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LEMON PEBBLE ARCHITECTS

Established:

Architect


A firm with the principals Althea PEACOCK and Tanzeem RAZAK.

SAIA Women in Architecture, February 2017

"Why Lemon Pebble Architects"? Althea PEACOCK and Tanzeem RAZAK say they always get asked that question. They simply answer, "it's because all the 'cherries' were taken".

Tanzeem and Althea are founders of a 100% black-owned architecture and design practice. Their practice is one of a few women-owned practices that can be found in South Africa. The story of the two talented women architects started in October 2006 when Althea and Tanzeem decided to start up their own practice and wanted "cherrie" in their name to reflect their distinctive township background as young black female architects trying to express their particular identities in their work.

Today, Lemon Pebble Architects revels in its diverse team and works to incorporate their personal histories and identities into their work. Having made the conscious decision to be part of the urban fabric of Johannesburg, they located themselves in Newtown, on the edges of the inner Johannesburg city in an effort to be a part of the inner-city regeneration; to grow within the vibrant diverse community and continue to create spaces of social consciousness and cohesion.

Although in the eleventh year of their journey [2017], the road to building and maintaining a sustainable practice has not always been without its challenges. Both principals graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) where they met in first year in the early 1990s. Their careers in architecture began at the cusp of democracy and in very uncertain times. They had to challenge the entrenched stereotypes of a deficiency of technical skills, while also having to contend with the lack of access to black female role models. This formative experience has led to the team building a resilience that has served them well in the tough male dominated construction industry.

They believe that the importance of mentors cannot be underplayed in navigating this industry where the role of females as designers is often seen to be limited to being an interior decorator. Additionally, a female architect leading a large team, people initially tend to defer to the male for direction.

Coming from backgrounds where they grew up with strong female role models in their everyday lives, they both see their mothers as having shaped their fierce independence which counteracted traditional perceptions of the role of women in the society.

Althea and Tanzeem both agree that although, the architectural profession has been more accommodating of diversity, the ingrained challenges could not have been traversed without them having mentors. "We have been fortunate in finding our mentors in our previous employers. Having previously worked at successful firms of MUHAMMED MAYAT ARCHITECTS, NOERO WOLFF ARCHITECTS and KATE OTTEN ARCHITECTS, the principals have all taken their roles beyond our tenure in their practices and extended the relationships into our careers where they have been generous in their advice. They also provided opportunities which have translated into joint ventures on interesting projects which we would have not otherwise have accessed" says Tanzeem.

Althea underlined that architecture has never been only a job for them, but rather an opportunity for them to make a difference and it is that idealism they have had as students and still carry today as practitioners. "We put our heart into what we create, and that means that it's increasingly difficult to maintain a balance between where work ends and personal lives begin. That's why creating a balance is a deliberate choice for us".

The design of their office is a deliberate attempt to foster a creative, nurturing and comfortable environment where their team can remain focused during work hours and leave space for nurturing in their other interests after hours.

This extends into their weekly creative sessions called #FreshFridays where the team makes a deliberate attempt to explore their individual creativity with exploratory design sessions, city tours and even invite guests so they can experience the team beyond the daily routine of a busy practice. "You need to keep inspired and motivated and the daily grind of architecture #FreshFridays sessions has allowed us to collaborate and to connect to thought leaders within the creative industry, where we as a team can become increasingly inspired". says Tanzeem.

The two remarkable architects believe in the importance of empowering other younger architects and they have always prioritized the hiring and empowerment of women in their practice. Their initial experience was learning from Kate Otten, not only on how to be a female architect in the industry, but more on how to build a business through the making of good architecture. Through that experience (just being one of them), it has taught them to continue with the legacy of giving back to those coming after them.

Althea highlights that training at university is limited to the technical and design aspects of architecture and does not empower one enough with other skills required to run a sustainable practice. To counteract this shortfall, they always encourage their team to get involved in the running of the practice beyond the projects they are currently conceptualizing in the office.

"Our advice to young woman entering the industry is to be patient. There is sense of impatience that is palpable from the young architects keen to be producing large scale buildings immediately upon graduation and to fulfill a lifestyle that was imagined upon graduation. The reality is that there is a still a lot to learn and great fun to be had while doing so. The foundation of early practicing is critical as it molds one to be seen as an architect ultimately, therefore it is very important for the young to choose their path wisely. It is also crucial to be conscious of who they are as an individual within their community" says Althea.

"In essence, savour your backgrounds, your cultural idiosyncrasies and hold onto your traditional values. Never before has it been so imperative for the different and alternative voices to be heard, so that we can challenge the imported aesthetic that is South African architecture today. It is only if the new generation embrace our past, and look to the future with unblinkered confidence of histories, i.e. the way we make indigenous space and the particular way in which we work, will we create an architecture that is distinctly South African" concludes Tanzeem.

Founding partners Althea Peacock and Tanzeem Razak are both graduates of Wits University and are involved in teaching and examining at Wits, University of Cape Town (UCT) and the Graduate School of Architecture (GAD) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

(SAIA Women in Architecture, February 2017. Submitted by William MARTINSON)