ArchiWeek: Platforming Conversations on Architecture
For 5 days in June 2016 Johannesburg's inner city experienced a unique and collaborative coming together of architectural practitioners, students, interested parties and the public in a celebration of and conversation around, architecture and urbanism in Africa.
This multimedia, multi-disciplinary platform culminated in a two-day panel discussion around an African Architecture Awards programme, hosted by the UJ Graduate School of Architecture and Saint-Gobain, and featuring thought leaders from around Africa.
Held at the Saint-Gobain GAP Urban Lounge at the Museum of African Design (MOAD), the event focussed on 'Shaping the Future, Theme and Direction of an African Architectural Awards Program'. The panel was chaired by Professor Lesley Lokko, Head of the UJ Graduate School of Architecture, with panellists Issa Diabaté (Ivory Coast), Urko Sánchez (Kenya), Doreen Adengo (Uganda), Luís Urbano (Portugal) and Mpethi Morojele and Thomas Chapman from Johannesburg, South Africa.
Building on the existing Social Gain Award launched by Saint-Gobain in 2015, the panel sought to test new ideas and debate how the establishment of a new African architecture award could achieve two aims – firstly, recognise and reward worthy projects from around the continent; and secondly, create a broader awareness of the issues and opportunities inherent in the built environment through dialogue, analysis and criticism.
In her introductory talk at the public component of the panel on Saturday morning, Professor Lokko contextualised the Awards programme, “We are at a really interesting point in history and in the ongoing conversation and energy around Africa in architectural circles. Global interest in all things African – culture, urbanity, politics and art, for example – is on the rise. And everywhere people are demanding change – to change the story, change the narrative and change the script.”
In seeking to create a lasting, meaningful, critical and creative platform, the panel agreed that socially responsive design should be the basis of all design worldwide, and that the term 'Social Gain' needed to be further developed to accurately convey the sense of expanding boundaries and fields that are occurring across Africa. Accordingly, the title 'Africa Architecture Awards' was coined.
Panellist Doreen Adengo observed that, in her experience, what makes African architecture unique is not necessarily something aesthetic, but rather the process of producing architecture. “What's unique about being an architect in Kampala is that the city is growing really fast and there is a lot of development. So the speed of production is interesting. There are also different actors that need to get involved, so I'm dealing with people from different backgrounds and regions. And, for a lot of clients, there's an education process that needs to happen in order for them to understand what my role as an architect is”.
Issa Diabaté believes that context is a defining factor. “African architecture hasn't yet completely adopted the way that things are done in 'developed' countries so, for me, this is an opportunity to do things differently. For instance, if we have to integrate sustainability into what we do, it's much easier to do it starting from a blank canvas than if you already have very established systems. And the relationship with politics has been challenging on multiple levels – which has helped to shape our practice in that we think it is very important to act and to lead by example. These phenomena create a unique ecosystem for African architects to explore new solutions.”
The Awards panel discussion was framed by an exhibition housed within X-hale – the balloon structure first seen at AfrikaBurn – which showcased the work of the Social Gain 2015 finalists and winners, and introduced the 2017 awards.
As a whole, the event was anchored by the Architect Africa Film Festival 2016, a week-long event that capitalised on the rapidly evolving power of film as an easily-accessible means of communication, to profile Africa's urban environment as well as global trends in architecture and urbanism, more than ever before.
Sponsored by the South African Council for the Architectural Profession, the South African Institute of Architects, PPC Ltd, the UJ Graduate School of Architecture, Saint-Gobain, Business & Arts SA, Propertuity, Paragon Architects and Afritects, the AAFF2016 left audiences inspired, enthused, informed, connected, and increasingly aware of the close relationship and synergies between film making and architecture, as well as the opportunities available to both disciplines.
Commenting on the experience of participating in the Awards panel, Urko Sánchez said, “Bringing together a group of architects from around Africa who share the same vision of what architecture should be, and getting us to share ideas and get to know each other, has been fantastic. It has been an amazing opportunity to learn from others, and share the same frustrations and challenges with other architects practising in different parts of the continent. It has been a great honour to participate in this event and be part of this journey.”
ArchiWeek has achieved what other events have sought to do – it has been a springboard for an ongoing conversation around the uniqueness, opportunities and challenges of the African built environment that has the potential to spotlight African architecture globally.
  1. it’s really a beautiful thing. promoting the diversity in the continent Africa is a beautiful thing and encouraging the younger architects and architecture students is even more beautiful

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