Richard Stretton is an impassioned award-winning architect who designed the Moyo uShaka Pier at Addington Beach. He rallies against buildings without utility and despises aggrandizement and monuments to ego. KZN INVEST spoke to him.
Q: What is your professional credo?
A: I try to understand the real needs of the project – of the client, the context (environmental, social and economic), and the end-user (including the maintenance crew). A building should interact positively with its environment, the people who visit or pass by. Planning should be logical, designed for the positive experience of the visitor. Materials are valuable, and careful planning saves money. Make it as simple as possible. Build local economy and support SMMEs. Land is our most valuable asset, our developments must enhance its value economically, socially and environmentally.
Q: How can we make design more relevant in Durban?
A: Ask designers need to consider the things that make their buildings or structures kinder, friendlier, more useful and appropriate. Learn to identify the real needs of buildings and their sites, not just what’s trending today. Buildings transcend trends and cities evolve with technology and time. What future are we shaping? Are we making streets and public spaces around our buildings that provide the experience of the great cities of the world? Great cities have supported their citizens for over a thousand years. We love to visit these cities. What would that feeling be in Durban?
Looking forward requires that we critically reflect on what we have built in the last 20 years. Why in an area like the uMhlanga Ridge, do cars dominate the environment while pedestrians walk on sand paths cut through the landscape, in mud when it rains, from taxi stops to office buildings and beyond? The pavements provided are stark and uninhabited.
Stop viewing the world from your comfort zone and start seeing the actual mechanics of your city and what is required. Design and develop from there. The economy will improve exponentially through unexpected opportunities. In some cases billions have been wasted and the biggest property developers have failed.
Q: In your opinion, what is the future of better design in Durban?
A: Firstly, a change in the attitude of leadership in the city. Not only political, but captains of industry, financiers and developers must be more responsible to all residents of the city as well as the preservation of our environment. We must recognise the value and humanity of every person, and balance the pressure of urbanity with the incredible natural environment we have here. This can only be driven by responsible people looking for relevant long-term solutions. Until that time, designers are going to produce what the directors of our economy are asking of them.
Great cities have complex multi-functional neighbourhoods, mixed-use buildings and a variety of public spaces. Buildings of similar proportion line the streets and there is a fine grain of activity, a variety of experiences at street level that is formed by the buildings. Buildings work together to form a city, its public environment, spatial sequences and character. Economic opportunity and social justice are formed by the urban fabric – and there are researched rules that support this, which is universal, not a Eurocentric concept. We can get there incrementally – we just need strong leadership.
Q: What should a vision for Durban look like?
A: People investing here are making decisions that have a major impact on the future public space network of the city and its ecology. Cities must be built for the long-term support of all their inhabitants, rather than short-term profit projects that are not valid in the long-term.
It’s not hard to formulate a vision to support that future. Consider these points: New infrastructure public spaces need to positively affect people in need. Modern stand-alone buildings in an exclusive neighbourhood have little use if the economy changes. There is little flexibility if they serve only a single purpose – these serve spreadsheets with a limited timeframe.
Lastly, single block mega-developments have not built great cities. We should concentrate on smaller buildings with high impact, those that activate the streets around them. Instead of building grand monuments, let’s focus on serving people where there is already economic activity, to support and grow local precincts and establish an interconnected network of strong neighbourhoods. Great cities are a collection of viable villages.