Archiprix is an international design competition sponsored by Hunter Douglas Global. For ten years, the competition has set the stage for an exchange of ideas by putting newly-graduated designersfrom around the world into an intensive, week-long workshop. 2011 saw the competition take place in the United States for the first time.
Here, we feature Ruann van der Westhuizen's winning Archiprix project, "A Public Bathhouse," which investigates the relevance of a bathhouse in an urban context, and questions the opportunities such a servic hub can provide.
Set in South Africa, Ruann's project seeks to "introduce simple bathroom facilities into the ritual of commuting" to an area where these basic services are not always available. By capitalizing on the existing, informal appropriation of public spaces in an urban setting, Ruann's design makes these services available to all in a way that fosters community, and provides privacy without isolation.
We asked Ruann, a former architecture student at the University of Pretoria, for his insights on how this work may lead into a wider conversation on design for public spaces.
Question: How would you describe the point of view of your generation of architects?
Ruann: Students are creating a relatively high number of socially-focused projects. It's about separating the possibilities that lie within designing architecture from the realities of actually making it, as opposed to imposing abstract concepts as a means of justifying buildings.
Question: What inspired your project and what were your main goals in executing it?
Ruann: First, I wanted to address the relevant issue of infrastructure, or lack thereof in growing cities. Realizing the resulting social situation, I implemented a program to provide basic services in a location where the density of people support the investment-transportation hubs.
The second point is architectural. I wanted to investigate an interesting building typology: a public bathhouse, with all the tradition and connotations it entails. The design specifically questions the relevance and opportunities created by such a typology in a contemporary urban environment by addressing it as an infrastructural project.
Question: What do you see for the future of public design?
Ruann: I see a blurring of the traditionally strict boundaries of public and private space. A central requirement of the program I created for Archiprix was that the private spaces not be isolated from public space, but still have a measure of privacy. The approach was therefore to establish a layered hierarchy from public to private space.
The hope would be that the quality of public space becomes such that new and diverse uses can emerge.
Question: Tell us something interesting about yourself.
Ruann: I (try to) grow my own food and herbs, and I am an amateur cook and maker of sauces.