Wolff Winter School 2021 - Renewing our habits of assembly


‘Renewing our habits of assembly: borrowing thoughts and practices from Fred Moten and Katriena Majiet’

Wolff Architects presents a winter school with Ola Hassanain, Vivien Sansour and Victory of the Word, facilitated by the National Arts Festival, Makhanda.

The house that Katriena Majiet built in this photograph would be 30 years old this year. Paul Grendon captured her building this house, a rondehuis, in a place called Sanddrift, near Steinkopf in what is today known as the Northern Cape. We see in the image that she is building her house from materials gathered from around her and she uses her physical strength to bend the frames which would later be enshrouded with woven grass mats. The mats will cover and shield against harsh sun during the day and cold air at night. What we also see, are her belongings and a person (a family member?) already inside this construction-in-process. In other words, she is building around what she already has, with what she has gathered and, around what she has gathered. At traditional architecture schools we do not learn about this particular intelligence of building and if we do it is framed as a tradition of the past, rather than a practice of the present. When we learn to make buildings in architecture schools, the traditional curriculum demands that we conceive of the new building as a potential new and empty space, later to be filled with things accumulated over time. The idea of the tabula rasa, a so-called ‘clean slate’ dominates the standard curriculum. Empty sites, vacant lots and open land is assumed and often a prerequisite, there to fill with ‘new’, ‘innovative' ideas, held together with walls that would divide up the service spaces from the served spaces, the public spaces from the private spaces and the living spaces from resting spaces. Clarity and order is equated with elegance and sophistication.

But what we see in this photograph is a demonstration of a particular habit of assembly, a knowledge of construction and a method of gathering that does not easily distinguish between what is gathered and who is gathering. There is no linear notion and distinction between when is the time to gather and when is the space ready for gathering. Instead, we see a construction of life where both happens simultaneously, alongside each other and with other things (the water tank for instance is captured linking with the construction of the rondehuis and not apart from it.) The simultaneity of all orders captured in the image is a design intelligence worthy of paying attention to if we are serious about building new freedoms, new worlds and new habits.

‘Like I said, I think for me, that’s what that poem is about, off what Manolo says. We have to renew our habits of assembly. We have to really practice getting together in that double sense of the word “practice”—you know, it’s a praxis, it’s a thing that we engage in constantly. But we also have to keep trying to get better at it. We have to renew it; we have to regenerate it. So, yeah, that’s it. It’s renewal of our habits of assembly; I don’t know, I feel like that should be pretty much our only object of study’

Fred Moten

For the winter school we borrow from the poet Fred Moten (which he, in turn, borrows from Manolo Callahan) and extend the practice of Katriena Majiet in order for a renewed practice of space making. We propose ‘assembly’ in this case to mean both to gather as people and species; but also assembly as in ‘to put together’ the space for gathering. We imagine ourselves simultaneously as being assembled and that which is assembling. What are these habits then? How do we practice these habits of care, develop networks of collective freedoms and find sites of refusal and joy that exist amidst and often in spite of terrorism, predatory capital and colonial conquests? Can collective spatial practice renew and be renewed alongside these reflections?

DATES                   Monday 26th July 2021                      Ola Hassanain 

                               Tuesday 27th July 2021                     Victory of the Word  

                               Thursday 29th July 2021                   Vivien Sansour


TIME                       16h00 - 17h00


VENUE                  Online

                               Purchase tickets by clicking here.


 CPD                       0.2 Category 1 CPD points per event

                               Please ensure you sign the virtual register after the event to ensure your CPD certificate is       issued.

pumflet 'summer flowers'

'Summer Flowers' is the name of the next pumflet edition by Wolff Architects and specially commissioned by the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2019. It refers to the work of the writer Bessie Head and gets its name from the initial title of her novel, A Question of Power. The project extends Head's legacy as a novelist, letter writer and essayist into the realm of spatial practice by looking at her contribution into architecture and agriculture. In 1969 she co-designed and built her own house in Serowe, which is now a Botswana national heritage site thanks to its nomination as such by the Bessie Head Heritage Trust. She was able to construct the house with proceeds from her first novel, When Rain Clouds Gather. During this time, she was able, also, to participate in the construction of Serowe's first public garden as part of the Boiteko Farming Brigades. During the day Bessie worked in the garden with fellow brigade members and during the night she worked on her writing, according to Tom Holzinger, Bessie's friend.

The image we would like to construct with the latest pumflet publication is this: during the time that Bessie Head was working as a productive gardener and as a writer in Botswana, urban areas in South Africa, her country of origin, were undergoing the brutality of forced removals and destructions of neighbourhoods. Events that are seen as continuations of the 1913 Land Act, and the implementation of the apartheid Group Areas Act. Bessie Head studied the work of Sol Plaatje, corresponded with Robert Sobukwe and wrote that her work is  'mainly concerned with the manner in which the people lost their land'. Summer Flowers is concerned with how her writing and her spatial practice sits with the legacies of the loss of land and people's dignity in South Africa at the time. 

