BArch 1959 (Pretoria)
Allan Konya graduated as an architect from the University of Pretoria in the late 1950s. At that time there were strong influences from the work of Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Oscar Niemeyer. Examples of these influences can be seen all over Pretoria. Although the work of Frank Lloyd Wright was studied and admired, his influence was less obvious. The work of Allan Konya proved to be an exception. He appreciated and absorbed in the teachings of the great American master and adapted the style for local conditions.
Allan practiced as an architect in Pretoria during the sixties and seventies, and immigrated to England in the early eighties. He concentrated on writing for a few years, after which he joined Philip Jebb and Associates in Berkshire. After the death of Philip Jebb, Allan opened his own office in Berkshire, currently known as Studio Ark.
He is the renowned author of a range of books, all reflecting and communicating his passion and approach as an architect. He is an active member of “The Landmark Trust”, an organisation concerned with the preservation of neglected minor buildings in England.
His local work, especially the St Peter's Seminary in Hammanskraal and the Pigalle Centre, Sunnyside (demolished after being destroyed by a fire), clearly reflects his design philosophy. His humanistic approach towards architecture, combined with the use of local materials and imaginative details, resulted in an architecture that enhances the environment and the immediate surroundings. His design principles served as the guiding factor for every project, combining the functional aspects of design, with an honest approach towards the use of ornamentation, materials and textures.
Allan Konya's own house in Dyer Street, Hillcrest, is a perfect example of his approach.
(KA BAKKER 2007 - Extracted from an HIA submission by CULMATRIX CC)
Alan KONYA discusses his work in Plan, March 1969. pp 23-25
"Good design means going back to fundamentals: a child at work in a stable and reassuring world: a pair of lovers at play in a room where the scent of lilacs may creep through the window, or the shrill piping of crickets be heard in the garden below". Lewis Mumford.
Architecture is created for man - man with normal human responses and therefore of necessity, a romantic - not for machines. Because this is what I believe it was inevitable that I was attracted to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and his principles of organic architecture. I have tried to use certain of these principles as a springboard for developing my own expression in building. To design buildings which will blend with and if possible, improve their surroundings, suit the needs of the clients and improve their way of life is the main aim. As a means to this end I have tried to:
- keep the buildings "honest" in all respects - I have never been interested in gimmickry and don't believe in trying to create new forms for the sake of being different. A form is honest when it is developed as a result of the principles one follows and as a solution to a particular problem.
- understand that the reality of the building is not only the space within but also the space without, plus whatever merges inner and outer spaces together, and tried to make this work.
- obtain a continuity and unity in my buildings - of spaces, of materials and of details.
- make pattern or ornament, where it is used, an integral part of the structure and to use it for a purpose - to obtain texture, for instance, or to help a surface improve with age.
- understand and use the various building materials at our disposal correctly - both natural and man made. I have used natural materials as much as possible - wood, stone and brick. Technology may develop hundreds of new products but these age-old materials will always have a place in architecture. As long as human beings remain sentient creatures, responding to nature, just so long will natural materials arouse in them a special response.
These principles and others I have tried to apply to the buildings done to date. I fully realize, however, that I have a very long way to go if I am everto develop fully my own means of expression. This, as I have discovered, is no easy task. I see architecture as something much freer, more flowing and more organic than anything I have been able to achieve to date.
I have been so busy trying to learn "how to walk" and trying to keep up with the grind of running a practice that I have had little time to read, write and experiment by doing projects. One is also faced with the problem of finding a client who will accept and who can afford the luxury of such experiments. I envy someone like Paolo Soleri who has the courage to make and sell ceramic bells to keep his family and himself, and then experiment, write and create architecture the way he wants to. I must add though that the majority of my clients have been most co-operative, and if anything worthwhile has come out of my work up to now a great deal is due to them.
Of all the completed buildings the one which I suppose I am most satisfied with is St. Peter's Seminary, done together with Schalk DU TOIT. We tried to make this building blend with the surrounding veld - make it an extension of the landscape, through use of strong horizontal lines, colour (dull green, red and a beige "sand" colour) and texture. With walkways, screenwalls and courtyards we tried to create a spatial feeling appropriate to the function of the building. In these two respects, at least, I do feel we achieved a certain measure of success.
The last few years have been spent working mainly on private homes and of these House Walker and my own house are probably the two I have enjoyed the most. In House Walker I was able to experiment with space more than in any other house up to then and was fortunate in having a very sympathetic client. In an attempt to create a feeling of spaciousness and obtain a flow of spaces, the main living rooms are grouped around the fireplace mass on various levels. The entrance hall, on two levels, the sitting-room, the dining-room, the study - which is virtually a "balcony" in the lounge and dining-room space - and the kitchen all flow together to form, visually, a continuous space with varying ceiling and floor levels.
What I enjoyed most about planning my own home was the challenge of fitting what I wanted on to 8,000 square feet (743.2 square metre). The form of the house was determined largely by the size (or lack of it) and the shape of the site. Because every square foot of floor space had to be used there was not much opportunity to "play" with spaces in a vertical direction. I have, however, tried to give the ground floor in particular as spacious a feeling as possible by allowing all the areas to flow together, and to the garden which has been divided into outdoor "rooms".
