In celebration of SCAPE Magazine’s seven-year anniversary this month, we are delighted to share an exclusive interview with the directors of the renowned Vivid Architects. Join us as we observe the timeless, elegant, and well-proportioned work of this dynamic and experimental firm.
Q: In most cases, firms have an idea, discovery of synergistic philosophy, or a like-minded approach to architecture that ultimately sparks a partnership between founders. Talk us through your beginnings: from your inception and the catalysts that shaped the firm, all the way up until where you are today.
Paolo Viotti: As founding members of Vivid Architects, Trevor Versfeld, Imraan Ho-Yee, and myself, all met and worked together as partners at LKA in the 90s. Arriving as graduates fresh out of UCT, we were thrown into the deep end to experience the challenging realities of commercial architecture. This served as an extremely valuable apprenticeship and ‘postgraduate degree’ that taught us everything we didn’t learn at architectural school. It was ultimately this friendship and solid working relationship that brought us together as like-minded architects with different skillsets to start our own architectural practice in 1998.
While we wanted to build on our large-scale development experience, we first had to cut our teeth on smaller private, residential projects before we could break back into the commercial market. That opportunity came in the form of a very small project for a well-known property developer in Cape Town, Rabie Property Group. We made a pledge that, regardless of the size of the project, we were going to make it a memorable and successful development for our client with the very best design and documentation, within budget, and on time. It was this small ‘seed’ that developed over the past 20 years to become the award-winning practice were are today.
Vivid Architects is committed to best design and architecture within the realm of brief and budget. This is only achieved when all aspects of the development process are strictly managed and delivered. Our philosophy of this process has not changed since our inception, and we still uphold the importance and value of a professional team working together towards that common goal. It is a holistic process that must involve all role players in a development from the onset of a project.
Q: Retail, commercial, mixed-use, hospitality, luxury residential, and urban landscapes – your impressive portfolio certainly shows no lack of diversity when it comes to the variety of your projects in all sectors across the country. Tell us, which of these categories most excites you? Can you name a few projects that are proud and prime examples of your firm’s dynamic capabilities?
Trevor Versfeld: All projects are exciting in their own way, but if I have to choose, it would be retail and mixed-use projects. They are typically substantial, multi-faceted projects of large scale with complex briefs. By virtue of their scale, they need to make positive contributions to and enhance the urban landscape. These projects are also often accessible to the general public after completion, which adds to the satisfaction and the pressure of delivering successful builds. Of course, these projects also need to be designed, documented, and constructed within rigid timelines and budgets.
A few noteworthy projects in these categories, include Mall of the South 65 000 m² in Johannesburg, Table Bay Mall 65 000 m² in Cape Town, Century City Urban Square (Conference Centre, Hotel, Commercial Office, Retail, and Residential) and Bridgewater One (Hotel, Commercial Office, and Residential) in Century City, Cape Town.
Q: How would you describe your firm’s unique design aesthetic? Would you say it is purely based on a client’s vision and brief, making each build rather unique? Or is there an underlying signature style of design that unifies and sets apart your work? Moreover, Vivid Architects is known for being committed to a sustainable built environment, frequently encouraging clients to consider achieving a minimum four-star or best practice GBCSA rating for their buildings. How does your pledge to sustainable development influence your designs?
Imraan Ho-Yee: I would not say we have a signature style, but we do always try to push the envelope of the design within the client’s expectations, brief, and budget. We pride ourselves in being able to produce beautiful, well-designed projects that are also economically viable in addition to being aesthetically pleasing.
We create timeless buildings, exploring contemporary architecture that is buildable, fresh, and textured. Our designs are people-focussed, keeping the end-user’s experience at the fore. The design is not about us as a firm, but rather a collaboration with the client, professional team, and building economics that results in a unique design solution.
Sustainable design is always on our agenda and only limited by the client’s budget. Aiming for a 4-Star Green Star is a given, and easily achieved with common-sense design and an awareness of context, environment, and orientation. Striving for 5 and 6-Star Green Star ratings is always on our wish list and is determined by a client’s willingness to include this goal into the project’s capital expenditure.
