• ArchiDATUM Dates: SAOTA's Greg Truen On Modern Day Silky Contemporary High End Designs

This week, we interview Greg Truen, a Director at SAOTA who has worked extensively through West African and increasingly into East Africa. With a proclivity for ‘ingenious innovations’ and modern day silky contemporary high end designs that resonate well with the architectural landscape, he talks to us about the pursuit of happiness in an architectural atmosphere, the love for design and the ever growing frustrations within a career he so passionately loves. Here is Greg Truen...

1. Who is your role model in Architecture?

Oscar Niemeyer has always been an inspiration.

2. What did you always want to become growing up and how did you come into architecture?

I originally wanted to be an engineer but realized at the last moment that it was wrong for me as I wanted a more creative outlet.

3. Which is your favorite building, both in the world and implemented by SAOTA?

Internationally: Niemeyer’s house and Brasilia Buildings. SAOTA: Cove 6 and First Crescent

4. Where did you have your architectural education?

University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban

5. In your own opinion what is African Architecture and what are the benefits and challenges of practicing in Africa?

I’m not sure there is such a thing as ‘African’ architecture. We’re too diverse for such things to exist. There is good architecture that responds to its context and brief though.

6. What would you say is your role as an architect in the African modern society and in what direction does your firm hope to influence the coming generation of Young Architects?

I think we have a responsibility to push boundaries and to work at the edge of our ability. Too often we accept second rate work. We want to be a world class firm that happens to be African.

7. CNN recently featured you in an article that among others stated your architecture as stylish and affluent. Explain this statement and does the project budget play a part in the style that SAOTA has developed over the years?

We have been lucky to work with clients that have good budgets. I don’t think that this is a prerequisite for good work though.

8. South Africa can be considered to be at the fore-front of Architecture in Africa with strong influence from the Brazilian architecture of Oscar Niemeyer. Why is this and is there authentic South African architecture in your opinion?

I think that there are architectures that are South African but I don’t think there is a South African architecture. We share a climate by responding to climate and context.

9. With that in mind, can Africa develop a language of design that can shape future generations and school of thought within Africa?

We can develop appropriate architectures and an interest in modernity with Brazil so Niemeyer’s work definitely inspired a group of South African architects.

10. Your firm has mainly been involved in design of contemporary residential houses and hospitality architecture. Is this a conscious choice or a market driven approach to your architecture?

We’re certainly known for this but we are now working with retail, office buildings and education.

11. Explain to us the design philosophy for SAOTA and your greatest frustrations working in the built environment industry.

The greatest frustration is the poor state of the construction industry. It is very difficult to build quality.

12. SAOTA has been a key factor in your personal life in that it has designed your personal home? To what extent were you the consultant and the client and what are the lessons for an architect seeking to design their own home?

The lessons that I’ve learnt in my career path have definitely impacted on the houses I’ve lived in. It’s been a useful testing ground for ideas.

13. Antoni Associates. A successful design firm in its own right. Does it augment SAOTA? And if so, to what extent?

Antoni Associates has allowed us some control over what happens in our building and allowed us to influence how people use them. We don’t separate architecture and interiors, they’re part of one thing.

14. Your firm\'s character of projects border mostly on contemporary style of architecture. Why this line and what influences if any do you draw from traditional African architecture in a modern Africa?

We believe that contemporary architecture is by far the most appropriate way to respond to the 21st century. We always look for inspiration in the places that we’re working. This might be an approach to shelter, materials, texture, landscapes or pattern. In this way the buildings take on a local identity.

15. Which things outside the field of architecture inform your work?

Art, technology and design general. You need to always be looking and learning.  

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