Building the future today

06 September 2012 - 02:16 By Andrea Nagel

By the year 2050, more than three-quarters of the world's population will live in cities , half of that number in slums. With rapidly changing global economies and environments, young architects are asking : How can we build real communities, improve the lot of the poor and disadvantaged, and create more sustainable urban environments?

The theme for this year's Architecture ZA biennial festival, to be held in Cape Town next week, is "Rescripting Architecture".

''Today's students embrace the idea that architecture can engage more with society. They want it to shift from the academic and abstract to the social and concrete," said Alta Steenkamp, associate professor and director of the University of Cape Town's School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics.

The young architects participating in this year's festival are tied together by their shared perception that the industry requires a radical rethink.


Silke, 34, is a design partner at Louis Karol Architecture and Interiors. He says most of South Africa's architectural energy is expended in the private domain and believes this has had a detrimental effect on cities.

''High-density housing with access to transport is the building block, the Lego, of a city. South Africa's apartheid history denied our cities this foundation. Cities are places in which people come together, but our cities were designed to segregate. Our cities have become mono-functional, high-rise filing cabinets."

The firm Silke works for is developing another view of the city.

"With some of our projects - such as the Golden Acre, in Cape Town, and the Sandton Convention Centre, in Johannesburg - we've tried to invest public spaces with 'citiness' again, to reverse the damage done to our cities by apartheid."


''I'm a strange figure in architecture," says Matsipa, who is a lecturer at the Wits School of Architecture and Planning.

''Historically, black women have negotiated and created spaces for themselves in cities that are particularly hostile to them. I explore how different women define themselves in public spaces through special practices and public art.

"I've been particularly interested by imaginary work: how artists such as Mary Sibanda are representing themselves, and writing themselves, into historical narratives, which they tie into the city [Johannesburg]."

Matsipa worked on a collaboration with her sister, well-known fashion designer Nkhensani Nkosi: ''It's a conversation between fashion and architecture."


Bennett's first project was Slovo Park, Soweto, where he started looking at fringe or alternative architecture. He started the 1:1 Agency with fellow students to practise architecture that was more inclusive of people.

''I avoid making buildings that just satisfy the ego of the architect," he said. ''I want to be on the ground, involving people in the process, sometimes letting the community complete the work. We try to design around public infrastructure like a tap point or a street light [his thesis project], so that architecture becomes less of a designed product and more of a designed process."

For more information about the Architecture ZA festival (September 13 to 16) go to