With the International Union of Architects (UIA)’s World Congress taking place last month, the eyes of the architecture world were on South Africa where – according to Phineas Harper of the Architectural Review - the conference was full of architects of all backgrounds with “irrepressible energy,” sharing ideas on how architecture can be used for social good with an urgency that is somewhat unfamiliar in the Western world. ”Whoever said architecture was stale, male and pale should have been in Durban,” says Harper. You can read the full review of the event here.
Harper’s review also singles out the “electrifying” keynote speech of Rahul Mehrotra, who explained how he used his architecture to bridge social and cultural gaps while still serving his clients’ needs, in projects such as his Hyderabad offices. You can see him discuss these ideas in our interview with Mehrotra here:
The much anticipated Treetop Walkway through the Arboretum in Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is now open to the public. Located 11 metres above the ground, the galvanised steel and timber structure offers breathtaking views from the treetops. The project, a collaboration between Mark Thomas Architects and Henry Fagan & Partners consulting engineers, has been nicknamed Boomslang - a large, highly venomous African tree snake – due to its elevated, twisting form. Check out the stunning photographs by Adam Harrower, a horticulturist at the garden, after the break.
The Guga S’Thebe Arts and Cultural Centre in Langa, Cape Town’s oldest township, is expanding to include a theatre exclusively for children and adolescents. The main component of the theatre, set for completion this fall, will be a large, multi-functional space for hosting performances. The project, a collaborative effort between future users and international architecture students, is aimed at stimulating sustainable development while widening the possibilities for the target demographic. To check out more project images, continue after the break.
How do you undo centuries of inequality? How do you overturn an inequality so ingrained in a culture that it manifests itself physically - in the architecture of its homes and in the misshapen nature of its cities?
This is the question post-apartheid South Africa has been struggling to answer for the past twenty years. And while the government has made many concerted efforts, for far too many the situation has remained largely the same.
However, there are currents of change afoot. Many who have been marginalized are now working to defeat the stigma and legitimize their communities, and they are enlisting architects to the fray. From an organization in Capetown that aims to transform the role of the South African designer, to another in Johannesburg that uses design to legitimize informal architecture, to a project in one of the most violent townships in South Africa that has transformed a community, the following three projects are making a difference for the users who have the most to gain from their designs and design-thinking. All three represent not only the power of design to defeat stigma and instill dignity, but also the power of communities to incite these projects, make them their own, and enable them to thrive.
The history of Johannesburg‘s Ponte City Apartments is a provocative one: built in 1975 and designed by Manfred Hermer as the height of luxurious (white-only) living in South Africa, the continent’s tallest residential building soon became a notorious vertical slum, filled with crime and poverty, its signature hollow core re-purposed as a trash dump and a suicide drop.
Since 2001, however, the building has been the centerpiece of a drive to regenerate the wider Hillbrow neighborhood. The building is gentrifying once again – an almost color-coded gentrification as white people move back into the tower, mostly taking the more expensive upper apartments. However, as the video by Vocative shows, in the case of Ponte, gentrification is not as simple as elsewhere: heavy security eases the fears of middle class residents in what is still one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Johannesburg. As the video shows, there’s a palpable excitement that, finally, the building is becoming a truly multi-ethnic community.
Despite 20 years of government promises to improve the quality of housing following the end of apartheid, for many in South Africa‘s townships there has been little noticeable change. This is not to say that the South African government has not been working to meet these goals; however, the scale of the problem is so large, and with population growth and migration, the challenge is only getting greater.