Not Just Another Brick in the Wall 

Not just another brick in the wall

Building Towards an Architecture of Explorative Divergence 

By Pieter Mathews  

The University of the Free State Department of Architecture introduced a new practice-based PhD with specialisation in design in 2017; a first for South Africa and the continent. What differentiates this programme from a conventional PhD, is that the candidate must demonstrate findings discovered in their oeuvre with an exhibition as third component. The exhibition is meant to illustrate how the research – in my case the three core competencies as a practical application of explorative divergence (E-D) – can be applied in a novel design outcome. 

Collection of bricks and clay elements representing randomisation Pieter J Mathews 2022 1
Figure 492 Collection of bricks and clay elements representing randomisation (Author 2022)

Whilst walking to work one morning and questioning why I was pursuing my PhD, the infamous lyric written by architecture dropout Roger Waters of Pink Floyd popped into my head: ‘We don’t need no education’. When the song was released in 1979, it was banned in South Africa under the strict censorship laws of the time. My friends and I, however, obtained pirated cassettes and listened to the line ‘We don’t need no thought control’ on loop. While the first few lyrics were of no help, my ‘Aha!’ moment was sparked by the title. This catalytic thought made me take a closer look at the brick: can a brick be more?  

A carved brick indicating the concept of an object building. Sculpture Pieter J Mathews 2022 Photograph Eunese Booyens 2022 1
Figure 489 A carved brick indicating the concept of an object building. Sculpture (Author 2022) Photograph (Booyens 2022)

When one considers the brick as (1) building block, (2) door stop, (3) paper weight, (4) protest weapon, etc., its propositional density becomes quite high. And what if a brick is placed on a pedestal and curated as part of an exhibition? Louis Kahn supposedly remarked, ‘Even a brick wants to be something.’ My thesis topic, explorative divergence, led me to the epiphany: my exhibition would be more than ‘just another brick in the wall’. 

Pieter J Mathews curating bricks for the cover page photo by Eunese Booyens 2022

Clay brick compositions became metaphors illustrating the recurring themes discovered in the oeuvre of Mathews and Associates Architects. These themes were extracted from my three selected core competencies: curation, sculpture, and cinematic architectural choreography. These divergencies show how tacit knowledge has informed our oeuvre and opened a way towards an architecture of explorative divergence.  

The serendipity in this discovery is that I collected bricks on all my travels and even collected sculptures referencing bricks, not to mention that bricks were ubiquitous during my walk, surrounding me on all sides on route to the office. The brick exhibition made perfect sense, as it was adhocist to the core. 

A lamp carved by Piater J Mathews Pieter J Mathews 2022 2

A reverse touchstone 

During our raw-brick carving workshop I created a lamp that encompasses several of the theoretical concepts and divergencies as well as the core competencies explored in this study. The brick lamp was designed to be a functional object and sculpture in one, fulfilling the notions of narrative depth and propositional density. The unfired bricks were supplied by Corobrik. 

Pieter Mathews Photo credit Carla Crafford

Pieter Mathews 

Mathews + Associates Architects 


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