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Heidi van Eeden’s restoration of a 21st century textile mill earns her the accolade as the 27th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year.


The University of Pretoria student received first prize with her thesis entitled Machinarium:

Architecture as a living machine at the prestigious annual event held on 9 April 2014.  

Van Eeden's dissertation alludes to new ways of architectural place-making in a rapidly changing, 21st-century world. The project is an investigation of the potential of industry as urban catalyst - a mechanism with which to regenerate urban environments and re-integrate fragmented socio-ecological systems.

In an attempt to redefine modern concepts of waste and mitigate the flood of pollution emanating from 20th century industrialisation, the investigation is focused on the re-structuringof the textile industry and is contextually based in an 'urban wasteland' - the Daspoort Wastewater and Sewage Treatment Works. 

"The site is re-programmed as part of a new industrial ecology, an architectural system which re-uses waste water and other untapped resources on site to produce textiles and algae-based dye. By integrating local urban communities and natural eco-systems with this industrial space, this 21st-century textile mill is designed as a holistic environment which blurs present-day distinctions between social, productive and natural space and proves that there is productive value in the resources we discard as waste," she said in the abstract to her dissertation.

Edna Perez, who supervised the thesis said that, in a world where architecture's ability to navigate an uncertain future was increasingly being questioned, van Eeden explored one of the biggest challenges of our time - how to transform wasted sites, wasted structures and wasted and into sites that can regenerate conditions within which life can flourish and evolve. 

"Her project challenges our perceptions about waste and industry and finds alternatives for these processes in a part of the capital which is considered an urban wasteland. She creates a building that sees potential for life in every aspect of functionality, from processes to materials. Her architectural solution builds on the positive aspects that each activity offers to provide a tangible solution that not only functions efficiently like a machine (using closed loop systems) but also provides the intangible qualities necessary to promote the intangible well-being of social-ecological (people and nature) networks," she said. 

Perez praised van Eeden for boldly tackling a complex subject which architects and society tended to ignore. "She not only showed that architecture can be used to facilitate the design of an ecological industry, but it can also elegantly provide all the other aesthetic qualities associated with daily life expressed in a diversity of South African cultures," she added.

Corobrik Managing Director Dirk Meyer, who congratulated van Eeden on this significant achievement, said that in recent years, there had been an exciting evolution in the architectural debate surrounding issues related to sustainability which was clearly manifesting in the work and thinking of the architects of tomorrow. 

This new urban architecture not only concentrated on top-of-mind environmental issues but on more deep routed social issues associated with the creation of a built environment that addressed the needs of its users and created a sense of place. Through rejuvenating tired or dilapidated structures and spaces rather than completely rebuilding them, precious resources were conserved. At the same time, the history of the site was integrated with modern lifestyles, becoming an exciting part of South Africa's reality. 

The judges in their critique commented: "The reinterpretation of architecture as a living machine, this project reconnects a community with its history and with a nearby river as well as re looking at the idea of waste as a resource. It achieves a well-considered urban design resolution. The author demonstrates a great maturity and professionalism.

The depth of research is astounding. The completeness and thorough examination of the design of a complex building type is exemplary.  This level of research and resolution could be applied to address similar urban problems  The imaginative reuse of obsolete infrastructure is resourceful.  Ideas were well presented, verbally and graphically demonstrating a high degree of competence. 

The judges are confident that this building is build able.  It provides an upliftment to the immediate community it benefits by acknowledging an inherent industry and supporting its growth. It will be an asset to the city of Tshwane."

This year's judges were president of the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) Sindile Ngonyama and professional architects, Ruben Reddy and Amanda Katz.

Ngonyama, in particular, has spoken out of the need for architecture to reach beyond theobvious environmental issues surrounding sustainability to promoting responsible use of financial, human and biophysical resources, to attain a sustainable future. Calling on architects to "participate meaningfully in the shaping of our built environment," he has pointed out that South Africa's present and future architects need to recognize that the country's wealth resides in its people and that architecture's foremost responsibility is serving these people.

van Eeden took home a prize of R50 000, this is in addition to the R8 000.00 prize that she earned on winning the regional final in September last year. The Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards were created to promote quality design and to acknowledge talent among architectural students. 

Pictured above:  

Heidi van Eeden is pictured with the model of her winning entry entitled Machinarium.Heidi has won the 27th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Award held at The Maslow in Sandton on 9 April 2014.