August 2017

Alien Architecture: Modern Buildings Recast as Extraterrestrial Ships

[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Photography & Video. ]

Composition, color and contrast and go a long way toward reframing photographic subjects, in this case: making familiar architectural forms seem like parts of dark and looming alien spaceships.

German photographer Lars Stieger has a knack for capturing ordinary building surfaces, materials and details and rendering them uncanny, especially in this Spaceships series photographed across Europe.

Book Review: Detail Kultur

Detail Kultur: If Buildings Had DNA: Case Studies of Mutations by Christoph a. Kumpusch
Aadcu, 2016
Hardcover, 1030 pages

[All images courtesy of]

Even without the overused quote attributed to Mies van der Rohe, "God is in the details," architects would understand the importance of details, the way in which a building's success hinges on how its materials and assemblies are treated. In terms of books on the subject, they range from practical, technical guides to conceptual explorations, as in the exhaustive work of Edward R. Ford. Architect and Columbia GSAPP professor Christoph a. Kumpusch attempts to blend these two approaches, resulting in a massive, layered volume born from his PhD dissertation at the Universität für Angewandte Kunst - Wien.

UN Human Rights Council emphasises the role of Local Governments in the promotion and protection of human rights

On 4th September in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council will convene a High-Level Panel on the role of Local Governments in the promotion and protection of human rights. 

UCLG has followed the work of the UN Human Rights Council since 2013 as global organisation representing local governments, providing specific inputs on the role of local governments in the promotion and protection of human rights, through the UCLG Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights.  The UN Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. 

Thanks to this work, the Human Rights Council adopted in 2015 a Report on the role of Local Government in the promotion and protection of human rights of great significance for the work of local governments in this area. On the occasion of its thirty-third session, the Council decided to hold a High-Level Panel on 4thSeptember at UN Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Local and regional governments participation at the High-Level Meeting on UN-Habitat

A delegation of local and regional leaders from UCLG and the Global Taskforce will attend the High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the New Urban Agenda and UN-Habitat from 4 to 6 September 2017.

On 21 October 2016 in Quito, Ecuador, the adoption of the New Urban Agenda established the roadmap for sustainable urban development for the coming years. The High-Level Meeting on the New Urban Agenda and UN-Habitat aims at discussing the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs and the positioning of UN-Habitat. This is an important space for our constituency since local and regional governments are on the frontline of implementing the major global agendas.

A worsening water crisis in North Africa and the Middle East

An Egyptian farmer tries to irrigate his land with water from a well. Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) already the most water stressed region in the world, faces a worsening crisis in terms of its access to water in the decades to come.

A country is water stressed when it cannot provide the minimum water supply to satisfy the essential needs of its population. This is set by the World Bank at 1,700 cubic metres of water per capita per year. The region – made up of the 22 countries in the Arab League, together with Turkey and Iran – also has very low levels of rainfall. Most of it has 600 millimetres per year and is thus classed as part of the arid zone.

There are several reasons why the water crisis is set to get worse – key ones include; the region’s burgeoning population, irrigation and the consequences of climate change. Regional populations of around 300 million today will more than double to over 600 million by 2050 and be confronted with the threat of climate change.

CBE Transformation Indaba - SACAP calls for a more holistic view of transformation

More holistic view of transformation in built environment sector needed – published by Engineering News - 29 Aug 2017 - Natasha Odendaal

The skills pipeline in the built environment is a key enabler for transformation in the industry, with a holistic approach to tackling transformative ambitions key to breaking the barriers of the demographically skewed industry.

MILDE McWilliams Memeorial Lecture 2017

Joburg, Polokwane named greenest municipalities

Joburg, Polokwane named greenest municipalities
© THISSATAN KOTIRAT – [[]]</span>The City of Johannesburg and Polokwane in Limpopo are the greenest municipalities in South Africa. Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs Barbara Thomson on Tuesday, 29 August, announced the winners of the seventh Greenest Municipality Competition (GMC) in Bloemfontein.
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Katse Dam's deep flood of suffering

Katse Dam's deep flood of sufferingA Basotho pony is struggling up a cliff, burdened by jerry cans that have been filled up at a spring. Behind the animal, far below and out of reach, lies the fat gleam of Katse Dam. This is the memory that sears through me when I recall my visit to Lesotho in July 2016.
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GCRO to participate in inaugural Seoul Biennale on Architecture and Urbanism

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory will participate in the Cities Exhibition at the inaugural 2017 Seoul Biennale on Architecture and Urbanism. The exhibition will be on display 2-5 November.

The Gauteng City-Region is the only South African city represented in the Cities Exhibition. The GCRO exhibition, entitled Shifting Borders and Building Bridges, explores the making, shifting and bridging of urban borders. It observes these urban borders through four perspectives: spatial, social, institutional, and resource via four interactive story maps. Each story draws on a combination of previous research and new content including videos, interactive visualisations and experimental maps. Using touch screens and tablets, visitors can scroll through each story map or play with the live maps and visualisations and is fully bilingual (English and Korean).


