Meet the 1.618 judges for 2021: Henk Marais

Henk Marais is the co-founder and Director at Connect Architects, based in Cape Town, and is joining the PG Bison 1.618 Education Initiative judging panel for the second year in 2021. He is also the designer of this year’s brief – Towards a World Connected. Henk has more than two decades of experience as an architect and volunteered to design the brief as a way of broadening his own thinking. We caught up with him to hear what he’s been up to since the 2020 edition of the competition.

As the man behind this brief, please tell us a bit about the process of compiling it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the competition process last year. It invigorated me and I enjoyed seeing what the students did with the brief, so I volunteered to help create this year’s brief. Then, it ended up that the winner was from Cape Town, which meant that this year’s site would be based in Cape Town. I’ve been practicing in Cape Town for 20 years, so that made it much easier to design a brief as I’m familiar with the city.

To start the process, I went back to my colleagues at my firm and we worked through previous 1.618 briefs together. We got input from other firms and came up with a list of potential “projects”. We shortlisted three ideas, which we discussed with the PG Bison team, and the one that emerged as the strongest contender was the Strand Street Quarry.

My firm recently completed a mixed-use project just a block away from this site, 117 on Strand, so I know the area well. When we were dealing with City of Cape Town for this development, we’d spoken about the history and context of the area and the City’s vision to use the quarry as a hub to link tourism sites, so it’s very much a “real world” brief. It’s an ideas generator, not a fantasy – the designs that the students come up with are potential solutions for how the City might use this site, as it cannot be commercially developed.

What are the aspects of the brief you think entrants will find most challenging?

The site needs to be considered from a physical and cultural contextual perspective and the design solutions must be grounded in reality. But beyond that, there aren’t a lot of design constraints and that can sometimes be intimidating.

What are you most excited about in the brief, and what are you hoping to see in students’ entries?

I’m excited to see how students engage with the site as a gateway into the CBD and how it can connect certain heritage landmarks in the city. Projects must be grounded in reality – not a wishy-washy design. They must understand the location as a cultural hotspot that connects the BoKaap and the Waterfront and responds to the site’s sensitive historical context. Entries must take scale into account. The development must not overpower the site, but must be powerful enough to become a landmark. It’s a complex brief.

As an architect, I’m excited to see a range of solutions for the site. Obviously, having designed the brief, I have a rough idea of what I would probably design if it were me, but it’s a privilege to see a range of other solutions and other people’s perspectives on how to meet the brief.

That’s not something we normally get as professionals. I’m also excited to see what the interior design students come up with as this brief is more architectural than the previous competitions. Last year’s winner was an interior design student, and yet his entry had the best architectural and interior design solution. So I’m excited to see what comes through this year.

What have you been up to since last year’s competition?

It’s been an interesting year. Our 117 on Strand development has won the SAPOA Property Development Award for Innovative Excellence in the Mixed-Use Buildings category for 2020, so that was good news. Other than architecture, wine is my second passion, and so I’m excited to be working on projects at Vergenoegd Wine Estate in Stellenbosch and on building a wine cellar in the Swartland region, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. We’re also busy with renovation projects in Clifton and Llandudno.

COVID-19 has meant we’ve mainly been working from home and it’s definitely changed the landscape of work for everyone. I’d say our efficiency is higher than ever. With less time spent travelling, we’ve also been able to spend more time with family and reflecting on our business and where we want to take it.

What do you think is the secret to a successful career in architecture?

Commitment connected with passion. Creative thinking combined with problem-solving is also important, and personally, I value my connection with clients. It’s one of the main reasons I became an architect and it’s the thing I’m most proud of in my career – the connections I’ve created, and that my clients are happy clients.

To keep up with the latest projects and news from Henk and Connect Architects, visit the website or connect with them on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook.