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Part 2 Dissertation 2003
Christiaan Van Niekerk
University of Pretoria | South Africa
This dissertation involves a retrograde exploratory approach in search of an unattainable and incomprehensible typology and a suitable contextual response within the constraints of built-form. The processes are revealed in the exploration and documented in a diary, extracts of which are included in the thesis book. The implied experimental resolution relies on a number of extraneous theoretical constructs, which make reference to 20th century art-music and a specific application of literary philosophy. These analogies are dominated by a continued attempt at intertwining and non-confluent or incidental systems. Physically manifest architecture was at first put aside enabling an exploration of spatially-determined ‘elements’: sound, perception of movement and threshold.

An intrigue is maintained as to the accessibility of various parts of the resultant building and the incongruency of its incidental programme or inconsistent use-value within the same building. The building, which acts as a model for the exploration, reveals an inability for precise programmatic comprehension and programmatic hierarchy and becomes a function of certain activity ‘intensity’ levels. Reference is made here to the varying psychological phases between consciousness and sub-consciousness.

Meaning and presence are dispensed with in favour of a generic process adopted in the design and continued in the building’s process of use, resulting in a closer hermeneutic understanding of the building’s ‘identity’, through its application within a certain context. This creates a clearer perception of the ambiguity of the site as an existing ‘artefact’ which retains its identity and lends itself to the formation of a third phenomenon of site and building; the building as an architectural medium allows for the integration of events occurring within and extraneous to the site, whilst all relationships, though ever-present, are not always perceived or comprehended.

The intervention involves the incidence and non-confluence of programme of a public, and conversely, private nature and the integration of external cyclical forces involving movement such as wind, water, sound and light and the affectational relationship created between these and the user on a phenomenological level. The transformation on a physical level enriched the process and the material resolution enforced the concept of the improbability of the typology, the exploration attempting to provide new and differing approaches to the treatment of architecture.

Christiaan Van Niekerk

Christiaan van Niekerk’s dissertation succeeded in challenging the concerns of the School (see School Statement) by setting up his own and developing them in a highly creative manner to determine a programme in the context of site and design. The notion of boundary and threshold is investigated – between city and zoological garden, road and greenbelt, noise and silence and users of the building(s) itself. The indeterminacy of the crossover is exploited deliberately so that the behaviour of people may also be observed.

The development of the generic theoretical approach was meticulously documented – first in a diary, afterwards revised in the dissertation, mirroring the layering of research, which was not linear, but rather cyclical, which time and again refers to the inception of idea, all the while inferring various influences. The entire work includes the design of a building within the context of the site chosen for analysis and the theory presented in the paper.

All the features of the site are challenged – the noisy road, the open storm-water channel, the harshly stepped boundary between city and zoo and are compounded in a building forming crossing, place and edge.

The building itself is investigated in as much detail. From the expansion breaks echoing the geological fractures in the hill to the choice and handling of material and construction methods, that will assist in recording the aging and eventual decay of the structure. The dissertation indicates an intimate involvement with architecture and the significance thereof – for the architect (within the tenets of theory) and the user. The end result is socially responsible, responsive and justified whilst being surprising, unpredictable, and at the same time convincing.

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