Comment - Plan, March 1969. pp 28-29
The work of Alan Konya is interesting — as it is meant to be. It is designed with the express desire to please the beholder and therefore makes use of imaginative details and forms and patterns, warm colours, natural materials, plants, etc. to achieve this. The observer becomes involved in what he sees and experiences; strong emotions are evoked - of well-being, interest and pleasant surprises: richness and romanticism permeate all his buildings.
Romantic architecture is, of course, a very humanistic approach. We all know the stigma attached to the very term, a stigma rightly attached to the 19th century design-for-beauty's-sake idea. And that idea was not always so very beautiful, neither practical nor useful. But romance is a very necessary part of our human composition. It is a very valid approach to architecture, one surely lacking in our modern urban environment, but of course, when translated into architectural terms, it tends to become uncontrolled embellishment ending in overdesign in the hands of the unwary. Romantic Architecture has a long history — even in modern times. Art Nouveau with Sullivan and Horta as its protagonists, had Frank Lloyd Wright as its 20th-century priest. Bruce Goff carries the tradition on — and in South Africa we have Alan Konya.
Alan has been influenced by all these designers, Frank Lloyd Wright opening his eyes to discover traditional Japanese architecture. The discipline displayed in this architecture has had a considerable influence on Alan's latest work in that it served as a mode for restraint while yet retaining its emotional values. If Alan has leanings in one way or another I do not consider it important; what is important is that a definite design philosophy does exist which is very apparent in all his work. This serves as guiding factor in every scheme and gives personality to it.
Design criteria can be traced in the selection and use of materials, planning approach and manipulation of spaces and volumes. The number of materials is minimised and thus contributes to the wholeness of the entire structure; they are well related and well chosen for each particular task they have to perform; colours and textures are well blended and matched — usually in the yellow to brown range with green and red as accents; textures are non-shining rather than rough — the "as found" idea of the Brutalists being upheld.
Volumes are well handled and inter-penetration of spaces is achieved visually and physically in a baroque-like flowing manner which beguiles the architect's formal approach. Dropped ceiling heights contrasted to high ones lend a feeling of proximity while long low beams, pergolas, planting boxes and low walls lead the eye away to paved or grassed areas defining suggested "outside rooms".
As can be expected preoccupation with details and patterns tends to destroy mass and forms. In this respect economy measures seem to have a positive influence on Alan's work — this is the first to be stripped as happened in the case of St. Peter's — the second design being a clearer concept than the first: masses became more definite and articulate, volumes more definite. The Mears Street Flats are particularly successful because of a lack of overdetailing. Simple broad masses being used which are enhanced by the few rich details which remain. Pigalle Centre displays the proliferation of patterns and mannerisms peculiar to himself which makes this little block very domestic in scale and feeling amidst a very suburban shopping area. However, colours, textures and introduction of plants do make a big contribution to its environment.
Plans work well and are sometimes quite ingenious — functionalism being a basic fundamental of all of Alan's work. "Corner shyness" is sometimes shown which tends to destroy masses and weaken linkages. In his own house this has been overcome with commendable results. In St. Peter's and Mears Street Flats — simple masses have also been used to good effect. Buildings are well related to their sites and surroundings and create pleasant environments for their occupants; they are seen as man-made elements which offset natural plant-form which is always planned for and kept in mind. Building forms are not always well resolved, the horizontals and verticals as well as solids and voids being in visual conflict.
Some of the latest domestic work illustrates a strong tendency towards a more sculptural approach, experimenting all along, which does not always come off. These experiments, failures as well as successes, his design approach and esteem for building materials for what they are worth, his dedication to and love for his work will definitely have a great influence on his students. May this bear fruit eventually in a more sympathetic and humanistic approach being adopted by the new generation of architects and to create a more exciting environment.
Submitted by Karlien van Niekerk, Chief Information Officer, University of Pretoria, Department of Architecture Archives.
All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.
Articles by KONYA
|Konya, Alan & Henk, Karl Aage. 1975. Danish Community Housing. The Architect's Journal. vol. 161 no 14, 2 April 1975 ?|
|Konya, Alan. 1978. Architecture for Export. Parts 1 and 2. The Architect's Journal. vol. 168 no 34, 23 August 1978 ?|
|Konya, Alan. 1978. Architecture for Export. Part 3. The Architect's Journal. vol. 168 no 35, 30 August 1978 ?|
|Konya, Alan. 1978. Architecture for Export. Part 4. The Architect's Journal. vol. 168 no 36, 6 September 1978 ?|
Books by KONYA
|Konya, Alan & Burger, Alewyn. 1973. The International Handbook of Finnish Sauna. London: The Architectural Press|
|Konya, Alan & Henk, Karl Aage. 1975. Danish Community Housing. London: The Architectural Press|
|Konya, Alan. 1980. Design primer for hot climates. London: The Architectural Press|
|Konya, Alan. 1986. Libraries : briefing and design guide. London: The Architectural Press|
|Konya, Alan. 1986. Sports buildings : briefing and design guide. London: The Architectural Press|
|Konya, Alan. 1987. Finnish sauna. London : New York: The Architectural Press : Van Nostrand Reinhold Co|
|Konya, Alan & Worthington, John. 1988. Fitting out the workplace : a straightforward guide for the layman and professional to the specification of workplace interiors. London: The Architectural Press|
|Konya, Alan. 2010. With love from Mykonos : letters to my mother. Reading: Archimedia Press Limited|
|Konya, Alan. 2011. The modern sauna and related facilities. Reading: Archimedia Press Limited|
Books citing KONYA
|Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pp 126|