By Dineo Phoshoko

At the tender age of 23, Carla Jooste has already experienced timber construction on an international level after winning the timber competition. Her prize was spending five days in the Czech Republic where she learnt about timber construction.

Carla Jooste is a passionate senior architectural technologist. Credit: Heidi Knowles Photography

Carla Jooste is a passionate senior architectural technologist. Credit: Heidi Knowles Photography

From as early as 6-years-old, Jooste already knew that her career would be in architecture. She was intrigued by buildings and loved how a building had its own character, form and function. “I have always been a creative, well-organised and driven person and I think this inspired me to pursue a career where there is always something new to learn every day. It is a profession where you can inspire, change and influence.”

After finishing matric, she enrolled for a bachelor’s degree, at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, in architecture and completed her studies in 2018. Today she works for Osmond Lange Architects as a candidate senior architectural technologist. She has various responsibilities which include working drawings, council submission drawings, feasibility studies, client reports and presentation work.

Life as an architect

The journey to becoming a senior architectural technologist has not been an easy one. Jooste reminisces about the days where she used to stare through the car window on her way back from school – amazed at different building sites and the progress of the projects. “I would draw my ‘dream house’ on two A4 sheets of paper stuck together and create something I liked,” she explains.

Becoming a successful architectural technologist, did not happen without challenges. Jooste explains that the challenges she faced in the architectural study industry, had a major impact on decisions she made when she became a full-time employee. “I think we face various trials; in fact, I believe every profession is like that. In the profession of architecture there is a lot of competition between designers, always striving to have the best design.” To get around this, Jooste felt it would be best to focus on her unique characteristics, values and opinions that made her stand out as an architect, designer and individual. Tapping into this uniqueness meant finding inspiration from other designers and learning from them – but to never compare her work with other designers. “I believe everyone is completely unique and there is beauty in every designer’s work, but it is important not to lose the essence of creativity,” she explains.

For Jooste, the most challenging aspect about being an architect is also rewarding at the same time. “I would say it is extremely challenging as a designer, to complete the projects as you originally envisioned from the original concept.” In this case, Jooste emphasises that teamwork between the architect and builder is extremely important. She adds that co-operation and information sharing is critical for any project that progresses from the working drawings to an on-site building. “I believe, in our industry, it is challenging to take charge of what happens on a building site and ensuring that all goes well,” Jooste adds.

Career highlights

Although she’s only 23-years-old, Jooste has already experienced some unforgettable moments in her career. One of them was participating and winning the HWZ International timber competition. The brief required designing a home for a South African family located in South Africa. “I decided to design the house on a beautiful site in Cape Town that marries and connects beautifully with its landscape,” she explains. She adds that the building is designed in such a way that it blends well with its surroundings, merging into the landscape by being sensitive to the environment.

“The design concept is to incorporate nature within a home by using the concept of biophilic design. The most frequent question that arose during the design of the house was ‘What does a typical South African family need?’ By considering this simplistic, yet extravagant question through the design of the house, led to many innovative and experiential opportunities. A typical South African family want comfort, sustainability and a place that connects with nature.” Jooste’s design would enhance a family’s living experience – also taking into account various strategies including biophilic design, sustainable living and CLT construction. “The intention is to emphasise the true qualities of CLT construction within a home. The house has the ability to inspire nature within the build form and illustrates richness in the use of materials, comfort, closeness to nature, form and proportion,” she explains.

As the winner, she got an opportunity to visit the Czech Republic for five days where she met Pavel Horák, a well-known architect in the European country. “Pavel Horák showed me his personal sketch book and explained how he goes through a design process from the first concept sketch, this was an inspiring and life changing experience for me,” she explains. While in the country, she also got to experience an architectural studio in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.

During her stay, Jooste experienced a holistic view of timber construction in Czech Republic. She visited various construction sites, saw completed timber houses and visited the forest among others. “The week in Prague was a broad overview of timber construction in the Czech Republic and it has been a truly amazing experience.”

Not only was the competition a career highlight, but it was also a fantastic learning experience for Jooste. She walked away with a lot of knowledge about timber construction which she could apply in her career. “It has enabled me to achieve a broader perspective of timber, to experience it for myself first-hand and to be inspired on how successful it is to design with timber.” Timber’s natural habitat, production, manufacturing and designing with timber are among the many details she learnt about timber construction in the Czech Republic. “A timber house is not just another house; it has the ability to create an atmosphere that is far greater than one’s imagination. I now understand why Pavel Horák fell in love with timber and the inspiration to design with this beautiful material,” she adds.

Timber architecture and the environment

According to Jooste, the most common misconceptions about timber are that it rots, sound acoustics are low, and it has a low fire resistance. “After being able to see successfully completed projects in the Czech Republic, it was interesting to see how the architects design in such a way as to provide solutions to these misconceptions just like we do in South Africa,” she explains.

Despite these and other misconceptions such as durability and deforestation, Jooste believes that timber has the possibility to bring something fresh, authentic and beautiful to the building industry. “Not only does timber have a number of sustainable characteristics, but it holds so much more. It provides beautiful aesthetic qualities, creates an emotional connection by feeling grounded, natural and part of nature, it provides good quality environmental qualities and it creates a mentally and physically healthy environment.”

Although there is a lot of potential for beautiful designs through timber construction, Jooste feels it is important that careful consideration is given to the environment. “Although many architects have started to change the way they design to create a smaller carbon footprint value, I still believe more changes need to be made.” She explains that using a natural material such as wood is ideal for creating a more sustainable environment. “Every project is unique and we as designers need to be sensible on how we approach a project. I believe starting to consider designing more with timber is a good way to create a better living environment which also contributes to the environment.”

What does the future hold?

As a young South African architect, Jooste has become passionate about challenging the normal way of thinking. “I believe as an architect you have to challenge yourself to think differently and be open to alternative building materials and the way one designs a home,” she says. In addition, she emphasises her love for timber construction because of its unique characteristics.

One of her future aspirations is to set up her own practice specialising in timber construction. She has even thought of creating a concept house whereby potential clients can get first-hand experience of a timber building. “In the near future I would love to consider timber in low-cost housing and how to improve the quality of lives for communities who do not have the ability or means to afford a home for themselves,” she adds.

“Be original, go back to basics and be yourself.” That’s the advice Jooste has for anyone considering a career as an architect. In her view, everyone in the architecture industry has something unique to bring to timber construction. She believes South Africa requires different innovative thinkers to bring different perspectives, ideas and challenges together to create a better solution for timber construction in South Africa.

She believes that building designers have a responsibility to make a home sustainable and adding positivity to the environment – which is possible through CLT construction. Quoting the words of Chinese writer and philosopher Lao-tze, ‘Clay makes the pot, but the essence of the pot is the space within; walls make the house, but the essence of the house are the spaces within,’ – Jooste believes that the quote emanates with the essence of CLT construction. “Not only does CLT construction provide a beautiful shell of the building, but it also celebrates the spaces within and radiates the true quality of timber and the many advantages of it,” Jooste concludes.