Q: Can you share more about the most recent project your team completed? What was the process behind your design and development approach?
Charles Louw: We recently completed Bridgewater in Cape Town for Rabie Property Group. The project comprises a complex mixed-use array of five buildings, including three office buildings, 122 apartments, and an 80-bed hotel. Our approach was to design buildings with separate identities within one development, interconnected with positive and well-designed urban spaces.
We aimed to produce architecture that has a contemporary yet timeless appeal, with spaces that hold an inviting sense of place that people will want to inhabit. Beautiful buildings and comfortable spaces add value for our clients, aiding their goal of selling or letting the commercial space. Bridgewater has fast become a local success by capturing the Century City apartment rental market, and all the smaller commercial office spaces are fully let.
Q: Your firm is constantly researching and reviewing the latest trends in the digital technology and software, innovative building materials, and design concepts space. Are there any new ideas you have been eager to explore and experiment with lately?
Nic Cloete: We are constantly looking at new software or devices that will enable us to work more efficiently, both in the office or on-site. While we have explored and tested VR options, to present, clients always prefer a more traditional method of presenting in two dimensions. Software like Morpholio Trace allows us to quickly sketch or overlay an idea, whether at design stage or a site markup, to show the client or contractor our design there and then, which is always appreciated.
Revit also allows us to design in 3D and quickly export to other software packages for presentational material. We are constantly looking at these kinds of tools to make Vivid Architects more efficient and able to deliver a better product to our client that they can understand from the onset.
The same applies to the palette of building materials that we consider using in our developments. We try to use ‘systems’ that are machine fabricated off site and can quickly and more accurately be constructed on-site. Time-in-construction is a massive constraint for both clients and consultants, so we are continually looking at ways in which we can design and build quicker, yet not detract from the quality and beauty of the design.
Q: How would you define the key components that form the basis of a truly successful commercial build?
Trevor Versfeld: A truly successful commercial project is very simply dependent on a strong and talented team, which starts with an astute developer, a well synchronised and nimble professional team, together with a good building contractor.
Q: Looking to the international realm of architecture for inspiration, name one building that has sparked your imagination and ideas. Take us through the reasons behind your admiration!
Charles Louw: We are lucky to live in a time of constant and fresh inspirational bombardment. There are so many buildings and interventions worth mentioning, and it has become almost cliché to say that work by Bjarke Ingels Group is an inspiration. However, projects such as the Aarhus Harbor Bath, and the more famous Copenhill Energy Plant in Denmark, show that architecture can be so much more than the making of beautiful buildings. It reminds us that, where possible, we need to look beyond the scope of the immediate development brief and attempt, to provide a greater urban contribution. The Aarhus Harbor Bath especially teaches us the power of public facilities for the South African context, and what is possible when the local governments are willing.
Q: Which architecture, landscape, or development firms in South Africa would you like to collaborate with, and why? Likewise, are there any potential clients you have your eyes fixed on to partner with on future projects? Lastly, tell us a bit more about what we can expect to see from your firm and your goals in the coming years…
Paolo Viotti: Vivid architects has and always will be open to working and collaborating with fellow architects and other design professionals. We are currently working in association on three large-scale projects both locally and abroad. We think these collaborations will become more common as architectural firms generally scale down to be more efficient and, hopefully, profitable businesses while navigating the uncertainty of economies and new development opportunities.
We are continuously looking at and engaging with new clients to grow our business. Large-scale, big-budget developments are likely to be fewer in the future; therefore, practices like Vivid Architects need to look at increasing their client base to ensure growth and a sustainable business model doing more smaller projects simultaneously and efficiently.
We would like to grow our business and ‘export’ our design and documentation skills to developers of architectural practices overseas. For many years, we have had a very successful relationship with a large-scale practice in the UK doing construction and detail-drawing documentation packages. As such, we would ultimately like to expand that partnership into the design stages as well.
As founding members of Vivid Architects, we are committed to a process of succession to ensure a seamless continuity of the practice. We have just appointed two new younger directors, Nic Cloete and Charles Louw, who will be an integral part of the practice in the future of Vivid Architects.