Seoul Biennale Website:

Growthpoint pursues Healthcare Properties, boosts offshore exposure

Growthpoint Properties (JSE: GRT), is exploring new avenues of growth in keeping with the changing business landscape, while expanding its portfolio of core businesses domestically and internationally.

No Windows, No Problem: These 12 Houses Are Bright, Beautiful & Private

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

Windowless houses might sound dark and depressing, but the careful control of apertures in a building’s facade can actually be a brilliant technique for enhancing privacy, making views more pleasant and creating the feel of a secluded sanctuary. Fortress-like from the outside, they’re surprisingly bright and airy inside, often thanks to courtyards, terraces and rear glazing hidden from view of the street and neighbors.

House for a Photographer by FORM, Shiga, Japan

How Kenya can make its ethnic democracy work

When Kenyans vote, ethnic conflict is never too far behind. Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

This past election has confirmed that Kenya’s democracy is not fit for purpose. I say this because the country’s democracy hasn’t taken into account Kenya’s ethnic makeup. Ethnic tensions recur every election cycle making it pretty obvious that politics in Kenya is a game of ethnic numbers.

Call it ethnic majoritarianism if you like – the idea that a majority tribe, or coalition of tribes, has the power to make decisions that affect the whole society.

Kenyans live in an ethnic state that exists within the civic space, guided by a constitution, but dominated by institutions that are populated by a positive sum group. By positive sum I mean the two tribes that have occupied the presidency since independence - the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin .

The recent election that saw President Uhuru Kenyatta garner 8.2 million votes, is testament to how entrenched the voting patterns of these two communities have become. Although official figures of the 2017 election are subject to a court decision, the trend of Kikuyus and Kalenjins voting for Kenyatta is pretty clear.

Shedding light on why mining companies in eastern Congo are under attack

Mining company Banro closed artisanal mining sites like this one in the DRC. USAID U.S. Agency for International Development/Flickr

The past year has been challenging for the Canadian mining corporation Banro. The company holds four gold mining concessions in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Namoya concession in Maniema province went into production in January 2016 but the company was forced to temporarily suspend operations and evacuate staff in May and July this year.

The suspensions were related to threats from a local armed group to attack the operation. These were not isolated incidents but followed a string of violent attacks, property destruction, ambushes and kidnappings of workers.

The company president and CEO, John Clarke blamed the violence on “a few bandits” he believes are a remnant of the country’s difficult past, not on discontent and poverty that many believe have been made worse by the company’s presence.

BRICS is being battered by global crises: why this might not be a bad thing

The leaders of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa alliance. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

At the BRICS summit in Russia two years ago, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping invoked physics when asking fellow leaders “to boost the centripetal (unifying) force of BRICS nations through cooperation in innovation and production capacity to boost competitiveness.”

That was the theory, but the economic reality of the once-feted Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa alliance is contradictory.

Instead of centripetal strengthening, the world is witnessing much more powerful centrifugal dividing forces, including overproduction, over-indebtedness and deglobalisation of capital. These elements have been spinning out of control even before the chaotic era of US President Donald Trump began.

Over production is mostly found in the coal, steel, non-ferrous metals, cement and chemicals industries. It’s largely driven from China where over-capacity is more than 30%, according to a new International Monetary Fund report that also raised worries about the country’s vast debt.

Desalination? Africa should rather manage its water resources better

Modern desalination plant on the shores of the Arabian Gulf where the most desalinated water is produced. Shutterstock

Access to clean water in the future is by no means certain for many regions in Africa. These include semi-arid regions like the Western Cape of South Africa, where droughts are predicted to intensify under climate change, and wetter countries like Nigeria, where many water resources are polluted. Population growth, industrialisation and pollution will also add to the problem for people needing clean water.

South Africa has recently experienced one of the worst droughts on record. In particular, the levels of dams in the Western Cape have been dropping alarmingly. The drought has had a bad effect on agriculture in the region which employs almost a quarter of the country’s agricultural workforce. Most of the southern African region shares this water scarcity.

2017 Africa Property Investment (API) Awards winners announced

2017 Africa Property Investment (API) Awards winners announcedThe 2017 Africa Property Investment (API) Awards was held on Thursday, 24 August, recognising property developers, suppliers and owners in sub-Saharan Africa across seven categories.
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e-Tolls : Star news article on eTolls misleading - ANC

Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi has distanced himself from the content of the front page article reported in “The Star” newspaper.

The article, which appeared in the newspaper on Monday, states that government has proposed new laws following the dismal failure of e-tolling revenue collection from Gauteng motorists, who owe more than R6 billion in unpaid tolls.

