Nina Maritz, Nina Maritz Architects: The frugality champion

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Nina Maritz, Nina Maritz Architects: The frugality champion
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Nina Maritz, Nina Maritz Architects: The frugality champion

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Nina Maritz, Nina Maritz Architects: The frugality champion
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Can necessity unlock greater innovation? How to create an architecture of delight and renown when the climate is harsh, resources are scarce and budgets tight? Can less ever become something more?

Nina Maritz is a maverick architect from Namibia who succeeds in creating efficient and appealing buildings despite tight budgets, difficult-to-reach sites and harsh climates. ‘Less is more’ is her approach to an architecture that, despite these challenges, enhances the human condition without damaging the environment.

She founded her eponymous firm 25 years ago which now has an oeuvre that defies categorisation. Her buildings are sometimes rational vernacular — sensible, rooted in climate and site, striving for passive comfort. Sometimes they are outright idiosyncratic — organic, poetic and deeply personal.

Episode outline

00:09:33 The practice of sustainability
00:11:07 “We’ve already seen extensive droughts, occasional floods… and so on. So when it comes to sustainability and architecture, you really have to think of livelihoods — how people are going to live — but in such a way that they don’t do more damage in the environment.”
oo:11:49 “Sustainability is very much about using as little resources as possible at the least cost possible for the benefit of the maximum of people.”
00:14:02 “One of the things that we do, when we go to a site, we do a materials audit. We look at what materials are there or are in the vicinity that we can use.”
00:23:54 “I design in and around the landscape, not on it. I think that’s a very important point because that way you preserve biodiversity. You have a low footprint and you don’t damage.”
00:31:23 Three projects
00:42:22 “I think I also developed much more into a collage style of design — which not everybody sees as good architecture. I think a lot of people see good architecture or good design as being very sleek and very contained — very kind of one thing — whereas I’m more inclined to look at agglomerations. So I would be an agglomerate rock instead of a diamond.”
00:49:34 Becoming Nina
00:53:02 “Put your phone away. Cut your phone addiction. Get out there and observe and interact with the real world. Because buildings are real: they’re built for real people and real places and real… in real environments.”
00:54:37 “I think a lot of people lose their essential being in trying to conform with an accepted idea of what an architect is — and wanting approval from other people. The only approval you need is from yourself and the environment.”

Summary

Much of Namibia has little arable terrain making it difficult to live profitably off the land. The challenge here — where livelihood is a constraint — is that there are fewer resources and populations are poorer, in need of shelter and amenities.

Nina has formulated an approach that is uniquely suited to her home country. It starts with budget-as-constraint and site-as-opportunity. What emerges is a low-cost, albeit exuberant, architecture, filled with contextual references and stories.

Nina Maritz is a hands-on architect who engages in the act of design and construction, seen here interacting with artisans on the Nyae Nyae Village Schools project.
© Nina Maritz Architects

Nina starts the design process with climate and site. The building adopts principles of passive design, artfully integrated into its form to harness natural light and ventilation so as to improve comfort and mitigate downstream energy use. Three libraries stand as a testament to this approach. Here, the orientation of the building corresponds with the sun’s path and wind movements. Rainwater harvesting and indigenous flora are also considered early in the design process.

The composition of the Ohangwena Regional Study and Resource Centre in Helao Nafidi is influenced by the placement of solar panels and other passive design principles.
© Nina Maritz Architects
The heart of the centre is a generous double-volume main library hall under the steep roof with clerestory light.
© Nina Maritz Architects

The Shipwreck Lodge explains the second driver of Nina’s work: materiality. The Lodge is a tourist resort situated on a stretch of the coast that is particularly inaccessible. Here, she sought out local stone, wood, and recycled ‘waste’. Nina designed these buildings to touch the Earth lightly. They can be disassembled at end-of-life and made to disappear without a trace.

The Shipwreck Lodge is designed as a series of cabins, situated on a coastal site that is known for its harsh climate.
© Nina Maritz Architects

Materiality is likewise important to another of Nina’s projects: the Twyfelfontein Visitors’ Centre. It has a minimalist palette of local red sandstone, gabion walls, untreated steel building frame, clay-brick on sand flooring, reed ceilings and recycled metal used as roof tiles. The architecture here emphasises storey-telling. It reflects Place through response to history, ecology and climate. It interacts with natural light in ways that echo the spirituality of the exhibits that are displayed in the building.

Inspired by San brush shelters, local landscape forms and rock engraving, the Twyfelfontein Visitors’ Centre references the three stages of trance linked to the creation of rock art.
© Nina Maritz Architects

The Visitors’ Centre illustrates Nina’s approach to construction. She relied on a mix of hand-drawn sketches and onsite decisions. For the latter, the builder is tapped as a creative force, working hand in hand with her.

Nina’s work transcends styles and checklists. ‘Less is more’, once a Miesian slogan, takes on new meaning by embracing frugality. Even the imperatives of Green — efficient equipment, third-party certified products etc. — are eschewed in favour of a simpler approach, rooted in the realities on the ground.

Through her explorations in Namibia, she has found something bigger than Green: a unique perspective on sustainability that could well apply to much of the developing world.

Gallery

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Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:03:04 “…You grew up in South Africa during the apartheid years…”
Apartheid” | Wikipedia
00:22:48 “…One is about low-embodied materials…”
Embodied energy and carbon in construction materials” | University of Bath
00:37:23 “…and it was inspired by a book called ‘Skeleton Coast…”
Skeleton Coast (novel)” | Wikipedia
00:46:13 “…I wouldn’t call it a religion, but a shamanic culture…”
Shamanism” | Wikipedia

There are no people or organisations mentioned in this episode.

00:02:51 “…we’re gonna talk about Namibia, of course…”
Namibia” | Britannica
00:35:12 “…The one is in Helao Nafidi, which is quite close to the border of Angola…”
Helao Nafidi” | Wikipedia
00:35:12 “…The one is in Helao Nafidi, which is quite close to the border of Angola…”
Angola” | Britannica
00:35:18 “…and the other one is Oshakati…”
Oshakati” | Wikipedia
00:35:27 “…And then we have Gobabis in the East, which is close to Botswana…”
Gobabis” | Wikipedia
00:35:27 “…And then we have Gobabis in the East, which is close to Botswana…”
Botswana” | Britannica
00:35:47 “…Then we’ve got Savanna…”
savanna” | Britannica
00:37:03 “…The Shipwreck Lodge is probably the most recent…”
SHIPWRECK LODGE – SKELETON COAST” | Nina Maritz Architects
00:43:34 “…Twyfelfontein Visitor Centre definitely is probably the epitome of that approach…”
TWYFELFONTEIN VISITORS’ CENTRE” | Nina Maritz Architects

There are no design features mentioned in this episode.

There are no products or technologies mentioned in this episode.

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Managing editor
Kruti Choksi Kothari

Communications executive
Sana Gupta

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown | Phlogiston

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