15 Minutes with Gillian Holl, founder and principal of Veld Architects in Johannesburg, South Africa

15 Minutes with Gillian Holl, founder and principal of Veld Architects in Johannesburg, South Africa

Veld Architects was recently featured on All of Architecture’s WeVisit Instagram series, and has also been nominated for the International Design Awards 2021 for not one, but two projects. In light of all of this, we thought it fitting to shine a little more light on Veld Architects by focussing on the lady that started it all: Gillian Holl.

Q1: What is your earliest memory of architecture appreciation, something you think may have led to you becoming an architect?

I grew up in quite a conservative family. My dad worked in the mining industry his entire life and my mother was a teacher. While they taught me so many things, I didn’t really get exposed to the arts from them much. Thinking back, I always liked order and form. And perhaps my earliest memory of appreciating architecture was churches and religious buildings. I remember being impressed with the detailing of these structures. But to be honest, I think Architecture found me, more than I found it. It was like a calling or a purpose. And it all just came together thanks to a divine intervention.

 Q2: Veld Architecture and the mention of “nature” are almost synonymous with each other. Why is nature so important in your designs, Gill?

Nature has always been a large part of who I am.  Memories of cycling in the streets, swinging in trees and freely walking in nature as a child comes to mind. Of course, it was safer to do so in those days. But my parents played a large role here. They made sure that I grew up consciously aware of nature and nature conservation. We regularly went hiking and visited sanctuaries and wildlife centres in South Africa as well as Botswana. It has just always been a passion of mine to conserve and give back. Because nature gives us so much. I firmly believe it is our role as humans to  guard and protect Mother Nature for future generations.

Q3: What other values drive Veld Architecture forward?

We have many, but if I could highlight a few I would start with authenticity. Staying true to who we are and staying true to our clients. Being able to design a building that portrays a client’s values and passions perfectly is something that drives us. Remaining faithful to nature, thinking about sustainable design and always trying to think outside of the box are also fundamental to the Veld Lifestyle.

 Q4: Where should the movement to build more sustainable homes start – with the client or with the architect?

I think with both. The client has to buy into the sustainable ethos because green technology isn’t inexpensive. But in saying that, there are clever ways to make it more affordable. Sustainability can also be introduced through optimum design, building orientation and other practical ways. Essentially, the architect needs to empower a client with the options, and the client has to trust that their architect is principled, has decades of experience and has their best interests at heart.

 Q5: Who are your all-time favourite architects in the entire world and why?

Zaha Hadid is one of my favourite architects. That freedom! I’m quite structured and a minimalist, so for me her free form is something I would love to be able to do and embrace. There are so many other architects that inspire me like Gaudí, for the detail captured in his work. I’m fascinated by how his designs pushed the boundaries of his time. And of course, Le Corbusier for his extremely beautiful buildings.

Q6: Is it possible to choose your number one favourite building in the world? If so, which one and why?

My absolute favourite building has to be the Sagrada Familia by Gaudí. It is a cathedral in Spain and it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. The construction and the sheer scale of detail is mind-blowing. But second to this building is Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp. It’s a modernist cathedral that is just so beautiful in its simplicity.

 Q7: If you could give one tip to people looking for the right architect in South Africa, what would that be?

Find an architect you have affinity with and who stands for the same principles and values you do. Building a home is a long journey, selecting the right architect is therefore imperative.

Q8: What to you, makes a home a healthy home, and why is it important to build homes that contribute positively to one’s health?

In the greater scheme of things, a building is just an envelope but it has significant power. A building built at the right orientation, with well, naturally lit spaces, great ventilation and airflow as well as exceptional views over the natural landscape will be a calming, comfortable and healthy home to live in. If you nurture yourself, then you have the ability to really excel in everything else you do. For me, creating healthy homes also include healthy relationships and that’s why my healthy homes always include spaces where family and friends can come together socially.

Q9: Who is Gillian Holl and what makes her “tick”?

Gillian Holl is a small-town-girl with big dreams. Dreams to empower others, dreams to build a better world, dreams to create sustainable buildings that give back to nature. My family makes me tick, my animals, my clients and my team. They inspire me and are the reason I get up every morning super enthusiastic about the day ahead.

Q10: Fast forward 10 years down the line, where do you see Veld Architects and what is your dream for architecture in South Africa by this time?

I see Veld Architects as pioneers in the field of Architecture in South Africa. I see us empowering a lot of youth, and allowing them to develop, grow and mature in our practice so that they can become very successful architects. I see us creating technological progressive buildings that enable people to thrive in the modern context. I also see us evolving by embracing challenges, and giving back. Watch this space because I really feel Veld Architects is meant for greatness.

In 2031, the ultimate for me would be if buildings in South Africa could be more regenerative. Not just sustainable but able to physically give back to the environment. It would also most definitely be incredible if buildings could unite people. Imagine if buildings were able to merge cultures, bring expression, diversity and unity? Yes, South Africa has a tricky past but my hope is that there is a brighter future ahead where every single individual will be empowered.

International Design and Architecture Awards 2021

Vote for Veld Architects in the International Design and Architecture Awards 2021 by clicking on the link below.


Find our “House on a Hill” in the “Architectural Glasshouse category and “Urban Industrial Abode” in the “Residential Architectural Property” category.

1 thought on “15 Minutes with Gillian Holl, founder and principal of Veld Architects in Johannesburg, South Africa”

  1. Graham N Hickson

    Both my wife, Sandy and I, Graham love your vision. We are thinking of purchasing a property on the Blyde River and would love to meet with you in the near future – if that is possible – kindest Graham Hickson

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