I remember on the eve of my 10th birthday my father reminded me that this was to be my last day as a single digit. This comes to mind as, from a distance, I watch the architecture practice I started, celebrate a decade in business. I moved to Switzerland late last year to begin a PhD at ETH Zürich. The years I spend away will be a true test of resilience for the practice, which is being managed by a new generation of directors. The NYU Professor Aswath Damodaran says we should think of tech startups as aging in dog years, which would make Local Studio 70 years old. I don’t believe that architecture firms age as quickly as tech companies though. I’d imagine the practice now to be something of a young adult, past the risky years where intensive nurturing is required, but still able to keep a parent up at night.
Reflecting on the work of the practice over these years, I am struck by the unconventional way in which we started: with a series of architectural interventions made during evenings and weekends in the township of Westbury. Our projects ranged from high-school drawing workshops to temporary activations of open spaces rubbed-raw by poverty and neglect. The first five years of Local Studio, chronicled in our book, ‘Hustles’, was a logical progression from Westbury, marked by several parks, schools and community centers. It is almost inconceivable that the same practice could make a success of large-scale commercial projects in the succeeding years.
Our foray into commercial work, for companies like Italtile Ltd. And the Dipula Income Fund was a necessary pivot after political and economic troubles in South Africa caused government and private social infrastructure providers to build less. The pipeline of work heading into 2023 however, looks a lot like the early years, with a school, a biodiversity centre and a community library topping the list. I can’t help thinking that Local Studio might not have made it this far, had our first project been a suburban house alteration rather than a self-generated community project in Westbury. The cliché ‘It’s not how you start that’s important, but how you finish’, is proven wrong in this instance. Our start was incredibly important and we have no intention of finishing.