Sustainability is about improving design, says Philippa Tumubweinee, an adjudicator of the 2014 AfriSam-SAIA Awards for Sustainable Architecture

Call her an old hand, a design expert or a shoe fetishist, Philippa Tumubweinee does not hold back when quizzed. In  a recent interview with 4TOMORROW, the senior lecturer at the University of the Free State’s Department of Architecture unpacked sustainability issues with her usual flair.

Apart from a decade of teaching under the belt, she is also co-founder and director of Izuba Inafrica Architects, a creative enterprise for African-inspired design, technical and energy efficient solutions.

We sit sipping a delicious cappuccino  while asking her a few questions, and being the lover of shoes that she is, admiring her fine pair of black stilettos.

Can you describe in your own words what sustainability means to you?

Sustainability, refers specially to improvement within design, and specifically architectural design. Design must demonstrate the ability to continually improve towards a holistic and healthy integration between  human activities and economic and  natural systems. It is a continuous attempt to sustain the health of the planet’s organisms and systems over time.

What trends did you notice in the 2014 Awards for Sustainable Architecture?

For me the standout trends this year are embodied in these buildings:
1. Prefabricated Architecture – by VUKUZAKHE Development project
2. Archi-Materials – Reuse of recycled construction materials
3. Moments and Experience in Space: exercises in marking the landscape – Monaghan Farm
4. Pop Up’s: temporary contemporary architecture – SEED Library
5. Greening of the Urban Landscape – Alexander Forbes Building

What was your favourite project, key issues tackled and why?

As a judge, I am not supposed to have a favourite project. That said, the interesting thing about the 2014 entries was an increased amount of research across disciplines, both formal and informal, that practitioners within practice (that is architectural practice) are undertaking in their attempt to address the issues of sustainability, energy efficiency, flexibility of space and place. This is an encouraging aspect that promises a growing awareness and consciousness towards building a sustainable future.

How has this influenced your design processes since?

The lesson has been in learning that, the E2 House itself is not what is considered valuable: rather the experience, association and perception of the E2 House becomes the base for a deeper dialogue, inclination and discussion. The experience of the E2 House becomes appealing when there is a certain quality to the interaction between it and the audience. The E2 House thus  presents itself as an artefact being presented as advertisement; together it presents the  possibility of what could be.

What can South Africans learn from sustainability?

Sustainability within the built environment is not an option any longer, but a necessity. The recognition and acknowledgement of place-based, context-specific design is something that needs to become part and parcel of every built project within the current socio-economic and political climate. This requires setting the stage for a meaningful engagement of key stakeholders, place and natural systems to bring through a level of consciousness that allows for genuine empowerment across and within communities, and a better understanding across the barriers that divide the industry.

What (building/sustainable) issues do you foresee South Africa tackling in the next five years?

In a nutshell the efficient use, reuse and recycling of the existing built environment in an effort to address the burgeoning needs of urbanity.

If shoes are for fashion, sustainability is for ..?

Life…but I will choose shoes, any time!