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Local architect wins international award

Local architect Jaco Booyens (51) from Robertson – in collaboration with Stefan Antoni Olmesdahl Truen Architects (SAOTA) – won a gold medal for their restoration of an ensemble of several heritage buildings in the Klein Karoo at the seventh edition of the International Domus Restoration and Conservation Awards in Italy.

Jaco Booyens.

This prestigious international award recognizes excellence in the field of restoration and architectural and landscape recovery at an international level. It is conceived by the company Fassa S.r.l. and by the University of Ferrara. The winners of the this years competition was announced online through a live streaming event on 2 July.

The judging panel had to work through entries from 73 contributing countries including among others, China, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Russia and USA. There were only two gold medals awarded, which makes this an incredible achievement for South Africa and for Booyens and the rest of the team. The second gold medal went to Giorgio Forti and Ilaria Forti for the restoration of the Façade of the church of Santa Maria Di Nazareth (Vulgo Degli Scalzi).

“Winning this feels a bit like winning the Olympics or the World Championships. It was totally unexpected and came as a huge surprise and it is a huge compliment. At one stage I thought a honourable mention would be a far reach and then we won gold,” he told Standard.

It took Booyens and the SAOTA team four years to complete the winning project. The Buffelsdrift Farm is located west of Ladismith in the Klein Karoo region.

The farm is structurally typical of South African culture, born of the intermingling of different cultures and building techniques. It is made up of several constructions dating from the mid-nineteenth century built on a large agricultural estate that had recently been refurbished and replanted. The original buildings, made of poured earth, had undergone several modifications to the plastering and roofing, as well as to the whole, due to incongruous additions. The restoration project attempted to clear such incongruities, returning, moreover, to traditional construction techniques. Thus, the walls, where broken down, were restored using clay and re-plastered using local techniques; in the same way, a broad roof pitch that had in recent times been covered with corrugated metal sheet was reconfigured using the original thatching technique with local plant materials.

“To honour the heritage of the existing buildings, materials were carefully selected to ensure that a little of the construction history is visible, showcasing elements of how these buildings were originally put together.” The result is particularly convincing in the redefinition of the volumes within a natural landscape that is an integral part of the design. Winning this competition is another example of South Africa being able to compete equally in any field on an international scale.”

The Buffelsdrift farm in the Klein Karoo.

Booyens, who grew up in Pretoria in Gauteng and travelled, studied, worked and designed all over the world, has been doing architecture for the past 24 years.

“After school I completed my conscription and then went on to studying architecture. I participated in many design competitions including the rebuilding of Munitoria which I won in collaboration with Holm Jordaan and associates after it burned down. I also won the Rome Scholarship and lived in Rome while attending the British Academy. Herbert Baker, designer of the Union Buildings actually constructed the Rome Scholarship and Gerhard Moerdijk, designer of the Voortrekker monuments was one of the first Rome Scholars. I once lived in Damaraland in the Ugab River and built clay buildings with Arabic vaults according to an ancient technique for which no temporary support work is required. I also lived on a piece of land I owned in the Langberg for 10 years where I built my own buildings of clay trying to live self-sufficiently. I was also in Antarctica for an interesting project,” he explains.

Booyens was impressed with the diversity of the projects entered.

“I especially enjoyed the project from Haratori office Switzerland (silver medal) which involved the repurposing of an airy old barn as a technical office and the Zhujiadian brick kiln Museum (honourable mention), an entree from China. To be valued as an equal entree to the other gold medal for the Restoration of the façade of the church Santa Maria di Nazareth in Venice by Giorgio Forti, Ilaria Forti is an enormous honour. The work is so intricate that they have spent the last 11 years on their project.”

For many years, the Department of Architecture of the University of Ferrara has developed initiatives for education and the exchange of design ideas, including the prestigious “Fassa Bortolo International Prize for Sustainable Architecture” conceived by the University of Ferrara in 2003. These activities also include the International “Domus Restoration and Preservation Prize”, the sector’s first initiative aimed at focused attention of a wide public on architectural restoration projects which have sensitively interpreted the principles of conservative restoration.

And where does Booyens get his inspiration from?

“I’m a curious person and like to analyze technical things and like to understand how well they work and sit together. I get great pleasure from solving difficult technical problems, elegantly. To construct good buildings, one has to play chess all the time with all kinds of problems. Architecture is partly creative but with a strong foundation of technical aspects such as structure, electricity, plumbing, material knowledge, and then also social and cultural, legal and contractual influences and nowadays one must have enough knowledge of the latest software not to fall behind in the market does not.”

Booyens would also like to complete more projects based on off-grid living. Constructing more cultural housing with the basis of off-grid living, but also skyscrapers and other similar projects.

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