Tau Tavengwa (Founding Editor of Cityscapes Magazine, African Centre for Cities, South Africa)
Hayley Eber (Acting Dean for the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, Cooper Union, New York).
Venue: British Pavilion, Giardini della Biennale
The Biennale Architettura 2023, curated by Lesley Lokko, invites us into the “laboratory of the future”. Lokko’s provocation frames Africa as a crucible of innovation and new creativities characterised by the comparative youth, rising economies and increasing mobility of its 1.46 billion inhabitants. Alternative visions of real and imagined places are captured in the Biennale Architettura 2023’s diverse showcase of the urban future. The events-based project Afropolitan Architecture is hosted at the British Pavilion.
They are prompted to explore ideas about belonging and the dream of differences reconciled. But what does the concept of a future-facing laboratory – a notion that chimes with Achille Mbembe’s “African-world-to-come” as the context for a nascent Afropolitanism – mean for a new generation of city-makers and world-builders? What of the cohort of architects whose proposals and practices will drive this experimental metabolism? For artists and urbanists in the global south, how does it feel to be caught up in a moment of change? Can their path-finding journeys find a foothold in the Biennale’s narrative of creative discovery?
This research and knowledge exchange collaboration, between Mokena Makeka (Dalberg Advisors) and Matthew Barac (London Metropolitan University), presents a suite of events anchored to the British Pavilion. Three ‘dialogues’ at the Biennale Architettura 2023, on Friday 26, Saturday 27, and Tuesday 30 May 2023, are to be followed by two further events planned for different cities: one at the Africa Centre, London (Thursday 30 July 2023), and the other at New York’s Africa Center (Thursday 24 November 2023. The project is hosted by CUBE: the Centre for Urban & Built Ecologies with the Africa Centre, London on board as project partner.
These events together constitute a set of dialogues in which Makeka – a significant influencer in leadership and professional circles who embodies this debate in his words and deeds – will act as discussant to unpack the function of design as a speculative discipline for testing alternative futures. Framed in this way, the role of the architect approaches that of custodian: an artful organiser of space and time brought into being by design. Design’s efficacy responds to the constraints that characterise our practice context: opportunities and limits such as light, climate, culture, context, and the capacity of architecture to symbolise and communicate. Alongside the implications of the ‘laboratory’ theme, which hints at innovation and scientific method, is a concern to depict the outlook of ‘Afropolitanism’, a neologism associated with writer Taiye Selasi and theorist Achille Mbembe. Instead of clichéd representations of the African design imaginary, the dialogues will explore an architectural sensibility characterised by worldliness, sophistication, and mobility.
Each of the dialogues will take the form of a conversation between Mokena Makeka and one or more guest speakers, chaired by Matthew Barac. The three events are threaded together in a reciprocity between past and future – between ‘places of memory’ and architectural speculation – mediated by present experience. They will be thematically structured according to material, symbolic and functional dimensions of meaning in relation to placemaking. These events aim to convene debate and mobilise ideas in discussion between active creatives and professionals whose mode of communication inevitably involves design. The six speakers, all key voices in the popular and disciplinary promulgation of the urban future for Africa and the ‘Black Atlantic’, will contribute not only by presenting their ideas but also in their embodied dispositions. The extent to which imagination and innovation inhabit the ‘laboratory of the future’ has a bearing on how we see the emerging generation of design professionals and inspirational leaders.