In Conversation with Earthworld


Headed up by André Eksteen and Braam de Villiers, Earthworld believes in design as the pursuit of beauty and meaning. Eager to learn more about their dynamic practice and holistic ethos that guides it, we spoke to André and Braam about their origin story, the epitome of their design practice, and a cool project that takes the idea of an office and makes it a curiously sustainable solution to uplifting communities.

Andre 3
Braam 4

What is the origin story of Earthworld?

After completing our studies at the Department of Architecture, University of Pretoria (UP) in 1994, we both worked for the architecture firm Joubert, Kammeyer and De Villiers. The financial crisis in 1997 led to our being retrenched, and we went our separate ways. Braam received a Fullbright scholarship and graduated with a Master’s degree in bio-climatic design from the University of Arizona in 1998. When he returned to South Africa, he worked on small alteration and addition projects, then moved to John (Johannes) van de Werke’s house in Waterkloof, Pretoria.

André followed, and we were later joined by some of our friends and now fellow creatives, including Gerrit Wassenaar and Faan Nel.

One day, Braam made a diagram in his sketchbook, where he drew a line. On top, he wrote skyworld and below, earthworld. Earthworld sounded like an architecture practice, and so, in 2000, Earthworld was founded.

The start of our manifesto captures our practice philosophy: ‘In the making of meaningful things…’ When we talk about a meaningful thing, it is something that transcends the physical, becoming an icon, not because of beauty but rather because of the contextual relevance to its users and makers. We consider ourselves to be makers, and when we use digital manufacturing we enhance the relevance to our users and open up the value chain to include unskilled labour and SMMEs.

A quote that we strongly identify with comes from Albert Einstein, who said, ‘The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.’

university pretoria 011 1
DJI 0115

If you had to choose one of your projects that best epitomises your design ethos, which would it be?

A project can shift paradigms if we proactively work toward changing systems. The Future Africa Innovation Campus at UP realised many of the normative positions investigated during our studies. However, if we had to choose only one of our projects, we would say that the Dining Hall, also known as ‘the Hub’ on the Future Africa Innovation Campus, is the best example of our ethos.

When we consider the brief of the Future Africa Campus, we looked at precedents and identified that the conventional approach at universities calls for clusters of buildings with some shared facilities central to the residential units. But these clusters still created islands and isolation. We undertook to re-imagine this typology and we designed centralised spaces for interaction. These spaces would facilitate collaboration, cultural interaction, and friendship. With the vast cultural diversity on the South African continent, the idea of sharing thoughts around dinner tables was at the core of the organisation. The landscape design also formed part of the system by re-introducing 56 orphan crops and allowing foraging to explore alternative cuisines and creative interaction around new tastes, textures, and colours. The Hub is a space where the whole campus can congregate, eat, and share ideas.

IMG 5703
20220218 141503

Tell us about your Office-in-a-Box project and how your skills as architects influenced the design concept.

Office-in-a-Box is significant if we consider the importance of making. We won the Department of Trade Industry and Competition (DTIC) Award in Furniture Design for 2022 with Office-in-a-Box. Our skills as architects and specifically how we approach any project contributed to the success, since we first considered the context and developed a narrative from there.

The story starts with a systemic South African problem, where we have a community that is eager to learn new skills, yet lacks the opportunity to engage in the formal building industry. As architects and makers, we design the components, and then we decentralise the manufacturing process, where any group can collaborate to form their own company, setting up a factory or workshop where these components are made. Manufacturers can then determine their own capacity and capabilities, which can be improved upon over time, and any entrepreneur can become a supplier. Office-in-a-Box is a project that can easily be integrated within university studios, offices, or even student residences where space is sometimes limited.

The project, pursued in collaboration with Fourth Revolution, is important as it exemplifies our ethos that sustainability is much more than designing with ‘green technology’; it is environmental resilience, economic demands, and social sustainability, enabling users to become active citizens in shaping their environments.

This article is an extract from our April volume, click here to read the follow volume!

Latest issue

Sign up to our mailing list

You may also like

Subscribe to our mailing list

Join our mailing list and keep up-to-date with our publications and news.