The Department of Transport said the article is disingenuous and misleads the public about government’s position on the tolling policy, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) Act and the National Land Transport Act.

“It is the understanding of the department that the proposed amendment is by the DA Member of Parliament, Manny de Freitas, and will be raised as a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament.

“Presenting the bill as an initiative of the department, the Executive and SANRAL is both mischievous and misleading,” the department said.

During the department’s 2017/18 Budget Vote, Minister Maswanganyi indicated that SANRAL is in the process of developing a long term strategy, Horizon 2030, aligned with the National Development Plan.

The strategy will enable the development of a 2030 Roads Plan and will review SANRAL’s Operating Model.

Also, the new strategy will trigger the development of a new Toll Roads Policy which the Department of Transport will lead.

“Wayne Duvenage is also economic with the truth when he insinuates that e-Natis has failed. He knows that government has been in control of e-Natis following the Constitutional Court ruling in favour of the Department of Transport.

“The department has since taken the decision that the Road Traffic Management Cooperation (RTMC) is the preferred entity to take over the running of the system from Tasima,” the department said.

The Court pronouncement on the 9th November 2016 granted the Department of Transport and the RTMC leave to terminate the illegal and irregular extension of the Tasima contract.

3rd UCLG Culture Summit in 2019: Call for candidacies

Since the founding Congress of Paris, culture has been at the heart of UCLG’s policy agenda. Following the success of the first and second UCLG Culture Summits, and considering the growing importance of culture in the framework of sustainable cities, the Executive Bureau of UCLG has decided to convene a third UCLG Culture Summit in 2019. Deadline to present candidatures on 31 October 2017.

Cellular Urbanism: Analyzing the Anatomy of Functional City Block Designs

[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

We all understand intuitively that different urban layouts lead to different kinds of cities, but a new book analyzes these on a block-to-block basis to illustrate how this civic anatomy works on a cellular level. In Urban Being: Anatomy & Identity of the City, Robin Renner uses anatomical-style classifications to look at urban landscapes through a kind of giant microscope.

Overlaying use patterns and transit networks, the reader begins to understand what types of urban “cells” make for functional built environments. Think of it like genome sequencing: through it, planners and architects can learn how to identify problems and, in some cases, address them or head them off in advance.

How social media and fake news are battering traditional media in Kenya

Political messaging through fake news featured during Kenya's recent general election. Shutterstock

The recent Kenyan elections firmly demonstrated the incursion and perhaps even gradual institutionalisation of fake news as an actor in modern politics, particularly during elections. Although the term fake news is now so liberally used to the extent it eludes precise definition, many agree it’s the deliberate dissemination of false information expressly intended to misinform.

The presidential election, which pitted the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta against his political nemesis, opposition leader Raila Odinga, was fiercely fought on many fronts. One of these fronts, arguably the most significant, was the unprecedented investment in political messaging.

MBSA Congress to address state of SA construction sector

MBSA Congress to address state of SA construction sector
© Ivan Kruk – [[]]</span>The annual Master Builders South Africa (MBSA) Congress, set for 11-12 September at the Century City Conference Centre in Cape Town, will address economic transformation in the SA construction sector and the impact of ratings downgrades on the development and future of the industry, among other topics.
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CPUT students receive bursaries from SACAP

Architecture students awarded bursaries from industry body

CHOSEN FEW: Some of the students selected for the SACAP bursaries

A R40 000 bursary donation to six Architecture students will not only have an immediate financial impact but also has long term transformation ambitions.

The South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP) made the donation and encouraged the Architectural Technology Department to distribute the funds as they saw fit.

Acting Head of the Architectural Technology and Interior Design Department Nikki Jinka says staff debated the most applicable way to split the money and in the end decided to divide it into two R10 000 and four R5 000 awards.

In order to be considered students wrote motivation letters describing their experience of being disadvantaged and were also assessed on their academic performance and financial need.

Roadworks underway on R28

Roadworks underway on R28
© picsfive – [[]]</span>The Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport has appealed to motorists using the R28 to exercise patience and caution due to the current rehabilitation project taking place along that route.
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Students explore bamboo as sustainable alternative to conventional building

Students explore bamboo as sustainable alternative to conventional buildingA highly sustainable and culturally significant method of construction in China, bamboo weaving is a practice that is on a steep decline. Due to its complexity and reliance on skilled labour, expert bamboo weavers, who aren't very easy to come by, are required for its fabrication. In an effort to revive this valuable tradition, a group of students from the University of Hong Kong contributed to the construction of a traditional bamboo structure in the Chinese village of Peitian called the Sun Room pavilion.
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Starchitect Spotlight: 10 Iconic Architectural Projects by Herzog & de Meuron

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Offices & Commercial. ]

Based in Basel, Switzerland, the architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron is known for dramatic, monumental Modernist structures free of frivolity, expanding over the years from simple geometric silhouettes to more complex and dynamic shapes. Each of their buildings is almost like an oversized sculpture, some rising high above street level or cantilevering at striking angles while others, like their recent Berggruen campus, lie low and flat. These 10 projects represent some of the firm’s most iconic and memorable works.

