Tuesday, March 26, 2024



I have a personal online archive of photos and drawings, filed by location and style /period. There is a section for Harare, mostly compiled about 20 years ago.

This is Construction House by Harvey Bufe Mwamuka. Designed in 1990. It's pretty obvious that the design is by Vernon Mwamuka, the youngest partner. As far as I know it was his largest and most prominent work at the time. The influence of American architect Phillip Johnson is very clear in my view. (look up AT&T Building / 550 Madison Ave, for example)


I was collecting newspaper clippings on new projects in those days. Wouldn't it make a great piece of university research to trawl through newspaper files and enter the information gleaned into a computer database so it could be searchable for future generations.

Note the "artists impression." It may seem crude by today's standards, but that's the way things were 30 years ago. Some watercolour artists could come up with more sophisticated images, but the era of universal photoreal stills and video clips was still a distant dream.


The colour photos are mine, from 2002 or thereabouts before I had any plans to move to Dubai and while I was still actively building up the Zimbabwe section of my database.

Seems like a long time ago.




A comment from Jonathan Leavens prompted this little study. When I joined Clinton & Evans they had offices in Livingston House, but soon after, we moved into an old house in the Avenues. Downstairs was the Reserve Bank team, lead by Graham Olsen and working by hand. Upstairs we had three computers.

I was sharing a computer with Eric Smith who spent a good deal of time on the Miekles site. We were adding several floors to the North block which had been designed to take this future load. There was also a thorough internal refurb using a South African interior designer.



In parallel with this work, Vernon Mwamuka was building the Southampton Centre, and together the two developments formed a U-shaped frame around a roof terrace that the hotel used for a spill-out restaurant. This sheltered space overlooks the gardens of Africa Unity Square.

At some point, Eric approached me with a problem. My knowledge of computers in those early days was a step ahead of the other guys. He had an elevation drawing that would not fit on a floppy disk. The problem was that they had not learned to use blocks, so he simply drew one bay, and copied it about 100 times. So in half an hour, I was able to shrink the file to about a tenth of its previous size.



As an aside, the South Block of Miekles was designed by Harvey Bufe who had previously taken Vernon on as a junior partner. I don't know if this had any relevance to the Southampton House commission. The complexities make for an interesting urban ensemble however. Those were days of great optimism in Zimbabwe.

I have to say that I am relishing the gradual awakening of memories brought about by this series of posts.





Architectural practices evolve. Often they start as two young architects with complementary skills and a shared vision. As they get older, they often take a younger, energetic designer into the partnership to extend the life of the practice into their old age.

You can trace this process in the name changes of registered practices. In Zimbabwe, "Harvey Bufe" became "Harvey Bufe Mwamuka," then "Mwamuka Mercuri." This third alliance gave them strong connections in both Harare and Bulawayo as well as the African and European communities which were sadly far from fully integrated.


I met both partners several times, but I new Vernon Mwamuka best. A year or two before his death in a tragic road accident, he tried to lure me away from Clinton & Evans. We spent a pleasant evening in the Miekles Hotel, drinking whisky on his tab and swapping stories.

One that sticks in my mind tells how he sweet-talked his way into Phillip Johnson's office in New York and built a lasting friendship with that fascinating shape-shifter who straddled the Modernist and Post-Modern eras. Vernon was a charmer to be sure, and Johnson's influence is evident in his early work.


The pictures here are from 2002 when I spent a week in Bulawayo as a guest lecturer. Firstly the NUST campus itself, (which I believe was a collaboration with an American concept architect) and then the Bulawayo Centre, in a similar colourful style with a nod in the Post Modern direction.

Vernon died in a head-on collision, driving his Mercedes back from Bulawayo one night. He was one of those bright flames that outshone the rest but flickered out too soon. Surely the most commercially successful of the first generation of black Zimbabwean architects.


The top of one of my bookshelves. The matchbox shapes have been there for more than a year now. Revisiting a teaching aid I developed 40 years ago. The woven fan is from my Xmas in Thailand just 3 months ago.

That brings us to two art works rescued from my house in Zimbabwe. Both by my Dad, who was an art teacher. I had quite forgotten about the chunky clay figurine of a seated woman, finished with a translucent milky glaze. It's such a tactile evocation of the maiden great-aunts who I knew as a teenager when this was made.

The picture in the background is a preliminary sketch for a larger picture. It dates from my early childhood in Barnsley. BBCS buildings in the background and some kind of travelling fairground at the front I think.

Barnsley British Cooperative Society was a major player in the retail space at one time. Theoretically a self-help movement in the working class community I grew up in, based primarily on coal mining. The coal mines disappeared completely but "the Coop" lingers on in a very different form.








