One on One: with Daffonchio Architects


With an endless list of unique and contemporary builds that include the award-winning 78 Corlett Drive and iconic new build, The Bank – our team at SCAPE was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with the renowned firm Daffonchio Architects for an exclusive and behind the scenes interview with the design minds behind some of SA’s most exciting builds.

Q: When was Daffonchio Architects established, and what brought this dream team together? 

Enrico Daffonchio: We were established in the late 1990’s and I my first project was Cradle Restaurant on the Cradle game farm in Kromdraai. From there I had the incredible opportunity to design the Wallpaper* magazine award winning “Outpost Lodge”, which is situated in a UNESCO world heritage site and we just snowballed from there. 

Our team is a strong group of individuals who strive for excellence in what they want to achieve, all are top performers academically, and are very passionate about design. 

Q: Residential, Hospitality, Urban, Commercial – you do it all. Which sector most excites your team, and how would describe the design aesthetic we can see portrayed across all of your projects?

Robert Dos Santos: 

We love every project we have the opportunity to get involved in. We get especially excited when given the opportunity to design urban and mixed-use developments, as these sectors tend to have the biggest opportunity to effect large scale positive change to the local context. Our typical design aesthetic is rooted in minimalism, simplicity and sensitive contextual responses that will maximise the project potential. Each project always requires a unique design response, but certain constants will always apply such as elements of sustainability and elegance.

Q: Which is the biggest build your team has ever been involved in, and how did you go about approaching this? 

Enrico Daffonchio: The biggest build we’ve worked on would be the Maboneng Precincts. We designed 34 buildings, which is the biggest urban regeneration project in the Southern hemisphere, comprising some new builds but mostly conversions and repurposing of old industrial buildings in the east of Johannesburg. These are buildings that ranged from the late 19th century to the 1970’s, late 20th century which is the ambit of historical buildings.

Q: What are the key elements that define your team and why would a client approach you over another architectural firm?

Enrico Daffonchio: We’ve intentionally kept the firm quite small, essentially boutique, so that we can give personal attention to clients; from myself as well as senior members of staff. We believe that one size doesn’t fit all, and each project requires its own personalised approach. 

Q:  What are some design trends for the trade you see making their way into 2022?

Frances Rogers: The use of materials in richer, warmer colours, and with more movement or pattern, such as terracotta, terrazzo and marble or engineered stones for counter tops and flooring as well as wall treatments.

Q: What are some exciting build materials and concepts that you’re keen to explore this year?

 Robert Dos Santos: We love exploring the latest tech and materials and try our utmost to incorporate them in new projects. We are very interested in exploring project presentations utilising cutting edge parametric design, 3D printing and Virtual Reality. We may potentially explore some interesting concepts in the Metaverse in the near future.

Q: We know you are Italian-born, and SA-based, with your own HQ in Johannesburg… But where else have you worked internationally and in an African context? 

Enrico Daffonchio: We have worked in Africa in the Seychelles, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and are currently busy in Ghana so abroad we’re predominantly busy in sub-Saharan Africa. We have also made proposals for projects in Brazil, Italy, and London.

Q: With a movement towards mixed-use being very prominent for developers for tenanting buildings… How would your team approach the design process for a mixed-use space? What are key elements and considerations in your opinion? 

Robert Dos Santos: The key to a successful mixed use environment is harmonisation and collaboration. Each tenant as a singular entity is further heightened through integration, leading to an environment where the total is much better than the sum of its parts. This requires careful consideration of each tenant’s needs and an understanding of how they work, how people circulate and how various ‘designed’ spaces can make that experience much better. Key elements to a successful mixed use building will always be ‘anchor’ spaces such as courtyards, gardens, coffee shops etc. – spaces where all the different tenants can mix and interact, instead of feeling confined to their respective areas.

Q: If you could pick any country, or city to design and execute a building in, where would it be and why? Are there any collaborations your team would love to be involved in?

Enrico Daffonchio: I’d love to do something in China and Saudi Arabia, simply for the boldness of what they are doing at the moment, and I’d love to collaborate with James Turrell, in an artistic x architectural collaboration 

Robert Dos Santos: If I had the opportunity, I would love to collaborate with a firm or company that is completely out of our norm, from a country that is very different from our own. Somewhere such as Japan or Norway. The opportunity to learn in a completely different environment would be outstanding and seeing things from a completely new perspective may unlock wonderful insights and ideas for our own country. If I had to design for a celeb or brand, I would think designing for Elon Musk/Tesla would be quite a fun experience!

Q: What are some of your teams most rewarding projects to date, and why?

Frances Rogers: Our conversions and overhauls of existing “dead” buildings and precincts into new, dynamic destinations and icons, such as the Bank in Rosebank. We love inventing, witnessing the transformation and seeing end-users enjoying the final result. 

JuaneVenter TheBank58

Q: When not in office, where might we find your team?

Frances Rogers: Enjoying the natural beauty, culture and delicious food that our cosmopolitan cities have to offer! 

Q: A quote you live by?

Enrico Daffonchio: At least professionally we follow the adage; “Whatever you do, do it the best you can.” It is a quote that I heard from Gianni Agnelli in the 1980’s and it has stuck with me until now.

Q What’s next for Daffonchio Architects?

Enrico Daffonchio: We are seeing a strong growth in the next 3 – 5 years, potentially with the establishment of a second office in the winelands in the Cape to support the existing office in Cape Town and continuing to push the boundaries of excellence both nationally and internationally. We also have an intentional push to create a base in Saudi Arabia as mentioned earlier.

Featured here:

Daffonchio Architects 

Enrico Daffonchio, Founder and Architect

Robert Dos Santos, Candidate Architect

Frances Rogers

IG :  @daffonchio_architects

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