Sustainability, one design at a time

26 July 2018 | People

With a knack for design and a goal of sustainable construction, architect Nina Maritz is inspired by the environment and culture.

“I have a fascination with space and the way people use it. Not just in buildings, but also outside. It is incredible how space can have a specific character depending on how it is put together, and how that can affect people's day-to-day lives as they use the space,” she says in an interview with Windhoek Express.

Although she only started thinking of architecture as a career in her last two years of school, she was exposed to the line of work from an early age, as both her parents were architects. “I discovered that I tend to think in 3D concepts of space, rather than in flat images, or formulas or personal relationships.”

She says that people's stories, their habits and social patterns, and then the landscape, geology, wildlife and vegetation of a site inspire her. “I like to create symbols that mirror some of the aspects of a place. Sometimes it is reflected in the form of a building, or how you move through it, or how it is constructed,” Nina says.

She recently gave a presentation at the Africa Union of Architects (AUA) Congress that was held in Mauritius. Here she spoke about the process of architectural design and how it interweaves with principles to lead to sustainable design.

“I focused on how important it is that we are aware of these sustainability principles and apply them, beyond just solar panels and alternative construction methods,” she says, adding that such principles include passive design. “This makes a building able to handle the climate without needing air-conditioning and heating, among other things.”

Maritz is known for her focus on sustainable construction. “We only have one planet that humans can live on. While we entertain ourselves in enormous shopping malls, desire status symbols like shiny offices and want to get the most fashionable bathrooms, we are actively assisting in planetary destruction through resource consumption and hastening climate change,” she explains.

According to her, research has shown that by 2030, mahango yields in north central Namibia, where people already battle not to starve, will have decreased by 50%. By the time this year's grade 1 children are in grade 12, she predicts we will have mass starvation in Namibia.

“So sustainability, not just in construction, should be a priority for everyone. As a lot of unsustainable consumption patterns and behaviour manifests itself in construction, it is a very necessary target.”

She recently finalised the Shipwreck Lodge and the photographs prove that this is a concept like no other.

She says the book Skeleton Coast by John H Marsh telling the story of the Dunedin Star shipwreck, is really haunting in how the harsh conditions affected the survivors on shore.

“The Skeleton Coast is an exceptionally beautiful environment but incredibly hostile to humans. The inspiration for the lodge was to evoke the feeling of being stranded in the desert and having to cope with the hot sun, the rasping sand and the relentless wind,” she explains her design.

Apart from the staggering distances to get to the building site, the wind was the biggest challenge, as it undermines structures all the time.

It is difficult for her to choose the design she is most proud of, “as each design is unique and has validity in its own context, but the buildings that put our work on the map are the Habitat Research and Development Centre in Windhoek and the Twyfelfontein visitor centre,” she says.

However there are many others she enjoyed creating and feels have made a great impact on the communities in which they are located and the people that use it.

“There are a few of which I am definitely not proud, but those will remain my secret,” she jokes.