Cape Town based internationally acclaimed SAOTA – Stefan Antoni Olmesdahl Truen Architects is a multiple award winning architectural design firm in South Africa. Their outstanding design creations are spread across all the continents.
In the year 1991, Greg Truen graduated from the School of Architecture at the UKZN – University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. In the year 1995, he joined Stefan Antoni Architects. Three years later, Greg was made a Partner in the firm in the year 1998. It is interesting to note that Greg Truen is a multitalented architect to hold the position of Director in three South African firms SAOTA, ARRCC and OKHA Furniture Design Studio since 1998. His stint at the ARRCC as Director lasted till 2014.
A busy man and creative to the core, Greg Truen has been instrumental in an extensive range of architectural projects spreading across educational, retail, commercial and residential sectors. He is currently busy with various projects in Africa, Brazil and China.
The ‘Kloof House’ project is close to Greg’s heart and soul, because his scintillating heavenly abode is truly a masterpiece! Johnny D interacts with Greg Truen at great length to understand why it is so difficult for an architect to design his own house.
When you look back at your childhood ambition, did you always wanted to be an architect?
I initially considered engineering, but realized at the last minute that I wanted to do something more creative. So, my entrance into architecture was a little accidental (smiles). I graduated from The School of Architecture at The University of KwaZulu Natal in 1991 and practiced in Durban. In the year 1995, I joined Stefan Antoni Architects in Cape Town, South Africa.
How would you describe your journey from your graduation days to being the Director of SAOTA, ARRCC and OKHA?
It was very organic over quite a lengthy period. When I graduated, a fellow graduate and I set up a small 2-person studio. I worked full-time and he worked part-time on a range of residential projects. I learnt a lot over three years and realized that I needed to be part of something larger. I left Durban for Cape Town, where we have grown into a group of three design businesses with over 300 people. It has been a wonderful journey!
As the Director of SAOTA, ARRCC and OKHA, how would you describe Greg Truen?
A busy man (smiles)!
What are the various projects SAOTA is busy with, in various cities and countries?
The studio is usually busy with 30-40 active projects at any given time. We work in 146 cities in 86 countries globally.
As an architect designing your own house, what really was going on in your mind?
Designing your own house is quite a big deal for any architect. I had certain things that I wanted to achieve on this project, the most important being a connection to the landscape. I wanted the house to feel like the landscape flows through it and I wanted to see as much of it as possible. There was an existing building on the site, which I recycled; this created some complications. Dealing with the zoning restrictions was the most complicated part of the project, and architects will tell you that this is often the trickiest thing to deal with.
What major challenges did you anticipated on the real grounds?
There was an existing building on the site, which I recycled. It created certain complications. Dealing with the zoning restrictions was the most complicated and trickiest part of the project.
How did your team overcome them creatively as the project progressed?
We worked with big digital models of the landscape from the beginning. This meant, we could test the design as we proceeded to understand how the landscape views looked.
How would you describe the ‘Elegance of Design’ of your house from an architect’s perspective?
Buildings are always going to have a certain kind of elegance, if they are properly conceptualized and designed. In this, it was the concept and it was built around a connection to nature – earth, light, plants, sun, sky etc. The setting of the building into the environment has worked well and there is an elegance to the way that it does that.
Please mention 5 major ‘Sustainability’ features you incorporated in the project.
Treating the site as a ‘Brown Field’ project was the most import decision from a sustainability point of view. Most of the existing concrete sub-structure was reused in the new building, which was quite efficient. We have quite a temperate climate, which means that we use natural airflows to keep the building cool so there is limited air conditioning.
We used a pellet system and timber, harvested from invasive tree species for some heating in winter. Water heating is supplemented by a solar heat exchange system. The design of the house maximizes the amount of natural light that can enter the building, which means that there is little requirement for artificial lighting through the day.
What is the total area and the design-to-finish time period of the project?
The total project area is 850 m2. It took 4 years to complete the project – about 2 years to deal with the zoning issues and about 2 years to do the build.
How much significance would you attribute to the conscientious efforts of the civil / structural engineers in the project?
The structural engineer was critical to the success of the project. The roof cantilevers and large suspended pools and planters are an important characteristic of the architecture.
In the past decade plus years, ‘Smart Cities of the World’ have been inundated catastrophically. How should the present Urban Planners overcome this major issue to make the cities flood-proof and livable?
This is a big issue for South African cities! We have had some disastrous floods recently and some droughts, which have caused water shortages. Built environment planners need to work with engineers and policy makers, it is a complex issue. In cities that are being overwhelmed, a combination of rapid urbanization, poor planning and aging infrastructure are creating huge problems for the future.
Which significant aspects of the global platform www.zerobeyond.com did you liked the most, and why?
I like the urgent focus on the climate crisis. This is the biggest issue that we face as a society.
Describe the emotions when SAOTA’s project(s) win an international award.
Architects like to say that their best project is the next one! So, whilst it is always pleasing to get recognition for completed projects, we are usually quite focused on the next new project work.
Please state 5 recent awards win by SAOTA.
2021 – WAF Highly Commended – La Reserve, Senegal, Dakar;
2021 – Loeries Gold Award – Kloof House, South Africa;
2021 – WAN Award House of the Year Silver – Kloof House, South Africa;
2021 – CIfA Award for Architecture – Buffelsdrift, South Africa;
2020 – International Domus Restoration and Conservation Award – Buffelsdrift, South Africa
Image Courtesy: SAOTA