Nadia Tromp, founding member of Ntsika Architects and president of the Gauteng Institute for Architecture

Q: In 2017, you became the first SA woman to win a World Architecture Festival award. Why, in your opinion, is this so noteworthy?
It demonstrates that there is interest and value in what we are engaged with in the Global South. Never before has a woman architect from our continent received this prize.

For me, particularly as a young black South African female architect, this signifies a shift in thinking around the worth of women architects, and the importance of their contributions within the larger architectural fraternity.

Q: What are the advantages of creating a niche architecture business in this economy?
While our mission is not limited to healthcare projects and speaks to our broader responsibility as custodians of the environment, it has been advantageous building a reputation in the industry as experts in this field.

We view each project as an opportunity to learn from previous successes and failures, and a chance to improve on the last. This approach has stood us in good stead with clients who value our work and have confidence that a quality process will be followed, while we remain unwavering in the responsible delivery of a project.

Q: What differentiates your firm from other practices?
We are committed to design excellence and innovation in our approach to projects. Our focus is on creating architecture that is equitable, accessible and a positive contributor to a sustainable built environment, particularly in projects of civic and social purpose. Through our civic interventions we begin to redefine the role of the architect within the SA context, challenging the status quo and creating different realities for largely destitute communities.

These projects are developed through design reviews, participatory design processes and dialogue with the client, end-users and broader community. Our designs are integrally linked to their context. We believe we can be the instruments for change within our built environments and that design can be a tool for social justice.

These universal principles to create a better shared humanity are integral in all our projects, across all sectors.

Q: Your firm has won awards for buildings in the healthcare/public service sector. Why this focus in particular?
It ties directly into the ethos of our practice: to create design excellence and innovation in our approach, while enhancing our public environment. That we have achieved this in healthcare projects is incidental.

We were first provided with the opportunity to design a model clinic for the City of Johannesburg’s Department of Health in 2012. Our approach led to innovative ways of using design to create spaces of healing and dignity. It also led to a paradigm shift within the client, changing their attitude towards the way they viewed public health facilities and understanding the value of engaging with architects. The process of that exercise had specific outcomes: we could quantify what the effect of our passive design solutions had on reducing the rate of cross infection of communicable diseases within the facility, at minimal cost to the client.

This was the start of our focus in this particular sector. Over the past six years we have designed and built 14 healthcare facilities, varying in scale, complexity and specialisation, inclusive of complementary health facilities, such as a university health research centre, a children’s hospital and private clinics.

Q: Why is it important to incorporate sustainable practices into public building design?
Social, environmental and economic sustainability is integral to the success of any project. The social component in achieving a successful public building is paramount. They require special care because they serve their immediate communities and greater society.

For communities to adopt the building as their own, they must be allowed the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the professional team throughout the life of the project. The role of the architect is to interpret the needs and aspirations of the community it serves and transform this into a project that inspires.

As architects serving the greater society, we have a responsibility to embrace all aspects of sustainability, including the traditional, such as use of materials, which we consider non-negotiables.

Q: How do you measure your design success?
By assessing whether the design intention has been carried right through to the final building. Being involved in the entire process of the design, construction and completion allows me the opportunity to best guide the process and ensure design integrity.

I often return to visit projects years after their completion to see how people have engaged with the building. Ultimately, this is the truest test of success.

By Kerry Dimmer
Image: Janine Petzer

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