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Top women architects win national awards Celebrating award-winning women in architecture

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Four women have been honoured in the 2013/14 Corobrik-SAIA Awards of Excellence presented by Corobrik and the South African Institute for Architects (SAIA) at a gala dinner in Durban on 1 August.

This is a notable achievement, said Nina Saunders, vice-president of SAIA. The awards recognise exceptional contributions to the field of architecture and have been conferred every two years since their introduction in 1990.

Less than 20% of SAIA members are currently women. However, almost 28% of members have earned the title PR Arch (Professional Architect), the highest level of membership, and we are seeing an encouraging trend emerging with 40% women in the Architect in Training category.

Three of the eight Awards of Excellence at the highest accolade that can be bestowed on a building in South Africa - were presented to projects designed by practices headed by women. Of the 14 Awards of Merit conferred for a significant architectural achievement, one was for a project designed by a firm with a woman as the lead architect.

The four award-winning architects are Charlotte Chamberlain and Nicola Irving, partners at Charlotte Chamberlain & Nicole Irving Architects (CCNA) in Cape Town; Michele Sandilands, principal of Michelle Sandilands Architects in Cape Town; and Anne Graupner, principal at 26'10 south Architects in Johannesburg.

Chamberlain and Irving won their award for the pre-school campus of Springfield Convent School in Cape Town. Graduates of UCT, the two worked together at Louis Karol Architects and both spent time gaining experience in Europe, Chamberlain in France and Irving in England. It was after Charlotte spent five years in Australia, and Nicola had started a practice with Paul De Villiers, that the two joined forces to create their own practice, with a strong motivation to build a better life for themselves, their families and the wider community.

Winning an award is not the true test of a building or project, rather it is the happiness of the people using and inhabiting the spaces, Chamberlain said. However, an award is welcome recognition for the client, who had the ability and foresight to trust in our processes.

Sandilands entry was for her work on Phase 2 of UNISA on the Cape Flats' creating an inspiring house of learning to accommodate administrative offices, student registration, exam rooms and teaching venues.

She established her own practice, Michelle Sandilands Architects, in 1998 and has a wealth of experience, having designed many of Cape Town's foremost corporate, commercial and public buildings. Her practice has won several national and regional awards.

After graduating from the University of Cape Town in 1985 she worked at MLH Architects and Planners where she was responsible for several projects, among them the three Cableway buildings for which she was principal design architect.

Thrilled about winning a Corobrik-SAIA Award" both for herself and her hard-working team -Sandilands says that educational buildings are a particular interest of hers. We want to make a positive difference in everything that we design and so the design and construction of places of learning fulfils this ideology, as do buildings that have a minimal impact on our carbon footprint and that set sustainable examples.

Anne Graupner of 26'10 south Architects was the lead architect, together with her partner Thorsten Deckler, on the entry for their studio home in Brixton, Gauteng.

Educated in Vienna at the University of Applied Arts, Graupner graduated cum laude in 2001. She worked at the Architecture Centre Vienna before returning to South Africa, her country of birth, in 2002. Two years later, she co-founded 26'10 south Architects with Thorsten Deckler, which was selected as the top emerging practice in the country in 2012.

Graupner has lectured and curated and designed exhibitions locally and abroad. She co-authored (with T. Deckler and H. Rasmuss) the book Contemporary South African Architecture in a Landscape of Transition.


Being recognised for design excellence validates some of our conceptual thinking and values but happy users that take ownership of our work are the best awards, says Graupner. Turning constraints into opportunities often requires reading between the lines, amplifying what already exists and challenging the status quo.

Nina Saunders concludes, If you are a good architect it doesn't matter whether you are a man or women. However, it must be acknowledged that a higher percentage of women have been lead architects on the award-winning projects this year which is a healthy development for the profession.

Saunders is a programme manager for strategic architectural projects at Ethekwini Municipality's City Architecture Department and was a member of the organising committee for the Union of Architects (UIA) 2014 world congress in Durban.

Anne Graupner from 26'10 south Architects was the lead architect on the project Studio home, Brixton, Johannesburg. She is pictured proudly displaying her award with SAIA president, Sindile Ngonyama, CEO SAIA Obert Chakarisa and Chairman of Corobrik Peter du Trevou

Pictured proudly displaying their awards are from left: Michele Sandilands, principal of MSa Michelle Sandilands Architects in Cape Town and Charlotte Chamberlain and Nicola Irving, partners at CCNI Architects in Cape Town.