Top3Tuesday: Iain Low

Iain Low is an architect and scholar at the University of Cape Town where he lectures in architecture. His research interest and writings are focussed in Space and Transformation and the role of design agency in contributing toward social justice and spatial equity in working toward the conception of a non-western spatial modernity in the post apartheid/colonial state. Graduating for UCT he moved to Lesotho here he was engaged in education upgrade projects for a decade, establishing the Training for Self Reliance Projects radical participation approach to transforming the built environment.

He was Fulbright Scholar and Pew Fellow in the Arts in Philadelphia where he graduated in Urban Design from the University of Pennsylvania, subsequently lecturing at Temple University. In 1995 he was Visiting Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, from where he returned to South Africa in 1996, first taking up a post at the University of the Witwatersrand before returning home to the University of Cape Town in 2000.

Iain kindly spared some time to sit and share some of his most exciting moments with us in this edition of Top3Tuesday.

3The Seer, Giorgio de Chirico – Paris, Winter

Giorgrio de Chirico.

To me this painting from de Chirico’s metaphysical phase is emblematic of the contemporary condition of complexity and contradiction that we find ourselves experiencing in this age of neo-liberal globalisation. It speaks of the overwriting of otherness that [western] modernity has over-cast upon our human habitats. The one-eyed maquette, controlled by an unseen force off stage, is only capable of perspectival vision; whilst the domestication of the public square reflects on the commodification and privatisation of our shared or common spaces. The shadow represents the unknown that we fear and attempt to control or manage. Locked into uncertainty, the human fails to act with any precision; and so it is indeed true – in the absence of revolution, our future[s] can only be rescued by a visionary speculation of radical transformation.

2People’s Facility in Qoaling, Lesotho (1979-85)

People's Facility in Qoaling. © Iain Low

This project is my first born, my most pleasurable and sustained design build experience – a project where I was permitted the fullness of asking; ‘what is possible under a very particular set of conditions?’. Building with limited means, in a least developed country, demands an approach to design-making that affords ‘more with less‘. As a site of experimentation it provided ground for critical ‘design build research’ [DBR]. Contributing significantly toward the Training for Self Reliance Project schools building program where I was employed for a period of six years, it provided another cornerstone for significant personal transformation and development.

1Garden of Remembrance by Roelof Uytenboogaardt (1977)

Remembrance Garden. Simonstown.

This cemetery garden is a memorial to those who lost their lives at sea. It provides an ecological urban landscape that is profound and pragmatic in its poetic interpretation of the task of memorialization. The result of a co-production between architect and landscaper is evident in the treatment of the terrain within which pre-existent graves, headstones and memorials have been reconfigured. Operating as a contiguous surface its spatial manipulation attends to multiple needs of the everyday and the celebratory. The ground plane integrates a thickened surface with drainage, thereby equating utilitarian infrastructure with the design of the lifted slabs of concrete whose blue slate cladding recalls the sea at the cape of storms. Their careful placement within the overall partis frames our view back to the bay, and the sea from whence these sailors came. Every return visit renders a different spatial experience, and elevates this project unequalled in South Africa, and hence in a category of its own.