SAOTA presents LIGHT SPACE LIFE Exhibition at Miami Center for Architecture.
SAOTA presents LIGHT SPACE LIFE Exhibition at Miami Center for Architecture.
Image: Supplied

What is SAOTA and when did it all start?

SAOTA is an SA-based architecture studio, founded in 1986. The studio is led by Stefan Antoni, Philip Olmesdahl, Greg Truen, Philippe Fouché, Mark Bullivant, Roxanne Kaye and Logen Gordon, who share a potent vision easily distinguished in their practices. SAOTA has a global footprint, working on projects in 86 countries on six continents and has designed luxury residential, commercial and hospitality projects.

We’re three companies operating from one studio — SAOTA (architecture), ARRCC (interior architecture and interior design, 1996) and OKHA (bespoke furniture, 1997).

With reference to SA modernism, and a grounding in the international style, SAOTA’s projects take advantage of wildly beautiful settings and are rooted in place by the relationship between the building and its site. The studio cites the spirit of enquiry and close examination of function and form as hallmarks of its work, as well as the use of the most current technology, including virtual reality, in its design processes.

SA residential architecture has a proud history and SAOTA has been able to build the studio on the back of great architects such as Gawie Fagan. People love the way South Africans blend indoor and outdoor living.

SAOTA is well known for residential work but will take on almost any project. It is doing more high-rise commercial and residential work, and a lot of hospitality work with many of the world’s top hotel brands at the moment. It has also completed several schools and university projects and is busy with a really exciting school project in the Caribbean.

SAOTA presents LIGHT SPACE LIFE Exhibition at Miami Center for Architecture.
SAOTA presents LIGHT SPACE LIFE Exhibition at Miami Center for Architecture.
Image: Supplied

In 2012, SAOTA’s bursary programme was established. We have awarded 35 bursaries to 22 architecture students at various SA universities. This bursary programme runs annually and is aimed at supporting students of architecture.

Tell us more about your most recent exhibition in Miami?

As most things happen for a reason, it’s somewhat poetic that Miami became the first of our US exhibitions as it is where our US story began in 2012. Today Florida is one of the biggest regions and accounts for roughly 20% of the projects in the studio.

Hosted at the Miami Center for Architecture and Design, the exhibition follows the launch of SAOTA’s first monograph released with Thames & Hudson, titled Light Space Life, which are three core values that form the basis of our design principles. Light Space Life, in many ways, encapsulates our design ethos — to create spaces, crafted with light that enhances life.

The content of the exhibition is loosely arranged around that in the book and tells a little about our journey: where we are from; and how that has influenced our approach to architecture.

SAOTA presents LIGHT SPACE LIFE Exhibition at Miami Center for Architecture.
SAOTA presents LIGHT SPACE LIFE Exhibition at Miami Center for Architecture.
Image: Supplied

It celebrates 35 years of innovative residential design. Though we work on commercial, hospitality, public and mixed-use projects, residential design is a huge part of what we do.

The exhibition is deliberately not arranged according to the area of the project, nor the building type or chronology, it is a glimpse into a larger body of work and implies that ideas and directions influence the thinking in our studio and where it might go in the future.

The work exhibited demonstrates an agile approach to the context, though there’s a thread that binds the work, it displays a conscious resistance to a cookie-cutter approach to design.

We’ve tried to make it feel a bit like an art exhibition, you’ll notice some framed images towards the back of the space. It includes photographs, drawings models, videos, and some more playful glimpses into our daily lives as architects. We see it as a visual journey into the collective SAOTA DNA

What are the five most exciting projects the studio has done this year?

It’s difficult to say because as an architect your next project should always be your best project. But a few that stand out are the new Six Senses Hotel in Dubai, an amazing Hollywood Hills inspired residential development in China and an incredible house in Arizona.

We are planning our next exhibition in New York later this year at the Porcelanosa showroom on Fifth Avenue.

We’ve worked on many incredible projects locally and internationally, ranging from residential to commercial and hospitality. We’re working in Nigeria, United Arab Emirates (UAE), US, Australia, Switzerland, France and Greece, to name a few.

Is SAOTA based only in SA?

Our studio (HQ) is based in Cape Town but most of our work is elsewhere — we’re proud that we’ve built a design business that can compete globally using SA skills and endeavour.

The studio is usually busy, with 30-40 active projects globally at any given time and about 300 employees across the three brands.

With staff working remotely — the practices and technology around remote working have completely transformed the way that we work. We’re proud of our resilience as an organisation, we emerged from the pandemic 30% — 40% larger than when it all started. 

Are there any new projects or exhibitions we can look forward to?

We are planning our next exhibition in New York later this year at the Porcelanosa showroom on Fifth Avenue. It will continue the Light Space Life series and will be our fourth exhibition. Our first exhibition was hosted at the Cape Town Institute for Architecture (CIfA) in Cape Town at the end of 2017. 

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