The Sustainability of Nina Maritz
by Michael Cockram
Architects practicing in wealthy countries are becoming increasingly aware that our resources are finite and that if climate change goes unchecked, we could face a much warmer, harsher environment. Scientists present us with images of expanding deserts, sinking water tables, and material scarcity.
For Namibian architect Nina Maritz, the challenges of working in a harsh environment with limited means are already an everyday reality. Her work presents a model for making compelling buildings despite "a poverty of resources."
Namibia is situated well below the equator on the southeast coast of Africa. It is a sparsely populated country encompassing two deserts, the Namib and Kalahari. The extremely hot, dry climate, sandy soil, and lack of an industrial base has kept the country poor. But its rich traditional culture and stable democracy provide fertile ground for the aesthetics of simplicity.
In his upcoming book Place, Cultural Identity and Change: Strategies Toward a Situated Regionalism, Kingston Heath devotes a chapter to Maritz and to her holistic approach to culturally sensitive sustainable design.
"The problem of 'sustainability' as a reductionist term," he quotes her as saying, "is that it focuses discussion on only one issue. When we design, we need to think of all issues; strike a balance; and not leave out the rest. We can't just say that these are cultural concerns, for example; climate is cultural. The seasons affect and determine behavior. Weather shapes how communities get together, and weather influences aesthetics."
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Habitat Research and Development Center in Windhoek, Namibia, by architect Nina Maritz, with its emblematic cooling towers.
Photo: Nina Maritz
Photo: Nina Maritz
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