By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
On Wednesday, April 26, 2023, at the announcement of the winners of an architectural competition involving university students hosted by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture at Gallery Momo in Parktown North, I found myself seated next to the mother of one of the competing short-listed students. Just before the announcement, Dulcee Musi and I got to be talking about how the completion was well framed in that the curators had put a lot of emphasis on students incorporating African traditional architecture to their design models.
The selected six design artefacts are going to be part of the South African pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale in Italy this May. A big deal because this is the first time that the South African pavilion will also have the architectural profession represented there.
That short conversation just before the winners were announced, gave me an insight into the length at which the participating students went to ensure that they capture indigenous knowledge when it comes to architecture, incorporating it into their designs. This necessitated going into the now forgotten rural back waters of this country researching how our fore bears navigated the issue of design as a practical necessity in their daily existence in some instances..
For example, Dulcee Musi’s daughter, Masego Musi, a masters in architecture degree student at the University of Johannesburg, had to ask her mother to show her where she and her folks once lived. They went to the place in Hartebeerspruit in the North West, to a place that used to be a home to Dulce’s grandmother. That is before they were forcibly removed to make way for a white farmer. Luckily the grave and a structure of a house where the grandmother lived were still intact.
“My daughter forced me to go with her and show her the place. Luckily the grave and part of what used to be my grandmother’s house are still there. So Masego was able to get inspiration and the idea of how the structure was built. I knew the house very well because when I was young , before the family was forcibly moved to make way for successive white farmers, I used to live in that house when I lived with my grandmother. For me it was not a big deal to be back there as once lived there. But for Masego it was an emotional experience as it was the first time for her to be there,” Dulce told me.
But going back to what was once her ancestral home for Dulcee and Masego was not a straight forward case.
“First of all, we had to ask for permission from the farmer’s son, who inherited the farm from his father. Fortunately he granted us the permission,” Dulcee explained.
A few minutes after she related this story, Dulcee flashed a huge smile on her as Masego and her team of two other female students were declared second prize winners, pocketing R12 000 and with that triumph ,they booked their trip to Venice where their model will be shown alongside the others in the architectural section of the South African pavilion at this year’s global art feast. These models by students and lecturers from architecture schools across South Africa to be exhibited in Venice will definitely put South Africa oin the wolrd mapo when it comes to architecture.
As part of the South African Pavilion at Biennale Architettura 2023, the South African Pavilion curators, Stephen Steyn, Dr Emmanuel Nkambule and Dr Sechaba Maape, conducted this national architecture competition titled Political Animals. Lecturers and senior or postgraduate students from architecture schools across the country were invited to submit proposals for crafted artefacts representing the structures of their schools or universities. Selected groups worked with the curators to further workshop these models or miniature architectures.
Six groups were shortlisted, and ModelArt has produced their artefacts, which will be exhibited within Zone III, Political Animals, as part of the South African Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia.
An adjudication panel comprising Karlien Thomashoff (director of Thomashoff+partner Architects, Y+K Architects and WitOpWit), Ngillan Faal (Unit 7 Lead and programme convenor for Making – Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. Director of Faal & Kompin) and Nomonde Gwebu (lecturer and a PhD candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand) was responsible for picking the top three groups. These groups will receive prize money as follows: R6 000 for the third prize, R12 000 for the second prize, and R20 000 for the first prize.
The first prize winners are Emma Skudder, Priyan Moodley and Michael Peneda of the University of Witwatersrand for their “Look the Other Way” model. Simphiwe Mlambo, Masego Musi and Sesethu Mbonisweni of the Graduate School of Architecture received second prize for their model “Resonance”. And Tlhologello Sesana and Letlhogonolo Sesana from the Tshwane University of Technology received third prize for their model “MAAT 18”.
The three finalist groups, whose models will also be exhibited at Biennale Architettura 2023, are: Dineo Mogane and Jason Du Plessis (“Organized Chaos” – Tshwane University of Technology); Phadi Mabe, Khalipha Radebe, Yamkelwa Simelane, Anya Strydom and Jan Truter (“Amplified Voices” – University of Free State); and Teegan Isola, Nosipho Ndawonde, Solami Nkabinde and Keyur Moodley (“Commemorating Cultures” – University of Cape Town).
The South African Pavilion, titled The Structure of a People, revolves around the architectural representation of social structures – in historical and contemporary terms.
The exhibition unfolds through three zones. The Past is the Laboratory of the Future traces links to the architectural representation of social structures as documented in pre-colonial southern African societies. The Council of (Non-Human) Beings contains contemporary drawings on the topic of animism in architectural practice. And Political Animals presents the organisational and curricular structures of South African architecture schools as architectural objects: “Look the Other Way”, “Resonance”, “MAAT 18”, “Organized Chaos”, “Amplified Voices” and “Commemorating Cultures”.