It's a long time since I've ventured down (or up?) the trunk of the palm. Makes me wonder how many other "fun places to hang out" I'm missing, as I live out my hermit life-style.

Sure enough it took a visitor from UK to entice me out here. The place is called "the Pointe" and you can take your pick of F&B outlets to sit out at while admiring the view. Plus various other entertainments I'm sure.

At some point I will have to let go of Dubai and the whole ex-pat thing. Probably I should try to savour every moment in this city of ridiculous contrasts while I can.

I guess that's what I'm trying to do really, but in a balanced way. Sprinkling these "tourist class" experiences sparingly over the steady routines of my day-job: remote work from a dormitory suburb next to the sewage works 🤣🤣🤣


Parallel worlds. I like to listen to the theoretical physics stuff, but this is a much simpler tale. Sitting at a table in International City, waiting for Karam Baki. We had a nice evening, by the way. Such a gentleman. A couple of guys cancelled at the last minute. It's OK. We are all racing away on our parallel tracks of deadlines and "client issues" 🤣🤣🤣

One duality would be the contrast between this, and my previous post. The dormitory suburb v the tourist attraction. Dubai's essential split personality, much maligned in the Western Press, but my home for the past 20 years. I've come to view that tension with affection as part of the rich tapestry of human culture.

The other parallel reference is just the composition of the image. Reflections. Inside-outside. The chaos of the street and the homely Syrian decor of the restaurant. We talked about AI and my hope that automation will eventually free up people to pursue meaningful work: a revival of traditional hand-crafted buildings and other trappings of daily life.

Can we have the dignity and deep satisfaction of skilled work in parallel with the benefits of abundance? Or is that just a dream world, through the looking glass?



Irish father, Swiss mother, born in Chicago, left school at 16, one year of architecture school.

Louis Sullivan learned on the job. He went out into the world and honed his craft by doing the business. He reached the pinnacle of success, found a partner who brought in the work and handled the nitty gritty.

Part modernist, part celtic revival with a dash of art nouveau for good luck. His work with Dankmar Adler was innovative on many levels. Who did what? Who cares? Together they were unstoppable. Until they weren't.

Economic depression. (panic of 1893) Split up. Alcoholism and decline. Louis burnt so brightly, then faded and faded. Sometimes it's like that.


I went to St Louis for a Revit conference. Took photos of the Wainwright building and knocked up a quick BIM sketch at my daughter's house in Florida on the way back. That has become part of my WWB (way we build) archive on the Autodesk Construction Cloud.

I've thrown in some hand sketching for good luck. Searching for a balance between the physical and the digital. Work in progress.


Ten or twelve years ago I was obsessed with the challenge of representing organic shapes in Revit. Not the Zaha Hadid type. My heroes were Gaudi and Mendelsohn Expressionism and Art Nouveau.

Not that I ever wanted to bring these styles back from the dead. I just felt (still feel) that we need a better understanding of that period of time when the continuity of human history was effectively broken.

It's fun to break things when you are young. Disruption is seen as a positive thing by many today, not just the young, but especially the believers in relentless technological progress. I guess I am still hoping for a middle way, a nuanced view. Some progress is good but a sense of continuity with the past is also important.

The fact that I have been doing digital studies like these for 15 years and more suggests that I am not a luddite. All the same I would like to see more young people pursuing traditional craft apprenticeships. Fewer mass produced trinkets in our lives : more objects of beauty worthy of passing on to our grandchildren.

We preserve "listed buildings", but what about the way of life that gave them meaning?



All I knew of Klint was the Expressionist west front of Gruntvigs church. And I almost missed my chance to see it. My last morning in Copenhagen was blighted by rain and the day before a group of North African boys charmed me into conversation on the metro while one of them stole my wallet.

I overcame adversity to catch a bus ride, miss my stop, walk too far with a borrowed umbrella and soggy shoes, but I saw his masterwork in the flesh. The photos inspired me to study his unusual brick bonding when I got home, then research his other work.

There followed a BIM sketch of his 3 Copenhagen churches and their location within the city. I realised that the "extreme style" of his iconic west front was actually deeply rooted in traditional Danish church design. This is what my "WayWeBuild" work is all about, digging deeper into the meaning and purpose of buildings that have been an inspiration. Putting them into social and historical context.

It's an endless task, but I am trying my best to shape my efforts into an intelligible body of work that can be of some use to younger generations long after I am gone.

They stole my purse and that is symptomatic of some of the difficult issues that Europe faces and the contradictions of globalism. But all the same they are part of the future. We need to understand our past better and to navigate the way forward.