The GEN Z Series travels from Liverpool, UK to Johannesburg, the biggest city of South Africa to meet an outstanding architect Neo Khumo Ntlatleng from South Africa. Born in Pretoria, Neo graduated in 2022 with an Advanced Diploma in Architecture from the University of Johannesburg. Having graduated earlier with Diploma in Architecture in 2019 from the same university, Neo is a Senior Architectural Technologist. As a student-architect, Neo did her internship with architectural firms Batley Partners, Leon Witbooi Architects in Johannesburg and Vusaafrica in Bedforview, Guateng in South Africa.
Neo Khumo Ntlatleng comes across as a very fun-loving, artistic and expressive individual, one who would never miss a good opportunity to showcase her creativity and talent for the world to marvel at. She enthuses, “My soft skills are creative and design thinking. I normally tackle such thoughts through architectural montages, freestyle poetry and painting. I believe I am a good communicator and excel the most in teamwork. I believe me being a good communicator stems from the diversities in my character that were bred from my cross-cultural experiences (smiles).”
It is really interesting to note that Neo’s father is a Pastor. Being the only daughter of her parents, she has a strong bonding with her mother, who raised her, moving from Cape Town to Amman. She reveals, “I did my Primary schooling in Cape Town, before mother and me moved to Amman in Jordan. I completed my High School in Jordan. In both the places, I met and interacted with incredible people from all walks of life, so that was super great!” Neo is a dreamer and aspires to create designs that would be remembered for long-long time in future.
Johnny D talks to Neo Khumo Ntlatleng about her amazing journey in the world of architecture and her thesis ‘Space Research Centre, Johannesburg’.
What was your childhood ambition? Did you always wanted to become an architect?
I had many! I am a big, big dreamer (smiles)! For the longest of time, I wanted to become an actress and be in the field of arts. When I was 16, my mother and I moved to Amman in Jordan. We lived there till I was 19. In my High School, I got exposed to various creative hobbies like photography, acting, freestyle poetry writing and painting. I thoroughly enjoyed it all! I felt in tune with my true self trying all the above. It was liberating!
Another big ambition of mine was to become a pediatrician (smiles). I always wanted to be in the arts’ field. Even though I was unaware about architecture, I knew it had to do with designing and creating buildings. While I was in Amman, I had sketched the silhouette of the cityscape. I believe God placed me in the field of architecture for a particular reason, currently unknown to me though (smiles). I am in love with this amazing creative journey!
How has architecture influenced your life as a student?
I realized architecture has graced me with the good and a fair share of lessons. I had to learn time management and the ‘big’ intention behind each creation. As an architecture student my life started shifting, because I started to come to grips with the amount of attention the course required of me. Architecture started influencing my student life in such a way, where I had to dive deep into and think about my intentions around architecture, friendships, lifestyle and God.
Please write about your University and the Course.
I attended the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. The university is multicultural and inclusive, which makes it one of the largest contact universities in South Africa. The vision of the university is to be ‘an international University of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future’. The Department of Architecture falls under the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture and the department focuses on equipping us to understand the processes of design, the importance of sustainability, and the important role that spatial quality and structure play on your building. They also focus on a high level of group work activities with other departments within the faculty, so as to help us understand the importance of inter-disciplinary.
Briefly describe the significance of your project.
The project ‘Space Research Centre, Johannesburg’s duration was for a month and a half. The main objective of the mixed-use project was to get us thinking about space research and how we could integrate it into our local context. My site of choice was Top of Northcliff hill, South Africa. It is the second highest point in Johannesburg. It is open to the public for trail walking, catching sunsets and chilling out.
My main intention with the site was not to bombard the site, but to design a building that would preserve the site’s natural activities. So, I decided to cantilever certain spaces of the building away from the site’s edge. Simultaneously, it also immerses appropriate spaces into the site’s edge. For instance, the program immersed into the site’s edge is the Space Museum. Since people walk on the site regularly, I thought it would be interesting to open into the site a space that would require people to walk through, and then cantilever spaces that would be considered more ‘private’ like offices and classrooms that require less walking. The shape of the building has taken refuge of the natural curvature of the site’s edge, so as to keep the natural panorama of the site.
Which National or Internationalarchitect has inspired / influenced you? Please specify as to why?
Matthew Gandy has been my recent inspiration. He is an urbanist and environmental geographer, who have interest in landscape, infrastructure and biodiversity. Even though, he is not an architect by profession, but he sheds a lot of wisdom around urbanism and its relationship with architecture. He “redefined” the modern context by stating the needs of a modern city, so that it can fully function as a modern city. He states that it is important to consider the biophysical, socio, political and other environmental aspects that influence our context, so that a modern city can function in metabolism. That really added perspective to my intentions around architecture and how important it is to understand your context.
As an Intern, what is the most important lesson(s) you have learned from senior architects, while being a part of a project?
The important lessons were experiencing that being well-versed in the architectural world helps you better to present your concepts to clients in an articulated manner. Another lesson was to understand that a mistake done on a drawing in the office will cost the company money.
What role do you perform as a Candidate Architectural Technologist?
As a Candidate Architectural Technologist, I worked within teams and individually. Within the team tasks, I would get to task something different all the time. Some of the tasks consisted of me producing in-built drawings, sanitary schedules, fixture details and going to site. The more individual tasks consisted of doing sketch plans, concept refurbishment plans, interior renders, presentation of brochures, data capturing and marketing posts.
Cities are getting inundated in a massive proportion due to flawed drainage and sewage systems apart from Climate Crisis – Your views about flawed urban planning and remedies to rectify to make cities flood-proof.
In my opinion, I think going back to the drawing board with the local water authorities (public), private lateral drain/sewer owners and dealing with the unadopted sewers will help with seeing where the problem lies, and how to create interlocking systems that can be easily inspected and maintained. It is also important to create greener spaces and reduce the amount of solid ground surfaces by using porous materials, thereby allowing water the free movement to flow.
Which significant aspects of the global platform ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ did you like the most, and why?
I appreciate ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ for being an amazing global platform to showcase the works of designers from all across the world. It is an excellent way to network and get insight on the approach other students / professionals went about their projects / careers.
How would you elucidate South African Architecture?
I would define South African Architecture as a stitching of modernity. From the colonization of the Dutch and British, with time South Africa has developed sections of repurposed architecture, historical architecture, modern African Architecture and contemporary architecture. It has also left the despaired parts despaired. Our architecture graces our land with memorials like the Hector Pieterson Museum, which so effortlessly takes you through the commemoration of the June 16th anti-apartheid ‘Soweto Uprising’ events through using architectural prompts.
Our architecture also showcases inspirations from the Rondavels of the Xhosa culture and the Beehive huts of the Zulu culture through some of our holiday resorts; that are essentially designed to bring people closer to nature. Then, we have repurposed spaces that use modern materials like glass, steel and brick that were built to ignite the creativity and art forms of our culture, whilst also incorporating sentiments of the art forms into the buildings’ designs in a unique way.
Image Courtesy: Neo Khumo Ntlatleng