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Remembering Pancho

2015-11-15 14:36

Portugal-born, South African-trained artist, sculptor and architect Amâncio d’Alpoim Miranda Guedes, or Pancho Guedes, died last Saturday morning. Some former students, colleagues and friends look back at his remarkable life and the mark he left on the world.

Hannah le Roux

Director of the architecture programme at Wits University

I really only knew Pancho as a professor, so most of my memories are about how brilliantly he taught. He had a really incredible way of weaving what he was doing during his study trips to Portugal back into the way he taught us during the term.

He would do all kinds of creative projects and he would show them to us during the school talks at the beginning of term, showing us his houses and paintings, and so on.

The project I think is most extraordinary of Pancho’s is the Clandestine Nursery School. He put a crèche into an informal settlement north of what is now Maputo. He didn’t want it to be identified by the authorities, so he made it look like an open shelter, but it’s laid out to be used as a nursery school.

It was probably the first architectural innovation in a rural settlement all drawn from African indigenous architecture. It went beyond what the authorities at the time thought an architect should do and really combined a lot of what was unique about him as a colonial practitioner in Africa.

Peter Rich

Peter Rich Architects

Pancho was responsible for opening the doors of contemporary Africa to the architectural community, which, during the years of apartheid oppression, was barely known.

Because of him, our universities woke up to the fact that there actually was an African culture out there, and that it was important for us to know and understand it.

Before that, we were in the same boat as everyone else, where African culture was marginalised, or simply unknown.

His awareness of social architecture was way ahead of his time and influenced a lot of the fashionable ideas many architects are only beginning to deal with today.

In the 70s, he was already doing extraordinary work for women and running nationwide rural art workshops.

To me, he was a mentor and father figure. [Because of him], I discovered the elements so fundamental to the work I am doing today. He was the Picasso of Africa and one of the greatest architects of our time.

Henning Rasmuss

Paragon Architects

He was simply larger than life. I believe that a lot of knowledge was transmitted in stories and he was a fantastic storyteller.

He had an amazing number of stories about the global architecture world and l learnt a lot from him from his anecdotes.

I got to know him personally in the past few years of his life, and he was completely up and on top of things until he passed away.

I will never forget a lecture he gave when I was in second year that became one of my three professional mantras. He was talking about how architects get clients. He started by saying that the king called him and wanted a palace and he said: “Of course Mr King, I only do palaces.”

That moment of saying “if you want a palace, then I am a palace architect” got my practice to where it is today.

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March 19 2017