UIA Day 2


I see you. I recognize you.

When introducing the keynote speaker, Mpethi Morojele South Africian architect, isi- Zulu greeting . He expanded on the meaning of sanibonani as recognizing the humanity of another.

We see you. We recognize you soon became the central theme of the rest of the congress days.

Day 2

Ian Low | Andrew Makin

The theme of the day 2- Ecology was introduced by Ian Low, prolific academic at UCT who defined Ecology in the broader context of bringing dissimilar thing together, where the possibility exists for difference to exist.

He explored the idea of how to become modern without without forgetting the source, he implored architects to go back to basics to design for ideas and quality, rather fees and quantity.

Local Durban architect Andrew Makin expanded on the Ecology theme calling it connectivity. Seeing ecology as multiple ways of seeing the future , where the world will become more diverse unlike the divided one we come from and asked future architects to explore otherewheres, otherways and otherhows..

Francis Kere | Suzannah Drake

There could not have been a better speaker than Francis Kere from Burkina Faso, who also has a practice in Berlin, to fulfill that mandate of otherways of through the exploration cross cultural diversity of his own work. His obvious passion for building and educating through the making of his work was clearly eveident.

He asked the audience earnestly:

Why do we look to the west for solutions?

Imploring us through his work to look to local methods for innovative solutions, he had the eager audience in the palm of hand – working through his expansive work from his native village in Bakina Faso as to his conceptual installations in the London Museum.

But it was his passion that really endeared him to the audience, pounding his hand to his heart he said:

if you have this you have everything!

Kere had the audience on their feet, inspired and proud to be African.

Even though Kere turned out to be a hard act to follow, Drake with brisk-like efficiency took us through her work of sustainable infrastructure in New York. A surprised audience learned that New York has a single pipe system, where stormwater and sewage are discharged together and unlike the pristine images seen on TV, current water systems in this most modern of cities is unsustainable.

Most surprising though, was seeing how Drake has to also meander through a myriad of opposing stakeholders and bureaucracy. Her creative fundraising ideas had to be pushed to the limits in order for her innovative ideas to be implemented, reminiscent of challenges faced by archiects in the developing world. A feeling of we’re not alone in this washed over this delegate.

Transformation in Architecture | SACAP| Crisis

With the program running late, and the parallel programs offering talks on local issues, this delegate opted to attend SACAP’s hosted session on issues affecting Transformation in the South African context.

An urgent topic affecting our industry that has not yet found a forum to be discussed- this discussion, despite its lack of archi-glamour drew a large eager crowd of professionals and students of all backgrounds. Yashaen Luckan, newly appointed president of the SACAP council, described issues facing the crisis that is transformation in this country. Focusing on the issues of CPD and its intention to provide meaningful continuing development, he highlighted the mandate and intentions of the council.

The presidents talk however, sounded abit like corporate rhetoric in the light that several delegates were already having issue with the draconian bureaucracy of having to clock-in for points at every session at the conference.

Armed with a list of pertinent questions affecting disgruntled colleagues, this delegate was looking forward to robust debate scheduled after the president said his bit. With jaw-dropping inefficiency, and in stark contrast to the well-planned main program, the session suddenly was closed.

No planned much-needed debate.

No explanation.

What? Seriously?

Is this how the urgency transformation is taking place? We are in for bumpy ride.

Seoul | Spain | Kenya Exhibition

With a few hours to spare, a tour to the adjacent exhibitions might elevate a dampened spirit.

Exhibitions of Seoul and France provided for some thought, while Chinese exhibition had a row upon row of large scale buildings on display implying large construction boom in Chinese architecture.

The Spanish exhibition opted for techno -forward visual installation, which documented people in a public space but left the viewer very dizzy with the feed. Best impression was created by East African Institute of Architects who in stark contrast to the hardly visible local institute, had a delegate with a bright smile representing Kenya. His earnest enthusiasm left for a pleasant encounter and positive impression of Africa opposing the darkening thoughts towards our local council.

Informal Encounter | Sinclair again

If this was to be a day of encounters, then the student informal talks seems to the forum to allow for real connection. In an informal space surrounded by crates, tyres and impromptu tables, Sinclair. Shu and Kere all held court to star-struck to students in candid conversation.

Cameron Sinclair was held court to a group excited students. Close enough to ask him any question Sinclair talked candidly on how he came to start to care.

Whilst the twin towers went down, Sinclair was draughtee working toward a deadline.

His life-changing moment came when the world around him was crashing and he was still forced to meet a deadline which was no longer relevant. He upped and left. He started a movement.

Rahul Mehrotra|

If the day had ended on that note, this architect would have died an inspired architect.

But Rahul Mehrotra was to take the title of the talk of the day. Already a fan bias to his work, there was still the excitement of seeing Mehrotra.

