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Inhabiting the Edge

Part 2 Project 1998
Thorsten Deckler
University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg | South Africa
Inhabiting The Edge – an exploration of a 21st century public space, a periphery, its landscape, programmatic complexity and time in our present world.

Childhood experiences of growing up in the Namib Desert, moving to Johannesburg and frequent travels by car through the vast South African landscape, have forged persistent memories of the fleeting experience of natural and urban landscapes, punctuated by isolated settlements. This scheme reveals a subconscious autobiographical premise, which surfaced upon my return to South Africa, after an extended period living in Europe.

The highway fuelling station offered a base to experiment with these obsessions in a poetic manner. As a relatively new type in South Africa, it develops in unison with a national network of highways connecting major destinations over vast distances. Currently conceived as a purely pragmatic necessity, designed, used and thought of with little care, it represents however, unlimited potential as a device accessing the large commuter flows along highways. In the face of increasing competition it is developing into a mini urbanity, offering comfortable urban shopping and eating experiences, often in the context of unacknowledged natural settings.
The scheme is sited on a busy national route by-passing an ambitious regional metropolis. The potential of this route is exploited so that the scheme serves as an appendage to the city and announces its urban presence on a national, even global scale. The universal programme of the fuelling station is combined with specific potential of the site, its unspoilt natural landscape and the condition of a city periphery. Programmatic complexity is created, resulting in a programmed strip over the highway. The city’s airport is not scheduled for international flights, but this new appendage represents a stopover to international commuters. It is a transient place offering universal as well as specific experiences to visitors and locals alike. As a programmatic experiment in the context of commercial and political ambition, the scheme’s elements are nevertheless detailed to rise from and draw attention to their context, through allowing an undercurrent of memory and obsession to surface during the design process.

Thorsten Deckler

The course is run in accordance with the policy of the Department of Architecture. We work within our South African context in order to make our contribution to the understanding of the global condition of mankind in context. We encourage students to let their personal points of interest challenge the condition of life in our land. The South African context reciprocates the challenge with a minute of scrutiny of the students' perception and understanding of the matter in hand. In a process of both action and thought, the students explore their ideas in order to cultivate and nurture (culture) a rich intent.

We explore social behaviour and its relationship with contextual conditions. We explore the idea of making adjustments to place qualities and play with the understanding of what these design shifts would do for the behaviour potential of the place. Architects take elements from their context to make adjustments to that context in terms of the way that their spatio-structural changes contribute to the life of their context. We are interested in all aspects of the exploration and implementation of this creative process.

After all is said about right and left brain; divergent and convergent intelligence; romantic and classic thought, we realise that the key to creative process lies in the way that we EXPLORE and the way that we DECIDE. We have an exploratory intelligence and a decisive intelligence. We use them simultaneously. We do not explore first and then decide. We are decisive in our exploration. Even the final built design is exploratory. It is a decisive experiment. An elegant experiment based on a sensitive academy. An academy that is committed to an expansive care for the nature of what we are dealing with. We explore alternatives that challenge each other. We evolve new forms of space and structure. We use this innovation to challenge out traditions and we use our traditions to check the sense of the innovations. In this way we are able to participate in the evolution of a cultivated future.

It has been very difficult to choose two schemes from a class of very interesting designs.

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