that we do not know. He teaches us to think in ways that are unfamiliar.' -Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Architects.

 

Peter Rich is dedicated to the creation of contemporary African architecture. He creates places and spaces that are meaningful, moving and uplifting for all who occupy them. He has been a student, practitioner and teacher of architecture for the past four-and-a-half decades, and during this time he has carried out extensive first-hand research into African vernacular architecture. He has been a pioneer of an architecture that translates the lessons learnt from this research into practice, and as a result is truly African in its essence.

Peter has traveled extensively, and his travel sketches are a mesmerisingly beautiful account of how these journeys have shaped the way he perceives and understands the world.

Peter has a long history of working with disadvantaged communities in Africa, and in the process helps to give them a voice by empowering them and providing training and employment that has had a tangible positive effect long outlasting the construction period. As a result, his buildings are truly owned by their users.

This exhibition traces the development of Peter's work to date. It showcases drawings, models and photographs of completed projects, as well as design development sketches, enabling visitors to gain an understanding of the thinking underpinning the projects. Displayed alongside the architectural works are the influences that have shaped Peter and his architecture: his beautiful travel sketches from around the world, his extensive research into space-making in Ndebele architecture and examples of African art.

‘Peter's work is intimately tied to Africa and the African context. He has spent years researching, drawing and analyzing vernacular African architecture. He absorbs these lessons and applies them to his own designs, creating buildings that are at once innovative and traditional.'
John Ochsendorf, MIT


Peter's work has won a host of national and international awards. Most recently the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre was awarded the World Building of the Year Award 2009, at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona and the David Alsop Sustainability Award, both in 2009. Peter Rich was elected an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 2010.

Two main themes of Peter's work are reflected in the layout of the exhibition itself: ‘the house is not a home, unless it is a village' and the use of diagonal extensions. The exhibition is conceived as a series of ‘courtyards', defined by a number of ‘boxes', which are created by suspending fabric banners from a ceiling-mounted grid of dowel sticks, with canvas drapes forming their ‘roofs'. In plan, the ‘boxes' are arranged in a tartan grid, creating diagonal visual connections between the courtyards. Each courtyard deals with a project or with a group of projects that are linked by a common theme.

The eight courtyards have the following themes:
1. Early works and influences, including the architecture of the Southern Ndebele.
2. Westridge House, Elim Shopping Cente, Tembisa Sports Centre and Clinic
3. Houses
4. Community Projects (Places of Reconciliation)
5. Alexandra Interpretation Centre
6. Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre
7. Works in Rwanda
8. Works in Ethiopia and current African work

Line drawings are printed onto the courtyard-facing sides of the fabric banners. Photographs are mounted onto hexacomb cardboard hung on the walls. Peter's beautiful hand drawings are the main attraction of the exhibition. The clear division between line drawings and colour images brings out the beauty of the hand drawings and increases their visual impact.

The ‘boxes' act as areas of repose and ‘places of safekeeping' for valuable originals. Some contain original drawings: framed single sheet drawings and open sketchbooks in display cases. Others contain working models made of cardboard.

 

This exhibition has been made possible by the generous sponsorship of the KwaZulu-Natal Institute for Architecture.