Speaking at break-neck speed. Mehrotra challenged myopic views of cities, where architects have created spaces of inequity like Dubai amongst others

landscapes of impatient capital

He spoke of opposing conditions – of binary exclusions where spaces that are either /or that can be challenged by creating architecture of soft thresholds”

His initial, urgent treatise might have been lost on the younger audience, but the rest were gripped by his unpacking of how the boundaries binary spaces can be blurred by the creation of flexible spaces. He flashed images of spaces that have multiple functions;

  • that mutate through the through the course of the day and night.
  • he called for buildings that are made for weathering and not waterproofing.
  • he asked for a re-looking and relayering of our cities.
  • He solicited new ways of making.
  • His call resonated with the audience.
  • He had people on their feet.

Rodney Harber | Exhibition

The evening’s events was dominated by the opening of the works of renowned Durban Architect Rodney Harber. The exhibition was an overwhelming body of work that was a visual autobiography of a life-time of exploration and documentation. The walls were a collage of sketches, images and vignettes of travel, thinking and building. An insightful book-end to instill the notion that architectural inspiration is fed by a life well-lived.

This architect was inspired.

Day 3

Jo Noero

With the pace not letting up, Jo Noero introduced the third day’s theme of Values by candidly critiquing the gradual demotion of our architectural value system:

Where architecture is no longer seen as a profession but rather an industry.

Where architects are seen as bit players to make others rich.

Where architecture has to be new and novel then discarded.

Where ethics is lacking in our consideration as architects.

Sindile Ngonyama | Wang Shu | Gerarado Salinas

Sindile Ngonyama , president of SAIA let the audience into his personal journey from a son of gardener and domestic worker in a segregated township, to his current position as head of the local architectural profession. He took the audience on his odyssey from his childhood through the trying days of being at UCT to his current place at the podium. He shared his journey, that was reminiscent of journeys of so many other marginalised professionals and its relevance in the state of the profession in SA today.

Ngonyama was emphatic in his clarity that:

an architecture that does not have at its core the social change of its people, then it has no place in architectural discourse.

Pritzer prize and Turner Prize winner, Wang Shu, speaking in halting English, said he wanted to show us not the China of our imagination, but the real reality of China.

He exposed the notion that marginlisation comes in many forms and that in Shanghai, if didn’t come from Shaghai, you were considered from the countryside. Shu, who only draws by hand went through his insightful sketches and a humble talk of his work, telling us of the day when he won the Pritzer prize was the same day his childhood home was demolished. It was also the day he decided to move to Beijing.

Gerarado Salinas from Mexico, youngish and winner of best young architect in Mexico, had the image of savvy debonair, hip architect down pat. With the female, audience eating from his hand he navigated through images of people and paces in Mexico that had this delegate thinking of warmly of Joburg, where the resourceful Mexicans just make a plan in spite of limited resources. His sophisticated forms belie the innovative methods and hussling that’s required to realize the buildings visualized. He showed images of talented artisans inviting family members and calling on their networks to make and erect complex screens with efficient simplicity-extoling the idea the you need expensive western technology to create innovative work!

Archi Afrika | South Africa

South African architects, Mpho Matsipa, Luyanda Mpahlwa and Thorsten Deckler discussed the African condition in various parallel talks, leaving the impression that local issues are being interrogated and unpacked, despite its poor showing on public forums.

A corridor discussion with a SA delegate teaching in London, added to the growing impression that African architects are dealing architecture hands-on- issues of sustainability, participation and the human settlements were necessitated by the urgency of the African city making, whilst our western counterparts had the luxury of exploring these issues in theory.

Africans were city-making urgently.

Toyo Ito

With anticipation growing, rock-star like excitement was building for the appearance of Japanese architect and Pritzer prize winner -Toyo Ito.

Introduced Mpho Matsipa, who advocated that as architects we have the agency to create new possibilities, Ito turned out to be the epitome of exploring those possibilities.

Toyo Ito, a small man, in stylish glasses, of indeterminate age and in shoes that elicited admiring comment from students seated around, began his talk in simple English that summarised his work as wanting to be closest to nature, close to a natural geometry as

” there is no grid in nature”

In stark contrast to his simple english, he showed a body of work of astounding complexity. Initial images of organic building forms passed by an jaded audience who were familiar with his work, but

who physically sat up when images of his latest work the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House.

Showing a walk-through graphic of the amorphous forms molding themselves into functional spaces, Ito commented that couldn’t tell if the images shown were those of a plan or section!

His talk highlighted how these complex forms were made real by rather simple principles of concrete construction, whose only limits were that of the architects imagination. Toyo Ito certainly grabbed the imagination of the younger audience, who showed their appreciation by literally mobbing him rock-star style photo-bombing him in the lobby!


The evening closed with a reception, where surprisingly approachable keynote speakers mingled with freely with the delegates. The atmosphere was buoyant and reflective.

What was expected to a be low-attendance UN-like talk-shop turned out to be an inspiring, energetic meeting of like-minded architects whose social focus clearly overrode architecture glamour.

If this was expected to be a conference of solutions, that was it was not.

Neither was it a place of focused direction.

But, it was a clear indication that architecture has a distinct place in the creation of a sustainable future.

That architecture has a future.

That there are thinking architects taking city-making beyond its current limitations.

That the age and celebrity of the Starchitect creating computer- generated forms is limited.

That there is a contrasting generation of architects who care about how we going to live in the future.