The 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia opens to the public on 20 May 2023, and closes on 26 November 2023. The South African Pavilion is located in the Sala d’Armi Nord, first floor, Arsenale di Venezia, Campo della Tana 2169/f Castello, Venezia, Venezia 30122, Italia.
The curators for the South African Pavilion at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia are Dr Sechaba Maape, Dr Emmanuel Nkambule and Mr Stephen Steyn. They will be supported by 2BLN, Spies Architects and Breinstorm Brand Architects. This team was appointed through a tender process by The South African Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and Ms Nosipho Nausca-Jean Jezile, The South African Ambassador to the Italian Republic, who also serves as a Commissioner for the South African Pavilion at Biennale Architettura 2023.
South Africa has been participating in La Biennale di Venezia since 2011. The Department obtained a permanent exhibition space in 2012 for a period of 20 years in the Arsenale building in Venice. Every two years, the Department participates in the architecture exhibition and in the alternative years, in the visual arts exhibition.
The full list of exhibitors and collaborators for the South African Pavilion includes: Andries Oberholzer, Anita Szentezi, Anna Thomas, Anya Strydom, Carin Smuts, Carla Spies, Celinah Matsie, Claudia Ortigas, Danica Serfontein, Diane Nair, Dineo Mogane, Eben Keun, Emma Skudder, Emmanuel Nkambule, EO|A, Garryn Stephens, Garth Errera, Hampfrey Sekgobela, Ilan Green, Ingrid Heydenrych, Jan Truter, Jason du Plessis, John-Henry Roberts, Kabo Madubu, KarlienThomashoff, Kelly de Gouveia, Kent and Lane, Keyur Moodley, Khalipha Radebe, Kirti Mistry, Kyle Brand, Lachlan Matthews, Lanita van Niekerk, Laura Buccimazza, Lebogang Mageba, Lethlogonollo Sesana, Liam Harvey, Linelle Hechter, Lloyd Moti, Lunga Nstabiso, Makananelo Maapea, Manathaniel Qhobela, Marelebohile Mabesa, Mark Samuelson, Masana Chikeka, Masego Musi, Matteo Eiletz, Michael Peneda, Mimi Roberts, ModelArt, Mohau Moidi, Motlalepule Matjila, Mpinane Qhobela, Ngillan Faal, Nhlakanipho Mashinini, Nomonde Gwebu, Nosipho Nausca-Jean Jezile, Nosipho Ndawonde, Nthomeng Eunice Matete, Orathile Mothoagae, Phadi Mabe, Pieter Swart, Priyan Moodley, Reyndi Widyatmadja, Rorisang Monanabela, Saleigh Davis, Saskia de Bok, Sechaba Maape, Sesethu Mbonisweni, Shiona Moodley, Sifiso Mkhabela, Sifiso Nkonyane, Simphiwe Mlambo, Solami Nkabinde, Stephen Steyn, Stephen Wessels, Tammy Greer, Tammy Olson de Fine, TC Maila, Teegan Isola, Thando Sihlango, Tiisetso Mmusi, Tim Presbury, Tlhologello Sesana, Tshwane University of Technology, Ursa Engelbrecht, Victor Mokhaba, Wihan Hendrikz, Wits School of Architecture and Planning Yamkelwa Simelane, Yusuf Mansoor, and the Zamani Project.
South African participation at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia
The following South Africans have been invited to participate by Prof Lesley Lokko in various exhibitions that form part of Biennale Architettura 2023: Summayya Vally (Force Majeure), Huda Tayob (Dangerous Liaisons), Kate Otten Architects – Kate Otten (Dangerous Liaisons), MMA Design Studio – Mphethi Morojele (Dangerous Liaisons), Office 24/7 Architecture and Lemmon Pebble Architects – Nabeel Essa and Tanzeem Razak (Dangerous Liaisons), Wolff Architects – Heinrich and Ilze Wolff (Dangerous Liaisons), Mareli Stolp and Clare Loveday (Gender & Geography, alongside Caroline Wanjiku Kihato from Kenya), Gugulethu Sibonelelo Mthembu (Gender & Geography), Craig McClenaghan (Mnemonic), Kgaugelo Lekalakala and Gloria Pavita. Philippa Tumubweinee, Sarah de Villiers, Ngillan Faal and Thireshen Govender will serve on a panel of 15 international tutors who will work with 50 students, early career practitioners and academics from around the world as part of the Biennale College Architettura.
The rest of the prize winners are as follows: The first prize winners are Emma Skudder, Priyan Moodley and Michael Peneda of the University of Witwatersrand for their “Look the Other Way” model. Simphiwe Mlambo, Masego Musi and Sesethu Mbonisweni of the Graduate School of Architecture received second prize for their model “Resonance”. And Tlhologello Sesana and Letlhogonolo Sesana from the Tshwane University of Technology received third prize for their model “MAAT 18”.