Exploring paradigm shift in architecture

Former NMU student is Corobrik student of year winner

Riaan Huiskens’ winning thesis is called ‘The design of a 3D printing facility in Central, Port Elizabeth’
Riaan Huiskens’ winning thesis is called ‘The design of a 3D printing facility in Central, Port Elizabeth’
Image: Supplied

A former Nelson Mandela University student’s approach of incorporating the past and present has seen him contribute to shaping the future of the architectural sector and scoop the title of the 32nd Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Award earlier in May.

Riaan Huiskens, 25, accompanied seven regional finalists to the awards hosted at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton, where his thesis entitled “The design of a 3D printing facility in Central, Port Elizabeth”, claimed top honours.

Huiskens’ thesis explores how architecture is moving towards a paradigm shift, with the development and incorporation of digital fabrication technology.

This is extended into the discussion of recycling existing infrastructure and ties together both the heritage and ecological discourse.

It also recognises the significance of historical urban elements and the finite quality of heritage resources within the city.

“A historical building used as a host for the design of a 3D printing facility invites a dialogue between the architecture of the old and the expression of the new,” Huiskens, who completed his masters in 2018, said.

“The Premier Mill Building is identified as a historical urban artefact and the programme complements the historical background of the building, which was a granary.

“The primary architectural exploration focuses on the possibilities offered by 3D printing in the making and expression of architecture.”

He said the nature of the facility organised function before design, meaning the initial architecture lay in the systematic operations of the facility as a place of digital fabrication.

“Therefore, it focuses on successfully incorporating existing infrastructure as functioning components to the system.

“Secondly, the building is a sign of its function, a visual opportunity for a new architecture to reflect the nature of the facility,” he said.

His understanding of the material and incorporation of current and past elements to shape the future of architecture was what saw him walk away with the title and R70,000 cash prize, according to Corobrik CEO Dirk Meyer.

Meyer said architects of the future would be the pathfinders who used the sophisticated technologies of the future to tackle the challenges of today, while addressing both the learnings and the mistakes of the past.

NMU department of architecture head Andrew Palframanat said Huiskens’ thesis addressed a very relevant topic as the world headed into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“While increasingly mechanised and technologically advanced, the building process has essentially not changed for millennia.

“Riaan’s thesis creatively explores the potential for a fundamentally new way of making buildings, implementing cyber-physical systems that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres,” Palframan said.

“The project lends insight not only into the systems and materials involved in this new way of making but comments on how these might be implemented in the preservation of our built heritage.”

Meyer said 2019’s judges – Lauren Haiden from Paton Taylor architects in Durban, Rob Gillard from Intsika Architects in East London, and Luyanda Mphahlwa, president of the South African Institute of Architects and director of Design Space Africa – had a difficult task of selecting a winner.

Meyer also noted that Corobrik, too, believed in the fusion of past and present.