By Anthony Rosato | Sustainable Environmental Design ‘21 | Summer 2019
"Architecture is the intimate interplay between building and bush." - Francois Daniel Theron
Fdt architects specializes in high-end residential architecture along the Eastern Cape coast, with most projects centered around Kenton-on-Sea, a small holiday village where the firm is located. The firm also designs game lodges and has commissioned international works from the Serengeti to the Seychelles.
Family values is the core element of fdt’s brand. Clients aren’t treated as business partner; rather, they’re considered friends. Francois even jokes that studying psychology at university came in handy when running his practice. He will iterate that this profession is not just about creating architecture, it’s about establishing community through care, competence, and creativity.
During my summer internship at fdt, I sat in on almost every meeting, consciously observing the business operations side of the practice. The firm has recently taken the initiative to monitor its growth through the vision traction organizer, an entrepreneurial management program in which the partners meet weekly to discuss current progress and potential areas for improvement.
In order to maintain traction in a practice, one must constantly evaluate the core values of the company, establish a shrewd marketing strategy, and envision the practice’s short-term and long-term aspirations. Unfortunately, this level of managerial understanding is seldom discussed in architecture and design education, however it remains imperative to know. As I worked for fdt, I came to realize that maintaining a positive cash flow is just as important as aesthetic designs. To run a successful business is to comprehend the inputs and outputs of operations.
This being said, overhead costs and salaries typically come out to eighty percent of the entire yearly revenue, leaving profit at a slim twenty percent. As a result, maintaining a cohesive catalogue of projects and staying on top of invoices is imperative in order to keep the practice afloat and in the positive. After taking part in these meetings and observing the management side of fdt with a keen eye, I look to further extend my design knowledge to embody the mindset of an entrepreneur.
Throughout my time in South Africa, I learned that construction 34 degrees below the equator differs substantially from construction in the US. Concrete and brick are the primary building materials because they are relatively inexpensive and the indigenous trees typically grow too fast to use as timber.
Furthermore, as South Africa is still not a fully developed country, load shedding is a common occurrence in parts of the Eastern Cape. This is when the electric company cuts power for a certain time frame during the day because the demand for electricity exceeds the power supply capabilities of the region.
As one can imagine, this can become fairly problematic when trying to run a business out of an office. Hence, photovoltaics are becoming a popular way to ensure a more stable power supply in the event of these rolling blackouts.
Building homes in an area as naturally diverse as the Eastern Cape, Francois stresses the importance of an interplay between the architecture and surrounding vegetation. A building must become one with the undulating dunes or nestle into the hillside to follow the natural contours of the landscape. Additionally, buildings must be oriented to the north in the southern hemisphere to capture and radiate the maximum amount of sunlight throughout the structure.
With these concepts in mind, I focused on designing a model home for the Kenton Eco Estate development in Kenton-on-Sea. The Eco Estate is a 230-hectare private residential housing community with direct access to the Indian Ocean. While primarily serving as a holiday home destination, the estate is also teeming with wildlife such as impala, waterbuck, and nyala.
This coexistence between animals and humans is an important aspect in South African architecture and building for sustainability. Therefore, houses should not be treated as large masses, but rather translucent volumes of habitation.
My time with fdt has taught me that architecture is truly a profession about the people and for the people. Architects, like Francois, create spaces to celebrate life. South Africa is a country of beautiful people as diverse as the microclimates that are present within.
Despite the ANC’s, African National Congress, questionable stance on many socioeconomic issues and the geopolitical aftermath of apartheid, life is indeed a colorful celebration for the many people that make up this nation. Passing through East London one evening, I recall a group of Xhosa men on a street corner dancing and shouting chants in their native tongue. At this moment I realized that despite being so far from home, one could seek comfort in the happiness of others.
On the last night before my departure, Francois and I were sipping Amarula and Rooibos, contemplating life and how lucky we both were. After telling me one of his many stories, he said to me in a mildly joking manner, “I tell stories to celebrate life, but it’s up to you whether or not you choose to apply them to yours.” Francois is a storyteller with a passion for creating architecture. His designs celebrate life and the experience of the people within.
"I tell stories to celebrate life, but it's up to you whether or not you choose to apply them to yours."