Editor IGOR CVORO sits down for an exclusive interview with MARK BULLIVANT director at SAOTA, one of the most prolific architecture practices of the moment. Mark talks with Igor about working on six continents and in 86 countries, architects who inspire him and upcoming projects.
Discover more after the jump.
What triggered your interest in architecture and what originally made you want to become an architect? – I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an architect. I tried to fight the idea for a little while; but I’m very happy that I ultimately trusted my instincts – I love what I do.
How would you describe your firm’s designs? We at SAOTA are relentless in our pursuit of refined, innovative architecture. I would describe our designs as strong and liveable; responding and in engaging with the landscape in an intimate way; work that embodies the notion of a regional modernism
Where do you get inspiration from while working on a project? – Inspiration comes in many forms; but we try to create buildings that integrate space internally and externally in a way that maximizes their connection with the landscape. In that respect; it’s often the site with its aspect, orientation and views that provide the inspiration; or rather the starting point for a design.
We try to draw on local practice and the heritage of a place to respond the local context meaningfully. Sometimes this is expressed in the form a building responding to climatic requirements; often it is reinforced in a nuanced way through the materials themselves or their application; to use those materials in an interesting and unexpected way.
“We want to deliver high quality architecture that is life-enhancing; that our clients love to live/work/exist in and are proud of.”
Are there any architects, designers or creatives that inspire you/you look up to? – We are huge admirers of the creative geniuses – Leonardo da Vinci, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Wright, Niemeyer, Ray and Charles Eames, Gehry – who believed everything we encounter can be enhanced by good design.
Is there a particular project from your work that made the biggest impact to you personally? – I get asked this often; hopefully it will get easier to answer with more hindsight; but I think its generally the ‘firsts.’ Primarily because I think they track the trajectory of your career. Our first project in Miami opened an entire chapter of work for us and quite literally changed the nature of my work almost overnight. Stradella was our first project in LA; and from there LA ‘blew up’ for us – it is now the city outside of Cape Town where we have the greatest concentration of work.
But all projects are a marriage and their story, along with the relationships formed, become part of your life for the considerable time it takes to see a project through.
Nowadays, most of your clientele is international. What countries / regions do you think have the greatest developing potential? What are some of your favorite projects outside of South Africa you’re working on currently? We work on six continents with projects in around 86 countries. Currently we are very busy in the US, Switzerland, the UAE and West Africa. While we are focusing on the Americas, Africa and Europe we see potential everywhere, and every project is exciting.
We learn as much from a visit to our projects in Beverly Hills and Volgograd as we do from trips to those in Shenzhen and Lagos. We are working on a project in Miami where the original heirloom home was saved from demolishment, jacked onto dollies and relocated to another portion of the site. In the desert outside Dakar, we designed a camp in a forest of Baobabs. Few architectural firms get to work on such diverse, exciting projects.
What are the main criteria you look at when designing for a client? – The quality of lifestyle in a home is crucial. Whether it is Cape Town or Geneva one needs to understand how best a Client and their family can live in their home. We try to look for the opportunities that create delight and make it a memorable living experience. One needs of course to take into account the weather and climate, sun, neighboring buildings etc. Also, tradition and customs in how different generations of the family interact- the sense of togetherness and privacy.
“It’s often the site with its aspect, orientation and views that provide the inspiration; or rather the starting point for a design.”
SAOTA works closely with OKHA and ARRCC for the interior design of your projects. What does your creative process look like? – There is a great collaborative energy between the SAOTA, ARRCC and OKHA. The ethos is the same, born from the same leadership; and from a design point of view we are able to complete each other’s sentences.
I think the other critical aspect of the dynamic is that there is great respect and trust between the studios. At the same time, we push each other – we are all extremely ambitious.
What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work? – We want to deliver high quality architecture that is life-enhancing; that our clients love to live/work/exist in and are proud of.
What would be your dream project/something you’d like to design in the future? – We would love to be designing institutional and culturally significant landmarks; perhaps a museum or gallery. But we are up for anything; we work on many dream projects currently.
“All projects are a marriage and their story, along with the relationships formed, become part of your life for the considerable time it takes to see a project through.”
What is next for SAOTA? What projects are you currently working on and could you give us a sneak preview of your upcoming projects? – We’ve got a great wave of completed projects that we will be sharing over the next while. A beautiful project in Bali; our first ground up project in Los Angeles and a beautiful project in Switzerland. Concurrently we are busy working on a fascinating project in Stockholm, a boutique hotel coupled with premium penthouse suites right on the water’s edge in Sweden; we were awarded the design winners of the Residential Apartment building A1 for the new Neuländer Quarree precinct in Hamburg and we’ve just signed our first project in Aspen.
Images are courtesy of SAOTA
Discover the world of SAOTA and their projects online at saota.com