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Quo Vadis, computer rendering? What’s to learn from film?  Popcorn architecture? Can design integrate man, nature, culture and technology with humanism?  The design seminar Conversations on Architecture – COA Cape Town 2012 –  will challenge conventional thinking with a stellar line-up of leading international and local design creatives speaking their minds.

I think finally people have realised money doesn’t really exist and its ideas that are going to be generating hope and change.” So says Porky Hefer, speaker at this upcoming design seminar.

Themed ‘Architectural expression in the 4G Phase: Exuberant. Experimental. Explicit’, the conference shines a provocative searchlight on contemporary issues facing the global and local built environment.  The annual half-day conference is hosted by Hugh Fraser and sponsored by Caesarstone. It is held alongside Decorex Cape Town on Thursday, 26th April 2012, the opening day of the exhibition.


*Picture Caption: Initial paper model of the entrance arch of the The Crown of Doha: Mosque of the Sun. (by Saraben-Studio)


Tailor-made for architects and anyone working in the building and related design industries, the seminar features speakers from Saraben-Studio, one of the UK’s most promising young architectural and design firms, alongside local design mavens Porky Hefer and Haldane Martin; architect-filmmaker Robert Silke and film buff Alexandra Parker.  Architecture students will also share their fresh insights to the huge opportunities ahead.

“After two decades of marvelling in the possibilities of computers, enough time has passed to appreciate that they often don’t make better buildings”, says architect Hugh Fraser, seminar host.  “Using the work of Saraben Studio as a departure point, the COA conference explores what is possible now that we better understand digital rendering, modelling and fabrication. The boundaries between the design fields have also blurred allowing architecture, interior and furniture design to blend with product and graphic design more seamlessly.”

Sara Shafiei and Ben Cowd of the Saraben-Studio in Leicester built their reputation on producing highly crafted, ornate and layered drawings and models that have led to major exhibitions in London, Madrid, China and the Museum of Art and Design, New York. “There are so many buildings without character or spirit being built,” says Shafiei.  Buildings that don’t want to be very assertive, don’t want to upset people or even have a stand or make a statement. They are boring.  Architecture has become less polemic. Too many buildings are designed and built by default.”

Through her work Shafiei, director of Saraben-Studio and founding member of Horhizon (a research design network), delves into the relationship of new architectural interventions in order to produce a contemporary style rich in textures, patterns and layers.  Her research strives to establish a balance between ideas of craft while using newly established modes of design and technology.  Cowd, director at Saraben-Studio & Saraben-Academia, worked for Foster and Partners and was named one of the top 10 Art and Design graduates of 2007 by Wallpaper and the Financial Times. His drawings have been widely published and exhibited worldwide including the Royal Academy of Arts, The Venice Biennale and the Museum of Art and Design in New York.

What they love most of their work is the act of invention and creation. “Whether it’s buildings, models or drawings it’s the making of something beautiful, funny, practical or sublime that excites us.”

Porky Hefer, production designer of Porky Hefer Design – undoubtedly one of the country’s most awarded creative people – designs concepts rather than products. His talk is about living not working. “I’ll  be touching on how I left advertising to do what I loved; speak about my light designs and weavers nest tree houses and the links between biomimicry and vernacular architecture and crossing disciplines to achieve things.”  Porky’s lateral thinking won him an Elle Decoration SA’s Designer of the Year title for ‘Nest’. His brainchild Animal Farm, a creative collection, trail-blazed the co-lab concept and explored what can be achieved when people work together with a common goal.   “It’s all about ideas,” he says. “I prefer to work in quantums rather than silos and more and more people are doing so resulting in interesting and fruitful collaborations pushing both sides further.”

  • Note: Porky Hefer designs a room concept at the Plascon Colour Forecast 2012 stand at Decorex Cape Town, depicting a bedroom as a ‘nest’, inspired by a bird’s first memory.

Haldane Martin, contemporary furniture and interior designer, will illustrate the use of digital design and manufacturing, combined with handwork to echo the beautiful, complex, organic forms found in nature. “As a contemporary industrial designer I strive to meet the needs of the whole human being by designing furniture and products that are simultaneously meaningful for the spirit, beautiful for the soul, and nurturing for our bodies and the earth”. Martin, who qualified as

an Industrial Designer in 1992, won numerous awards, the most recent being the Elle Decor, Designer Of The Year 2010, Real Simple SA – Green Innovation Award (Design) 2008, and the prestigious SABS DISA award for Zulu Mama 2007. His iconic furniture designs have been exhibited in Frankfurt, Madrid, London, Paris, New York, Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. They have also been featured extensively in both local press and international design publications.

With his growing reputation as one of SA’s most promising young architects, Robert Silke, design director at Louis Karol, has seen his work awarded and his design commentary published in blue chip design journals. His cult mockumentary, The Satyr of Springbok Heights (2009) probed his preoccupation with architecture, urbanism and its profoundly underestimated effect on the lives of ordinary people. “Architects sell dreams, and whilst many design professions are centered around the promise, the marketing, the spin and the promotion of dreams, architects are focused on delivery,” Silke believes. “Large-scale architecture has the potential to change cities and I love that.”

Silke feels strongly that long-term sustainability for South African design practices –currently under pressure – is to be found in exporting their skills to the burgeoning cash markets in Africa. “Africa doesn’t know there’s a global recession and Africa is building confidently. South African developers have been building in Africa for years, but standards of design have a long way to go. African clients are starting to demand best design practice, and space is opening up for high-end South African design to be exported.”

Everyone loves the movies, right? Alexandra Parker of the Architect Africa Film Festival, researches the role of film and television in shaping urban representation.  She serves on the board for the Architects’ Collective organizing, among other events, the Architect Africa Film Festival.  Can architects learn from the art of filmmaking, if anything? Can we incorporate the language of film into our presentations to clients or into our own visualizations of buildings? Parker will also screen student films from the Moving Space competition.

More about COA Cape Town 2012

  • The in-depth, highly visual presentations are followed by enlightening panel discussions.
  • The programme closes with a valuable networking opportunity over a lunchtime cocktail hosted by Caesarstone.
  • COA is aimed at architects and interior design professionals, property developers, interior architects, builders, design and decor journalists and students in the field of design and architecture.
  • The South African Institute of Architects will be assessing and validating the conference and the activity will be validated for between 0.5 and 1 CPD credit.

Date:               Thursday 26 April 2012

Time:              08h30-13h00 (Registration from 07h30)

Followed by Caesarstone midday-cocktail with snacks from 13h00 to 14h00

Venue:            CTICC

Cost:               R741.00 incl. Vat. Includes refreshments and entrance to Decorex exhibition


For more information on show activities, speaker line-up or online-bookings visit contact Josephine Hlabisa at T: 011 549 8300 or email her at

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