Submission for Creative Research Assessment, 2020 for 2018

Architect:            Heather Dodd | Savage + Dodd Architects | Phd Candidate | UFS Architecture

Client:                   Self published

Reflection by Author – Heather Dodd

‘Motif’ is a retrospective of the work of the Savage + Dodd Architects celebrating the exploration of ideas across 25 years of practice.


Marking a milestone in practice, the firm decided to produce an exhibition of work showcasing significant projects from 25 years of work. Exhibited in October 2018 at a public gallery in Newtown Johannesburg, ‘Motif’ was opened with a speech by Prof.  Lone Poulsen. The exhibition was subsequently shown at the Fassler Gallery at the Department of Architecture, the University of the Witwatersrand in February 2019, with a public lecture by Heather Dodd, a partner in the Practice. Curated by Savage + Dodd Architects in collaboration with Glenda Venn of Itsago Communications, the exhibition consisted of 20 hanging banners and 2 horizontal feature panels showcasing 22 projects spanning from 1994 to 2019.

 Scholarly Framework

 The product of a design process is normally a building, one that exists in the real world. An architectural exhibition, however, concerns representations of intended designs and may focus upon the design process itself. This differs from art exhibitions, where the completed works are displayed, be they paintings, drawings or sculptures. Since is it not possible to exhibit a ‘building’ in a ‘gallery’ space, architectural exhibitions arguably concern aspects of interpretation and presentation – via drawings, models, photographs and other visual material. Thus, the challenge of our architectural exhibition was not merely to present a retrospective of projects, but to find a narrative and a spatial plan of display, and it is this is that frames the concept of the exhibition.

The exhibition was designed in relation to the gallery and courtyard arrival space. An illustrated, horizontal ‘timeline’ was placed along the courtyard wall leading visitors into the gallery. Within the gallery, twenty project banners were hung from the roof trusses allowing viewers to make visual links between projects. The banners were designed to have a ‘hero’ photograph, a headline for the building at eye height, with explanatory photographs, drawings and text below. At the bottom of the banner a series of smaller ‘motif’ photographs were shown – intended to provide visual links between projects. The end walls of the Gallery were conceptualized as visual bookends with horizontal banners presenting two major pieces of work, Sol Plaatje University and Housing Stories, presenting a series of inner-city adaptive re-use housing projects.

The curation concerned both the design of the visual material and the spatial arrangement, which together communicated the exhibition narrative, allowing connections to be made between projects. Establishing threads of development across the entire body of work. This intention was further facilitated by group discussions and workshops with students.

 Contribution to new knowledge

In curating 25 years of architectural practice we decided to reflect on the concepts that are woven through our work. We chose the theme of ‘Motif’ – defined as a dominant or recurring idea throughout a body of work and used this to show a series of recurring spatial themes and ‘tactics’ that inform our practise. We used this to structure the layout of the banners, and it provided the lens through which to present the work. We believe this is a novel way to present the work of the practice as a body of knowledge and to show threads of development within design thinking across the work. Presenting 20 projects we identified the following ‘motifs’ used individually and in various combinations, namely: Live, Live-Work-Play, Live-Learn-Play, Neighbourhood, Landmark, Colour, Courtyard, Verandah, Prototype, Re-purpose, Hybrid, Heritage, Flexible. The Motifs are indicated by bold project headings that effectively prompt the process of storytelling. The placement of the banners within the gallery space also allowed visual connections to be made between projects.

Architectural Exhibitions build a repository of knowledge within the public realm, but which however, are not a common occurrence in South Africa, due to limited opportunities, costs and the availability of suitable venues. This exhibition was used as an active teaching tool, facilitated by interactive sessions with the partners of the practice and student groups. In using the exhibition as a teaching tool, the exhibition provided a unique insight for students, allowing a view into the design process and spatial thinking that is manifest through the display of this significant body of work.

Public Profile

The exhibition was advertised amongst the profession and tertiary Institutions teaching Architecture. The full text of Prof. Lone Paulsen’s opening speech and further images of the exhibition can be viewed here.


Online Publication