We invite you to join the discussion and participate in the process towards the exhibition by bringing a plant from the specially collated catalogue, [which can be downloaded hereselected based on imagery from Head’s archive and works.

This public discussion and exhibition forms one of several parts that builds towards a cumulative and progressional Summer Flowers project, of which there will be an iteration at the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial in September.

Date:        Wednesday 17 July 2019
Time:        18:00
Place:       136 Buitengracht St
             Wolff Architects

Conversations with artist:Studio Marx

Event poster by:Wolff architects

From the 2nd of August 2018, Wolff Architects hosted a series of exhibitions on projects where we have collaborated with artists. ”Conversations with artists: Marx Studios" was the first. 

This project involved the designing and construction of two studios for Maja and Gerhard Marx during    2016-7. 

The exhibition featured the work of the two artists and architectural design drawings by Wolff Architects.

 The drawings depicts how the Marx's artistic approach influenced the design and appearance of their studios, and how their working methods shaped the space, the way they move around their studios while working and how that influenced both plan and section.

At the exhibition opening there was conversations about process, breakthroughs, key debates and  the fun  that was had by the four friends while co-creating. 

Pictures of the exhibition opening by Masixole Feni.

Artist: Maja Marx. Title: Glossal, Year: 2018

Cheré Botha School Tour & Talk

Wolff Architects was commissioned by the Provincial Government of the Western Cape to design the Cheré Botha School.  Cheré Botha  is a Learners with Special Educational Needs (LSEN) school situated in Oakglen, Bellville, Western Cape and accommodates learners from the ages of 3 -18.

An artist impression of Cheré Botha School by: Leighton Arendse, a senior phase yr 3 learner at the school.

Open House Architecture/Wolff Architects organized an event on the morning of the 18th of August 2018 of the recently opened school. Heinrich Wolff  along with Joey vd Westhuizen the school's principal gave a talk in the school hall on the design principles of the building, followed by questions from members of the architectural profession and the public in attendance. Visitors had an opportunity to tour the school building for the rest of the morning. This event was organized as a fundraiser for the school. 

Heinrich Wolff (L) with Joey vd Westhuizen (R)  delivering talk to guests. Image: Lerato Maduna

In South Africa, many special educational needs schools are conglomerations of classrooms strung along a central corridor. The need for enclosed corridors originate from the susceptibility of many of these learners to respiratory diseases. The persistent wind and winter rainfall of Cape Town makes open courtyard typologies inappropriate for this kind of school. The result then, is that no collectivity is established beyond the classroom. Although learners with autism and ones with intellectual disabilities are taught in separate classrooms it is mutually beneficial for the learners to play and interact together. The search for collective form therefore serves an educational and developmental purpose as well.

A view  of the school from the field. Image:Heinrich Wolff

The architecture of this school engages with the speculations of Fumihiko Maki on the nature of collective form and masterful usage of light. Maki’s speculations focused on the design of authentic urban patterns which respond to the lifestyle, terrain, urban economies and contemporary challenges of societies or urban districts. The character and coherence of villages which developed over long periods of time served for Maki as a benchmark of significant collective form at an urban scale.

The horizontality of the canopy around the arrival court is contrasted with the verticality of the A-frame structures and the hall. The sculptural volumes of the hall and workshops with its characteristic roof profile are the central moments of the architectural composition. These two volumes are clad in corrugated iron and rise like cumulus clouds from the datum of the canopy at their base. The interior of the hall is triangulated in section just like the A-framed spaces. As another triangulated space, the hall becomes an exaggerated version of other collective forms. Openings for light are carefully arranged to ensure a low glare interior.

Visitors at the arrival court during the tour of the school.Images:Lerato Maduna

The school is divided into six sections: an administration building, four classroom blocks for learners, divided into various age groups; including one classroom block with the assembly hall, a kitchen and workshops. Each of the classroom blocks is designed around a shared space which is expressed through a timber A-frame, conceptualised as the ‘super-form’. The A-frame ‘super-form’ is identical for every age group but the ground surface is occupied and programmed differently depending on its situation: the creche is filled with play equipment and soft surfaces, the junior sections with lines for walking and riding and in the senior section, vocational situations such as food production or hospitality are set up.

These roofed, outdoor spaces establish collective form as a series of social spaces at a scale between the classroom and the school as a whole. It allows learners to play and learn outside even in adverse weather conditions. In previous projects, we have explored the use of roofed, outdoor spaces as expressions of collective form such as in the Watershed located in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. In these explorations, collective form becomes the social heart of the architecture and the origin of urban connectivity. 

