Peta de Jager works with teams that apply science, innovation and technology to make buildings better in as many ways as possible.
Who could have guessed that a child’s bus trip into the centre of Johannesburg, meandering through streets flanked by the impressive facades of large buildings, would set the scene for a successful career as an architect decades later?
Yet, Peta de Jager was hooked. She says, “I was held captive by the mysteries concealed behind the glamorous granite lobbies of these tall structures. When I found out these were created by architects, I knew that was what I would do one day.” She never doubted her decision and admits that she still loves the smell of new concrete.
She started as an architect-in-training in 1991 and worked as an architect in other firms and her own practice before joining the CSIR in 2007. She excelled. Besides publishing extensively, providing strategic leadership and mentoring students, being the CSIR convener for continuous professional development short courses on ‘Building Design and Engineering
for Airborne Infection Control’ and the ‘International Clinician’s Course for TB Management in South Africa’ counts among her many diverse achievements. De Jager also led the ‘Innovation for Inclusiveness: Science Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Human Settlements Roadmap’, which is currently entering a 10-year implementation phase.
Despite these and other feathers in her cap, De Jager considers the variety of people she gets to meet a main career highlight. “I consider it a privilege and a wonder that my vocation has enabled me to interact and work directly with ministers, a Zulu king, a Nobel laureate, electricians, plumbers, plasterers, cleaners and professors.”
More than concrete
Far from only being concerned with the aesthetic qualities of a building, De Jager says she works with teams that apply science, innovation and technology to make buildings better in as many ways as possible.
“We endeavour to make the insides of buildings healthier, for example, by looking at how design and engineering can minimise the spread of diseases. We look at how to diminish the environmental impact of the extracted materials used for our structures. We look at how data and information can be harnessed to be good stewards of our existing infrastructure and to plan our new infrastructure.”
She explains that while we spend nearly all of our time in environments modified through human endeavour, “We mostly fail to appreciate the significant effect of the built environment on our quality of life, productivity, health and wellbeing. We are also often unaware of the effects of construction activities on our human habitats, our resource endowment and the ecology.”
De Jager says, success to her is functional building infrastructure in which structures, features and facilities are fit for purpose and service. In other words, “They are conceived, executed and managed with multidisciplinary ingenuity. They host the full range of human endeavour, consistent with the aspiration of achieving ‘smart places’. In my version of success, all citizens attach a sense of belonging to what we build; and the way we exploit and transform our landscapes is meaningful and responsible, in other words, ‘smart’.”
Current position: CSIR impact area manager for functional building infrastructure
Career type: Architect
Current research interest: Science, technology and innovation for smarter built environments
Education: Bachelor of Architecture, University of the Witwatersrand, 1995 and Master in Applied Ethics for Professionals, University of the Witwatersrand, 2010