As founder of the Africa Architecture Awards, Saint-Gobain Construction Products has committed to creating a platform that celebrates innovation and design excellence in African Architecture.
Evan Lockhart-Barker, Managing Director: Saint-Gobain Weber South Africa, comments, “In 2016, following the inaugural Social Gain Awards, Saint-Gobain recognised a major opportunity to engage and work with the architectural community in Africa in recognising new projects that take into consideration the more intangible social and environmental aspects of architecture through unique and innovative solutions. Innovation is part of our DNA – as an indication, one in four Saint-Gobain products sold today did not exist five years ago.
“We also wanted to acknowledge our company’s 350th anniversary. As we are aiming to expand our market in Africa significantly over the coming years, we felt that this initiative would align well with our global strategy. But rather than just selling products, we saw an opportunity to take a much more progressive role in understanding challenges in the architectural space and in exploring dialogues that could emerge through the African profession. We see our role as helping to grow an industry that will pay dividends to Saint-Gobain through insights into new products, processes and solutions.”
In discussions with the winners of the Social Gain Awards 2015 and the Steering Panel for 2017 chaired by Professor Lesley Lokko, the Saint-Gobain team developed a strategy for a globally relevant architectural awards programme with a particular focus on digital.
The intention with the online platform is to provide a channel for architects to voice their thoughts and interact with one another. The primary entry mechanism for the Awards is film. As an engaging and easily accessible medium for the creation of dialogue, together with available technologies extending to mobile devices and social media, film becomes a highly democratic form of market engagement.
As someone who sees the commercial and marketing potential of the programme, Lockhart-Barker recognises that the process will need to be shaped as it grows. “We have to be quite flexible in working with the right people who will guide this process. As Saint-Gobain, we have planted a seed, and we hope that the profession will put its collective energy into helping it grow, because this really is an industry-changing opportunity.
“In listening to the conversations of the Steering Panel 2017 and how they are working to change the industry, we anticipate that the Awards will offer an important platform for amplifying these discussions as the programme evolves into something more structured.”
Lockhart-Barker believes that the digital platform will enable the Awards organisers to engage with the profession on a much larger scale, and that it will facilitate an important marketing opportunity for young architects and emerging practices. “Every project has enormous narrative behind it, with a lot of content and dialogue that has been generated throughout the design process around why a particular building evolved as it did, as well as its response to and influence on its context.
“This entry process offers a key opportunity to share this experience – not only with the Awards organisers and jury, but also with the wider architectural community, the public, the media, and prospective new clients.”
The digital entry process has the added benefit of being highly accessible to all entrants, and does not necessarily require a massive injection of resources in order to put together an appealing entry with winning potential. “An entry process through the medium of film is far more democratic than the traditional Awards submission, which requires investment in high quality printing and model making.
“Our intention is to provide an equal playing field for both small and large practices. There are already a number of small practices in Johannesburg who are marketing themselves through the simple means of a few video clips and photos posted on social media. For example, Thomas Chapman, who won the Social Gain Awards 2015 and who also sits on the Steering Panel 2017, has changed his business through marketing his achievements.
“In Africa, a lot of professionals just put their heads down and work. But they need to take a step back and actively market themselves. So this platform, which can deliver big practice ideas, presents a clear opportunity around sharing best practices in marketing with highly creative people who will have the opportunity to submit films that tell the story of their work. Digital communication is democratic and we need to embrace it is the way of the future.”
Another benefit of a digital entry process is the learning opportunity presented for emerging practices and students through the use of film as a valuable research and information resource to record the processes, challenges and outcomes of projects. By providing an online library of work displayed through the Awards process, the platform therefore becomes a repository of contemporary work undertaken in Africa.
“The young talent coming out of school now is not afraid of digital, and operates easily in the realm of design and film. So let’s discover the talent that’s here in Africa that just needs the right platform to accelerate its impact. Let’s uncover the interesting things that are not the Sandton skyline and, in that way, highlight promising talent. Africa is a rich tapestry of culture, language and identity unlike any other continent. And the African profession is very innovative and should be seen to be much more active on a global level.”
Lockhart-Barker’s advice to entrants is, “Don’t be afraid! A lot of people are worried that their work is not good or relevant enough. But we want to encourage a wide variety of projects to be submitted. This is a learning process for all of us. In our conversations with previous entrants, they said that they have taken lessons from the work they did for the Awards 2015 and improved tenfold in their future work – they have learnt from the process and developed their skills to amplify their business offerings.
“We want to see young talent, innovation and entrepreneurship – the same values we are trying to grow in our own employees. So don’t be afraid to share and to think differently about your own work.”
Online entries for the Africa Architecture Awards 2017 open in January 2017, and more information on creating and submitting films is available through the Awards website.