Home > Awards > Critical dialogue in the architectural discourse — reflecting on the AAA shortlisting

Erik Lønne

At the end of July, Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) were proud to be shortlisted for the inaugural Africa Architecture Awards (AAA), showcasing the vast landscape of design across the African continent. The competition called for entries across four different categories, built, speculative, emerging voices and lastly, critical dialogue. Among three hundred and eight entries overall, AeT was chosen as one of the twenty finalists — entering in the latter category of critical dialogue — that will go forward to the official awards ceremony in Cape Town on the 28 September, where the category winners and one grand prize winner will be announced.

Team members of AeT and bovine head cooks in a community meeting. Photo: Phumelele Mhkize

Mainstreaming the informal economy

For AeT, the competition, where the entries were to be submitted through the medium of film, was a welcomed opportunity to showcase and document an important process that came about through the Kanyenathi project (Kanye- nathi meaning «with us» in isiZulu). A project that has recently concluded its first phase.

The Bovine Head Market, which is situated in between the Early Morning Market and the English Market in Warwick, became the narrative of the five minute mini-documentary (see the film here) — telling the story of the bovine head cooks and their journey towards the rebuilding of their cooking facility. At the moment, they are in a temporary location and will move into the new facility in the first quarter of 2018.

In short, the competition entry narrates the events that led from a City- led design proposal that turned out to have been conceived with inadequate consultation, to the cooks speaking up and taking matters into their own hands — with the assistance of AeT — eventually leading to a redesign with the end-users firmly in mind.

Senior Project Office Patrick Ndlovu discussing the layout of the new cooking facility with the bovine head cooks. Photo: Phumelele Mhkize

(…) the competition entry narrates the events that led from a City- led design proposal that turned out to have been conceived with inadequate consultation, to the cooks speaking up and taking matters into their own hands — with the assistance of AeT — eventually leading to a redesign with the end-users firmly in mind.

Communication and process

In many ways, the case of the bovine head cooks brings together several seminal aspects of what AeT aspires to be as an organisation and some of the key elements and learnings coming out of the aforementioned Kanyenathi project. Through the project, and with the vision of participatory action research at the fore, informal workers (IWs) such as the bovine head cooks went through workshops and training, that empowered them with the tools to identify issues concerning their own working practice, and to report and find solutions. In addition to this, the AeT methodology of urban intelligence and being present «on the ground» at all times and coming alongside IWs instead of from above, shines through the process of this particular redesign. As is pointed out in the film, a successful marriage of the technical aspects and social facilitation is exemplified well in this specific narrative.

Through the project, and with the vision of participatory action research at the fore, informal workers (IWs) such as the bovine head cooks went through workshops and training, that empowered them with the tools to identify issues concerning their own working practice, and to report and find solutions.

As mentioned, the case of the bovine head cooks has not come to a end, and is still very much a process. Moving forward, AeT will continue to monitor the construction process and in continuing communication with the cooks, address aspects of the design that needs improvement, making the move to the permanent facility next year as smooth as possible. And through this, exemplifying the importance of critical dialogue.

A still from the mini-documentary portraying one of the bovine head cookers busy cleaving a cow’s head. Photo: Kristine Rød

Going forward

In addition to being a constructive way of bringing issues such as the case of the bovine head cooks into the public realm, and to a wider audience, the process of making the film has also had other benefits. «Competitions such as this are useful breathers in the rigour of the work we do, and it sparks both internal debates and prompts us to stay relevant», says project leader of AeT, Richard Dobson. As an important part of AeT’s work is documentation through imagery, both stills and film, this submission serves as a valuable document in monitoring and evaluating both the project and process.

The bovine head cooks signing the plans for the new cooking facility. Photo: Phumelele Mhkize

 

(…) one can see the shortlisting of AeT’s entry as perhaps symbolizing a small shift in the field of architectural practice, where there is growing space for wider definitions and understandings within the discipline.

Whether AeT will be selected as winners at the AA Awards in the end of September, only time can tell. But what the shortlisting does serve to achieve, firstly, is a reminder of the importance of ever-present dialogue and communication in the world of urban management; especially in relation to the informal economy. Secondly, one can see the shortlisting of AeT’s entry as perhaps symbolizing a small shift in the field of architectural practice, where there is growing space for wider definitions and understandings within the discipline. Thirdly, the intertwining of sustainable design, technical expertise and presence on the ground, merges in the contextual space of what is critical dialogue. This space allows IWs to take part and influence their everyday practice and role in the labour market. An aspect that will continue to have utmost salience in the DNA of AeT.

What is absolutely clear, is that the AAA jury will have a tremendous task when choosing a winner of the competition in September.

Fingers and toes are hereby crossed.

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