By Mzukona Mantshontsho
Paragon Architects is an internationally-active African design business, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is the originator of the Paragon Group of design businesses, delivering commercial architecture, master planning
Spoke to Amit Nanoo at Paragon about this personal and professional journey.
How did you get into Architecture?
I was fortunate enough to be exposed to the world of art and design from an early age by my mother, an art teacher, as well as from a close family friend, an architect. I was always interested in the spaces I inhabited, building cardboard/ blanket tents, rearranging my bedroom over and over again, and together with my obsession with Lego, it was a natural progression to designing buildings, space planning offices, and furniture design.
What do you say about Architecture to high school learners and young people?
The profession of architecture begins at high school, most universities requiring top marks accompanied by a portfolio of work to be submitted in order to be accepted. There are a limited number of positions available at universities to study architecture, and it would be prudent to apply to more than one institution. The portfolio of work is a combination of artworks, essays, and models. This is used by universities to demonstrate your abilities to think spatially, to illustrate, and to translate an idea into something tangible. Unfortunately these entrance requirements are often realised too late. My advice to any high school student is to establish the portfolio requirements at least one year in advance of applying.
What do you say to those doing Architecture at Tertiary institutions?
University is not only about obtaining a degree, but also about establishing your identity as a professional. Architecture is a degree that requires you to be hands-on all the time, and it cannot be taught through textbooks. It is a dynamic degree in which your work is constantly assessed and critiqued by working architects and academics. It is a highly competitive industry, therefore from the beginning, as a student, your aim should be to set yourself apart. The first way to do this is to get as much work experience as early on as possible in a reputable firm. The second is to get involved in voluntary associations that organise exhibitions and lectures, as this is a great way to network and see the varied types of architecture practices that exists. Finally, take your collective experience and channel it into creating a unique architectural sensibility that will be your signature. Be bold, be passionate, take calculated risks, and work smart.
What do you say to those starting a new job as an Architect?
Your first few years should be about gaining as much experience in all spheres of the industry, in large and small firms, involve yourself as much as possible in all stages of the building process. Constantly upskill your technical abilities, this is fundamental in staying relevant in any career.
My personal ethos is to value add in all opportunities; take on projects in the company that are not necessarily part of your skills set, such as organising mentorship programs. The architectural field is only one part of the built environment eco-system, find your niche and become an expert at it. Continually challenge yourself, always act with integrity and understand what it means to be a professional.