AZA 2016 Conference 31.08.2016 - 03.09.2016




Humanising cities – is it possible?


South Africa’s building landscape is soaring: the value of building plans in the private sector increased by 3.3% in 2015*. Simultaneously, architects’ roles are changing; they have to reinvent themselves in terms of the kinds of projects they undertake, the sorts of businesses they run, in how they relate to each other, in the research they do. That all of this takes place in relation to accelerating urbanisation, goes without saying: it is estimated that by 2050, 80% of South Africa’s population will live in urban areas**. “Architects play an integral role in shaping and planning the cities of tomorrow,” says Obert Chakarisa, Chief Executive Officer of the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA).

Humanising cities is crucial in the architectural profession, and scaling and planning are of the utmost importance.

SAIA will once again co-host the creative and diverse architecture and design festival, ArchitectureZA 2016 (AZA16). AZA16 takes place from 31 August to 03 September 2016 at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg. “The festival will delve into the theme, ‘SCALE’, how it transcends professions as well as the endless array of interpretations it manifests,” mentions Chakarisa.

Hannah le Roux, Associate Professor and Director of the Architecture Programme at Wits says, “Scale is not a concept limited to planning, urban design or architecture. It transcends these borders. Scaling up and down is intrinsic to the craft of architecture and spatial practice.”

At AZA16, international and local experts will explore topics ranging from the effects of big data on complex design ecologies, systems and territories, to the intimacies of crafted detail and local communities. “We’re going to examine how architects and other designers work across scales, how they handle ‘bigness’ and ‘smallness', and how the micro and the uber intersect,” says Catherine de Souza, AZA16 conference programmer.

In the last century of architectural practice, different scales have increasingly fallen into different professional camps. The interdependence of scales, whether in terms of physics, ecology or transnational cultural manifestations, has become more prevalent and is gaining recognition in our modern society. “In reality, scale is collapsing, making the nano global, and beyond, more knowable to all,” explains le Roux. 

Scale is a uniquely challenging concept in the architectural and interior design professions. It is intrinsic to indigenous African practice, whether in the abundance of fractal patterns or the configuration of dwelling spaces, and yet it needs to fit with global scalar practices. It is also important for business, as the relationship between the single maker and networks of production becomes ever more fluid.

“It is not just about how much space is available in a room or on a plot of ground,” says le Roux. “It is so much more: how to design a dwelling unit that repeats over twenty floors; how to mediate the experience of individual visitors at a hotel or conference with the logistics of food chains; how to insert a tiny, exquisite narrative into a vast cultural landscape; how to make an urban gesture that helps to humanise a city of cars and taxis; and how to place the informal in the formal, and the formal in the informal,” she explains.

Where different types of design intersect, architects must remain flexible. They must be able to work with whatever scale is necessary to create meaning in a piece of space – working across all scales.

“Scaling up or scaling down is an inherent skill in architecture. Those who work in the profession must understand how the ‘bigness’ of a city or national culture works together with the ‘smallness’ of a single building or individual,” says le Roux.

AZA16 calls for the generalists, the big thinkers and the detail-focused to converge, share ideas, learn from one another and better understand where the profession is headed. The AZA16 festival is a learning and networking event that should not be missed.

AZA16 is a SAIA event and co-hosted with the University of the Witwatersrand. For more information about AZA16, visit Join AZA on Facebook at




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