13 June 2024 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Carin Smuts
Carin Smuts, a PhD candidate in the UFS Department of Architecture, received the prestigious SA Akademie Prize for Visual Art from the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns.

Carin Smuts received the SA Akademie Prize for Visual Art from the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (Council of the South African Academy for Science and Arts). This is one of the top prizes of the academy, awarded for a lifelong contribution to the visual arts.

She says that receiving the SA Akademie Prize for Visual Arts is a personal and professional honour.

Smuts, a professional architect, has been operating CS Studio Architects since 1989. She is internationally known for her pioneering work in architectural community development. According to Prof Jonathan Noble, the Head of the Department of Architecture at the University of the Free State (UFS) where Smuts enrolled for her PhD, she has done some incredible and ground-breaking work, and this prize is well deserved.

She believes the PhD programme at the UFS is unique and the only one of its kind in South Africa. “Called a PhD by Design, candidates are tasked with finding out what they do not know about their practice. I am excited, because the work of CS Studio Architects is unique in its physical manifestation, producing vibrant urban environments, and this PhD aims to uncover exactly how this happens. I will rely on input from various role players to inform the research,” she says.

Delivering a service to the community

According to her, growing up in an Afrikaans family and attending Afrikaans schools, they were always made aware of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns and especially its role in the promotion of Afrikaans. She recalled how one exemplary Afrikaans architect, Gabriel Fagan, was a member of the academy and how he always emphasised the importance of being correct in Afrikaans. “The WAT (Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal) used to contact Fagan regarding the correct spelling of certain words,” remembers Smuts.

“In the organisation’s current mission and aim, there is one sentence that resonate particularly with our work, namely – it aims to deliver a service to the community. The organisation has evolved over time and really fosters diversity and excellence. This is what we want to be associated with,” states Smuts.

Guiding her approach to community architecture, Smuts says it is about participation. “This empowers role players to take matters into their own hands and develop beyond just the building. Our process must enable participants to identify needs, express the dreams, and make sure these are achieved. We believe that participation, which empowers role players, leads to more sustainable environments,” she comments.

She adds, “We enter into a process of participation with local residents, government, and the private sector to determine how best to articulate and realise their needs. Participants and future users know what they want, so by listening to them, we include their dreams and ideas. This leads to vibrant environments.”

Projects with a small budget but a big impact

There are a number of projects that stand out. For her, Guga S’Thebe Arts and Cultural Village in Langa (1999) was a turning point, where they really engaged with the community from 1996 to 1998 to finalise the design. “This project attracts thousands of visitors internationally and locally, and the facilities are well utilised. It is an achievement for us as it is a small, scaled building with a small budget but a big impact. The building also addresses the influence of contemporary African architecture in its spatial layout and three-dimensional resolution,” comments Smuts.

Another highlight during her career that she recalls, was working with the Langenhoven Trust – and particularly Ebbe Dommisse and the trustees – on creating a vibrant multi-purpose theatre behind Langenhoven’s Arbeidsgenot. According to her, the project had to be done completely in Afrikaans, including all the drawings, minutes, and correspondence. For their website, which is read internationally, they explain the project in English. “This was a really empowering experience for me. A huge honour during this process was when I received the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture (2008). I also received a letter in the post from Langenhoven’s grandson, Guillaume Brümmer, to congratulate me,” she says.

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