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Women shaping design: Neche Ramjee

A founder of Green House Architects, Neche Ramjee is a passionate architect who has a never-ending curiosity for people and place making.

By Shannon Manuel  | August 28, 2021 | Architecture

A founder of Green House Architects, Neche Ramjee is a passionate architect who has a never-ending curiosity for people and place making. She currently works for the National Department of Public Works as a Young Professional Architect who has had quite a journey in the system and in becoming an architect.

Please tell us about yourself and what inspired you to become an architect?

I love humanitarian architecture and believe that architecture should be made to foster relationships between people and place. Having worked in both the public and private sector, my search for a role in which I can fulfil these ideals is constant. As a child I loved to design anything and everything from dresses to houses and enjoyed building forts, what inspired me to become an architect was the realisation that this career allowed me an opportunity to bring my ideas to life. I love that my profession is not limited to just construction but can be expanded into any facet of design and that architects have an opportunity to address and problem solve many real life problems. It also allows us to create better lives for others. My future career goals involve getting more involved in public and emergency housing projects and entering more competitions where I can explore my interests in sustainable design.

Can you tell us about Green House Architects?

Green House Architects is a collaboration between myself and two friends, Phakama Ndzeleni and Tapiwa Manase, who wish to explore their interests in architecture through entering competitions and creating designs in which we can truly be creative and put our ideas out there. In the last year I have seen many friends struggle not only to find jobs in the industry but also to have jobs where they are truly free to create and design. Green House Architects is a collaborative effort to explore our own interests and push the limits of our own creativity and architecturally address issues that are important to us.

What are/have been some of your projects?

One of the more recent projects was to design conceptual structures that could aid the environment. We decided to propose a building, which acted as a biofilter on the old collapsed remnants of a bridge - this made us look into remedial architecture where we could use architecture to heal scars in the landscape and also aid the ecosystem. We took inspiration from river plants, which grow in certain parts of the river in response to the toxins present. This resulted in a bridge like building where we proposed a laboratory be built and wherein plants, which filter out toxins, could be monitored.

We worked on a design for a center towards the preservation of traditional Xhosa Culture and religion. The project aims to bring awareness to how natural environments, particularly wetlands, play a role in Xhosa people’s lives. There are certain cultural rituals and ceremonies held along the riverside.

We worked on a design of Administration Centre for Mount Fletcher, the project is currently theoretical however, and it addresses lived challenges. The project aims to interrogate government facilities within the framework of small towns and accessibility to these facilities then offers suggestions towards spatial development of these small towns, particularly towards a unique South African Urbanism.

We worked on a design which addressed the disconnection between ports and the cities in urbanism and how we could integrate them better into the city fabric. This particular project was the design of a 21st Century Port and Harbour Headquarters for the port of East London which aimed to relook at South African Identity in terms of corporate identity and remove the global stereotype of underdevelopment around trade with African cities by creating a formal identity around our global image as well to foster interaction between local and global vendors.

We worked on a design called Living on the Edge that dealt with the implementation of a desalination process in a natural way using plants and infrastructure in an industrial manner in order to mitigate the water shortages that we are facing. Another one of the projects we enjoyed was the opportunity to design a restaurant using containers, which would be a temporary structure that could be disassembled as needed for chef that was interested in venturing into the food truck industry.

You get many good architects, but what would you say makes a great one?

A great architect has passion and vision. They are bold enough to truly push the boundaries not only in terms of design, but in terms of the evolution of the industry and creating architecture in a way that is inspirational and authentic. Attention to detail and being receptive to energies around one’s surroundings. Often a site already gives you indication of what the architecture should be. A good architect responds to the spirit of place.

Do you have an architectural design style?

I do not have a particular style, but I do enjoy learning about the vernacular architecture of a particular place and finding ways to reuse the principles of that design and creating a contemporary version of that so that the architecture still retains a particular sense of identity that is tied to its place. This approach I feel also works best in terms of sustainable principles as there is much wisdom hidden in vernacular architecture.

What does design mean to you?

Design, to me, is the means by which ideas are explored and expressed. In architecture we are taught that forms follows function but design in itself is the manifestation of an idea - design is freedom on paper, it can be anything. It represents freedom of creativity and problem solving. Design also means efficiency while improving experience.

How do you think that you shaping design?

I have no idea. I think my ideas, which are geared around sustainability; problem solving and identity are what shapes the way I think about design especially in world where everything is fast moving towards being standardised. We need to learn to reuse and make our waste functional and climate responsive this time. We believe that women are shaping design by offering a different perspective to what the built form and sequence of space can look like. The re-introduction of organic forms as equal to orthogonal forms in recent years is one example of something that has been gaining more traction parallel to women taking up more space in architecture. This is not a coincidence in our opinion.

Who have been the women that have inspired you?

Personally, my mother and grandmothers because they have taught me the value of being independent, hardworking and the importance of choosing to enjoy your job whatever it may be. Professionally, Zaha Hadid, because she is bold, creative and really pushed the boundaries of exploring ways to design before she created her own architectural style.

Many have said that women have historically been left out of architectural records. Do you believe that major moves still need to be made in improve gender equality in the architectural industry?

Yes. Even on a daily basis the treatment is not the same, women are always expected to outperform their male counter parts in order to validate them even being in this space. Many young female architects suffer from imposter syndrome because of the sexist micro aggressions faced on a daily basis whether they realise it or not, and many question whether or not they are good enough to even be architects.

How would you advise women architects to invest in their career?

Do the short courses/ courses and workshops that educate you about what you are passionate about and get involved in projects that make you aware of the realities of your passion as these can help with problem solving in innovative ways. There are also many seminars and workshops that allow for networking with other professionals which help one to learn more and build better careers. Do not limit your interests to only architecture, I have seen many friends flourish by investing in other avenues of design and it has resulted in a more rewarding career.

What do you view as the future of architecture?

Currently I feel there is a shift in architecture from grandiose buildings to creating spaces that serve communities. I think the future of architecture will be to problem solve social issues around providing affordable housing for young people as well as issues around climate change and sustainability. I feel the future of architecture will be integrating technology with buildings and creating smart buildings as we are now in the process of creating green and smart cities. It needs to be a symbiotic relationship between the environment and people that uses technology to maintain future forward living.

How do you define the relationship between creativity and architecture?

As an incredibly intimate one. Architecture, creativity and design itself is born out of the personal thoughts and interests of the designer. It is also a balanced relationship as architecture is both an art and a science.

What are some of your favourite architectural wonders and why?

I enjoy looking at vernacular architecture and I feel there is a great sense of humanity, purpose, beauty and efficiency in “people architecture.” Some of my favourite architectural wonders are the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt because of the enormity, precision and the tons of theories and mysteries that surround it; I personally feel there is far more to it. The Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera (Casa Mila), in Barcelona, Spain by Antoni Gaudi because of the details and the way he thought of architecture and design in which everything he designed was inspired by nature and the sheer level of ornateness is remarkable as well as the enchanting fluidity of his work. There are many but lastly the Tjibaou Cultural Center, by Renzo Piano, because I feel inspired by the cultural influences that are combined with sustainability. As a collective. One of our favourite wonders is the great Zimbabwe ruins as one of the remaining ancient structures in the global south gives a sense of pride and heritage.