For in-depth reading and pictures on the project visit our website on: http://www.wolffarchitects.co.za/projects/all/special-needs-school/

The tour and talk was an insightful and educational experience for those who attended as they got an opportunity to question and  engage with the architects and space.Images:Lerato Maduna

Pumflet Luxurama

"The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea" 

W.E.B Du Bois  in “Of the Dawn of Freedom (from the Souls of Black Folk,1903).

In the twenty first century many will argue that  W.E.B's  quote is still  very much relevant ,others may say it is all in the past and will/ not happen in the future.Must we let go of bygones already, does the past not affect our present day realities? Is closure the only way we can move forward

Pumflet Luxurama was commissioned by The Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) as part of the  Live Art Festival 2018 . ''This interdisciplinary festival is designed to challenge and extend the public's experience of live art ,in a non-commercial environment and make accessible the work of visual and performing artists who explore new forms, confront audiences and experiment with perceptions". 

To help on the journey of creation/closure we asked ourselves these questions;
could one hold a funeral for a building? And if one could, what would it look like? What would it sound like? 

Visitors on a guided tour/Memorial service of the interior of the Luxurama theatre.
Images: Barry Christianson

We staged a funeral for the Luxurama Theatre, the once-iconic cultural institution in the heart of Wynberg, Cape Town. The building was where international acts such as Percy Sledge, Eartha Kitt, and Dusty Springfield performed and was the home of local giants such as Taliep Pietersen, Zayn Adams, and Winston Mankunku Ngozi.

Ilze Wolff reading passages from Pumflet Luxurama on the lobby area of the late
Images:Xolani Tulumani

Under apartheid’s weird separate amenities laws, it was the only place that could host shows for ‘mixed’ audiences. Today, the Lux is vacant and in disrepair, just like the many unsung freedom fighters and activists who once ,under the banner of the UDF used the Lux as a safe space for political underground meetings; on ways  towards freedom. 

Members of the community and ICA audiences came to witness the procession down Park Road in Wynberg.
Images: Barry Christianson

The mosque across the road  from the Lux has bought the building and they are renovating it for use as an Islamic school. 

The Winston Mankunku Jazz Foundation and the Themba Ngwenya Brass Band leading the procession
Images:Xolani Tulumani

Four generations of musicians participate in a farewell procession for a place that was once home  of the arts
Images:Xolani Tulumani

The procession down Park road with audiences walking along with it.
Image:Barry Christianson

Themba Ngwenya former boxer and principal ,has now dedicated his life to teaching and making music.
Image:Barry Christianson

The procession leading to Cosy corner for the after tears convening. 
Image:Xolani Tulumani

After the tour, we were led down Park Road by a funeral procession band made up of musicians from the Winston Mankunku Jazz Foundation led by Thulisile Ngozi, the brother of Winston Mankuku, who started this foundation in honour of Winston, and since Yakhal’inkomo debuted in 1968 at the Lux, it made sense for Mankunku to be present at the funeral of the theatre building, through his music. The Ngozi family were themselves victims of forced removals, having been moved from Retreat to Gugulethu in the early 70s.

Both the Winston Mankunku Jazz Foundation and the Themba Ngwenya Brass band are based in Gugulethu and open to people of all ages to learn an instrument.
Images:Paul Grendon

As with all funerals, we convened for tea, chatter and samoosas at Cosy Corner Take Aways at the end of Park Road, where the procession ended with a performance of Yakhal’inkomo, arranged specially by Thulisile.

The  After tears convening at Cosy Corner.
Images:Barry Christianson

view the full pumflet https://issuu.com/ilzewolff/docs/binder1

Pumflet Rondehuis & Exhibition

Cover Image:Paul Grendon

We invited you to submit your photograph of an oppressive space. 
We invited you to join the conversation around space, freedom and non-freedom. We invited you to challenge, with us, the oppressive bureaucracies, which through their indifference, stifle public conversations on the unfreedom experienced by architecture and in doing so, the articulation of ways out.We invited you to search with us for more antidotes.

The response was phenomenal 
1-50 Images

Photographers list

To view the full pumflet  follow the link:  https://issuu.com/ilzewolff/docs/pumfletrondehuis

The pumflet 'rondehuis' exhibition opened on the 17th of May 2018 at 5pm at Wolff Architects in Bo Kaap, Cape Town.

‘rondehuis’ documents a public conversation around space, freedom and non-freedom.

 On the night Chalwyn Thomas, a resident of Steinkopf and local researcher from  the Sandrift area ,gave a presentation on the construction and use, of the architecture of Namakwaland, and offered insight on the design of the rondehuis as well as the reed mat that is popular in the global south.

Images from the night

Installation of the exhibition  with chair to view

Chalwyn Thomas's presentation on the construction of the Rondehuis

Zuna Thomas reciting a poem she wrote in  khoekhoegowad of the Nama