UJ’s Kamal Ranchod’s award-winning journey into architecture

Kamal Ranchod has come a long way since a book that illustrated the work of famous Catalan Modernism proponent Antoni Gaudi inspired him to study architecture.

Kamal is a University of Johannesburg (UJ) alumnus and holds a Master of Architecture degree (2020) from UJ.

His final-year thesis, ‘Hyperreal Perspicuities: Multi-Narrative Reconstructions of Modern Egypt’ saw Kamal Ranchod win the first regional event of the 34th Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards in a virtual ceremony on 27 November 2020.

The prestigious Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Awards selects regional winners from eight major universities, based on the students’ final theses. The regional winners then go through to the national round, where the top title is awarded in May the next year, in addition to a R70 000 grand prize.

“It was a great honour and privilege to be considered among so many other incredible projects,” he says.

“The awards offered an opportunity to share the work and create awareness around the ideas of the different projects with so many different people. This engagement is crucial in discussing and exploring ideas concerning design and practice while also fostering synergetic relationships between different building disciplines.”

Old Epoch Cairo uses 2-point perspective in a way that distorts and stretches out architectural elements revealing portals that expose the complexity of industry, trade and hybridity. This drawing portrays the space as a machine of industrialisation.

Uncovering hidden history: An investigation into modern Egypt

Kamal’s thesis investigated drawing as representation and developed prototypes in the form of drawings, instruments and immersive videos. These prototypes develop modes of representation that subvert linear viewpoints and illustrate the multiplicity of narratives embedded within space, he explains. Focusing on modern Egypt between 1827 and 1952, his project uses drawing to construct “the hidden hauntings of colonialism and modernisation across three main historical events”, namely the Battle of Navarino, the Bombardment of Alexandria and the 1952 Cairo Fire.

When he started his initial research, he found that all the monuments and spaces that interested him tied back to this period. Also, there were gaps in the historical archive in this period and he felt the thesis and its methodologies could help uncover and speculate these missing pieces of history.

Architecture as an agent of change

Kamal says architecture is important as it can serve as the agent of change in our environment. It can help us rethink and navigate economic, political and social factors. He is still developing his best qualities as an architect and will probably continue working on it for the rest of his life. These qualities involve the ability to listen to people, to the environment and everything that informs us, he says.

“Looking back to the competition and the months leading up to today, I know we should pursue our passions and ideas even if they do not have an immediate result or application. Since the competition, my career has developed into transforming all the ideas and concepts that I have learned into an existing working environment, to test and get feedback on what I have learned.”

Completing his architectural studies from undergraduate to master’s degree presented a great challenge and took a great deal of patience, time and effort. The journey, however, proved to be life-changing and the lessons learned invaluable.

“I was surrounded by amazing people, from friends to lecturers, who inspired me to think in different ways, and have always been an incredible source of support. I found their different ideas and ways of working inspiring, and that turned out to be instrumental for my project. My biggest challenge was simultaneously one of my biggest opportunities.”

The Shepheard’s reconstruction generates a radiating non-linear grid from the vanishing point of central photo. Through bricolage different sources and mediums of information into spatial narratives are embedded within the building. This process projects the embedded histories and narratives across its life, giving us a glimpse of the complicated history embedded within the site.
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