Pushing African architecture in a new direction is Thomas Chapman’s goal.
Chapman has master’s degrees in both architecture and urban design and couples that with his research into oral history and civic engagement to create designs that are inspired by and encourage community participation.
He’s the founder and principal of architecture company Local Studio, formed in 2012, which focuses on innovations in public space design and alternative construction methods.
Although it’s still a start-up, his company has already won the Saint Gobain Architecture for Social Gain award and a Gauteng Institute for Architecture Merit Award. Current projects include designing a pedestrian bridge in Westbury, an affordable housing tower in Braamfontein and a new cultural centre for Sophiatown. Local Studio is also the urban designer for a new framework for Cyrildene, the Chinatown of Johannesburg.
Chapman was a speaker at this year’s Design Indaba and the Re-Imagining Urbanism Conference.
“I was lucky to have a great art teacher who encouraged me to pursue a creative career. He convinced me by telling me how much money an architect called Silvio Rech was making while doing great design and architecture. I ended up working for Silvio Rech for seven years before starting my own business,” he says.
“I wasn’t a particularly good student at architecture school, but was drawn to running my own projects outside of university fairly early on. These projects started as small – often free – commissions, but taught me great lessons about communicating with clients and professionalism, and allowed me to test many of my urban agendas.”
He went solo in 2012, and has now grown his team to 10 people; there are usually around 25 projects in progress.
His aims are to create inclusive and responsive public spaces through his designs, and to be bold in experimenting with new construction technologies to find lasting, cost-effective solutions to urban spatial problems.
He’s deeply concerned with the role a building’s form can play in the products of apartheid — the townships. He spent nine years researching the urban history of the western areas of Johannesburg, which include Sophiatown and Westbury. That work has seen him present papers in San Francisco, Amsterdam and Berlin. “I have a few live projects in the area as well and I’m building a community centre, a network of cycle paths and several parks.” — Lesley Stones