Berggruen Institute, Los Angeles, California

How scientists can help make the sustainable development goals a reality

Flickr/Erik Hersman

The United Nations set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for countries to reach by 2030. Achieving them requires political will and investment, but also policies that are informed by evidence. This is where academics and researchers have an important role to play.

Policies and strategies are more likely to succeed if they are based on science. So policymakers and researchers will have to work together. And that requires trade-offs.

For scientists to be involved in the process they need new skills. They will have to learn to conduct research in communities, connect with policymakers and tackle complex issues from different perspectives.

If this integration takes place, the strategies and policies that are adopted to effect the SDGs will be informed by evidence and will have results that improve people’s lives.

Interlinked goals

The 17 goals address problems like hunger, poverty, education, gender equality and water and sanitation. Most of them are interrelated. To achieve one goal, others must be addressed.

Take the relationship between goal 3 (health) and goal 11 (sustainable cities). Goal three can’t be achieved without making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. But building such cities requires an efficient public health system.

All the goals interact with others: clean water and adequate housing are linked to health, for example.

Kenya's election: Supreme Court judges hold the key to the outcome

Opposition supporters outside Kenya's Supreme Court. Daniel Irungu/EPA

After Kenya’s contested election result, opposition leader Raila Odinga announced he wouldn’t be seeking legal redress for what he termed “a sham of an election”. Three days later he’d changed his mind and said he would be contesting the election in the country’s Supreme Court.

This means that Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory is on hold pending a decision by Kenya’s highest court. Its decision is expected in early September. The Supreme Court bench will be constituted by seven justices. These are the Chief Justice David Maraga, his Deputy Lady Justice Philomena Mwilu, Lady Justice Njoki Ndung'u, and justices Smokin Wanjala, Mohamed Khadhar Ibrahim, Jackton Boma Ojwang and Isaac Lenaola.

The petition is effectively an audit of the electoral process. This is a good thing. To build resilience against election-related disputes, Kenyans must stay open to legal arbitration as a way of vetting the democratic process, and standing up for stronger democratic values.

Odinga’s case

The main grounds of Odinga’s petition are that some of the presidential results were derived from nonexistent polling stations by ungazetted presiding and returning officers.

How South Sudan's universities have survived civil war and independence

A man waves South Sudan's national flag. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

After almost half a century of conflict, South Sudan attained its independence from Sudan in July 2011. One of the challenges it faces as a new country is a small and troubled higher education system.

Sudan’s three oldest public universities – Juba, Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile – all have their origins in southern Sudan. In the late 1980s they were relocated to Khartoum in the north. This was ostensibly done to protect students and faculty from the war. It also allowed the regime to execute the war away from the scrutiny of intellectuals. In exile the universities flourished, acquiring additional property and staff.

After the comprehensive peace agreement between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the government of Sudan in January 2005, the return of the universities became one of the priorities of the Government of the Southern Sudan. In late 2010 the institutions were moved back south.

But the return was rancorous. The universities left behind some of their most valuable assets – experienced academics, buildings, libraries and laboratory equipment. Infrastructure was taken over by the University of Bahri in Khartoum North.

HIV is still taboo in the DRC: chronicles from Kinshasa

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, HIV is still highly stigmatised. MSF/Tommy Trenchard

In 2016 I conducted in-depth interviews with patients at a 42-bed AIDS unit run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Centre Hospitalier Kabinda in Kinshasa, as well as caregivers and health staff. My research, which has not yet been published, uncovered the complex, often heartbreaking web of challenges people face living with HIV in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Nearly 570 000 people live with the disease, which is highly stigmatised. In 2016, the unit treated 2500 AIDS patients. At least 30% arrived so severely ill they died after admission.

Seeing people dying of advanced HIV, commonly referred to as AIDS, was routine at the hospital where I was conducting research. As I noted in one of my diary entries from October 2016:

The hospital register lists the weight of patients on admission: many weigh less than 40 kilograms, some less than 30. One patient in her thirties jokingly lifts her hospital gown and laughs as she shows me the nappy she’s wearing. Another is wheeled into the ward unconscious, wrapped in can only be described as a space blanket. Others are wheeled out of the same door they used when they arrived. But this time, they are covered in white sheets and followed by wailing relatives.

Why do people wait so long before being tested or treated for HIV? Why do those diagnosed stop taking their treatment and wait until they are on the verge of death before seeking medical care?