Architectural Artworks: +NESS

INTERVIEWED BY Lindi Brownell Meiring


We met young architects Max Melvill and Jamil Randera at the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives exhibition in February 2016.

Fascinated by their +NESS project, which looks at local buildings from around the country through colourful artworks, we caught up with duo to find out more about this fun project.

What about South Africa inspired you to start this project?

Primarily what inspires us are the cities we live in. Having come from a background in architecture, both of us see the buildings of the world not only as static elements of the built environment, but as enduring custodians of a people’s collective culture, history and memory. In this light, when we look at a building that inspires us or decide to represent a specific architectural project in one of our series, our decision or inspiration is drawn from, not only what said building might look like, or when it was built, but similarly what role it plays/had played in society and what meaning it might hold. So, in a way South Africa inspires us through its buildings.

What made you choose each architectural landmark? Did you have specific criteria?

Understanding that everyone loves something about the city they live in, we went about choosing different architectural projects that we thought would mean something to the most people. This meant choosing buildings that we think significantly contribute to the essence or ‘NESS’ of each city and in some way help define what it is to live in said place. Disa Park (often referred to as the tampon towers) is a good example of this. The scheme might not be the most beautiful sample of South African design and is by no means the most loved building in the Mother City, however it still plays a significant role in shaping one’s experience of Cape Town and dramatically contributes to its essence or ‘NESS’.

In order to generate a wide range of schemes and an interesting collection of projects we split each series into three parts. Any chosen building had to have either a historical significance, a cultural relevance, or in some way help to define the respective city’s skyline.

Every building has an image and every building has a form. This image-based side of architecture is its easiest recognisable feature. Knowing this, we have not yet featured a building in a +NESS series that we could not redraw (with at least some resemblance) out of memory.

Which three landmarks resonate most with each of you?

Jamil: The landmarks which resonate most with me are the ones with which I share a collective memory. For example, Constitution Hill in Braamfontein (designed by OMM Design Workshop in 2004) is a place I like to visit on a regular basis, a place I can gather my thoughts.

Next would be the Cable Way Summit Station (built by Walgate and Ellsworth in 1929), which is in many ways my Cape Town equivalent to Constitution Hill, being a place where I often take time for myself. Lastly, Elliot the Cratefan (imagined by Porky Hefer in 2010) represents so much of what I believe architecture and design are about. His temporary nature, effective reuse of materials and groovy design made him a truly unique character in the city.

Max: Elliot the Cratefan. This project acts as a reminder for me not to take life or oneself too seriously. And it is great to see when people of influence understand this and support some of the more ‘fun’ initiatives around our cities. Next, the St James Beach Huts (first built in the area around 1910). I have spent many an early morning surfing at Muizenberg, so these iconic beach huts, for me, are synonymous with the good times I have have shared with friends in the ocean.

Lastly, the Watershed (designed By Wolff Architects in 2014). This project has a newfound significance for me. Having been the home of this year’s Design Indaba Emerging Creatives exhibition (a significant milestone in the +NESS story thus far), the building in some way embodies the reward of all the hard work and energy that has been put into the +NESS project by the two of us. Heinrich Wolff (the head architect behind the Watershed) was also a lecturer of ours when we studied Architecture at UCT. These personal connections with buildings are exactly what the +NESS project aims to tap into, and hearing different people’s stories and intimate attachments to the buildings we have represented so far, have been a great source of energy and satisfaction.

What’s next for this project?

We are currently working on a coffee table book for all of the cities we have represented. These books will showcase all of the illustrated buildings we have done and their respective stories. Individually the prints we make are designed to depict the character or +NESS of different buildings, but when viewed collectively, the complete series aims to uncover the +NESS of the cities that these individual buildings form a part of. Therefore, it will be nice to give people the opportunity, through the book, to view each building on its own, but still understand them as a set. This is a project we are both very excited about.

Other than that, we are going to continue trying to understand the cities of our world, one building at a time.

For more information about the project, contact Max or Jamil at city.ness@yahoo.co.za or follow +NESS on Instagram.