By Karen Eicker, UIA2014 Commissary General

The response to the UIA2014 Durban World Congress has been overwhelmingly positive, thanks to the vibrant and convivial energy generated at the event that created a space of meeting, interaction and community; and the reach of the content and the impact that it has had on those who attended.

We, the UIA2014 working team and Organisation Committee, have had phenomenal feedback about the high calibre of the keynote speakers, the engaging panel discussions and programme as a whole, the inspiring exhibitions in the ICC and DEC, and the exciting street activations and public projects around the city – which have all been absolutely inspiring.

We have also had tremendously positive comments in respect of how the event was organised – indeed, at the post-event report back by the UIA2014 Executive Team at the UIA General Assembly on 9 August, we received a standing ovation from the over 250 UIA delegates present. Since then, we have been receiving messages of congratulations and thanks from around the world.

Benefits to the SA Profession

This event was significant for us as a profession because this was the first time that the UIA World Congress was held in Southern Africa, and only the third time in 75 years that it was held in Africa. Not only did it offer South Africa a unique opportunity to showcase the development of its built environment in our twentieth year of Democracy; but, as the 25th Jubilee of the World Congress, it also gave South Africa an opportunity to take centre stage on the global debates currently raging around sustainable city development, climate change, resource scarcity, community engagement, and the successful delivery of services and infrastructure.

In addition, the UIA2014 World Congress has become a catalyst for a more meaningful interaction between the South African profession of architecture and various stakeholders in the built environment. Besides the involvement of, particularly, the national Department of Public Works and the host city, eThekwini, in the realisation of the event, it was the presence of these entities and others from Government and the civil sector at the Congress itself that is noteworthy. This participation culminated in the joint hosting of the UIA Awards Cocktail function by DPW and eThekwini on Wednesday evening, 6 August; and in the official handover of the UIA World Congress to UIA 2017 Seoul by the Honourable Minister of Public Works, Mr Thulas Nxesi, at the Congress Closing Ceremony on Thursday 7 August.

Through these points of connection, one of the key objectives of the Congress has been realised – to create a lasting awareness of the value of integrated and responsible design in the development of the built environment, and the critical role that architects should play in this process.

A Challenging Environment

While there was never any doubt that the Congress would take place because of what it means to South Africa and our profession in Africa, from the outside it must have looked precarious at times. Faced with severe resource constraints from the start, the Congress ran, for the first few years, almost exclusively on the commitment and dedication of those involved in the bid process and a few key staff members.

Fundraising was challenging. Shortly after the bid was won in 2008, with the support of the Department of Public Works, the eThekwini City Architecture Department and the Africa Union of Architects, the world experienced the worst economic crisis in recent history. With both public and private sector budgets slashed and many companies downscaling, organisations that would normally have jumped at the chance to reach a captive audience of African and international architects, were not able to participate at all.

Thousands of hours were invested in raising money between the end of 2012 and the Congress in August 2014. However, it was only in early 2014 that sufficient resources manifested to enable the slow expansion of the working team, which was finally complete and in place just six weeks before the event. This team and the tireless work that it carried out was made possible by the generous financial support and encouragement of the eThekwini City Architecture Department, SACAP, SAIA, the Kwa-Zulu Natal Institute of Architects, PPC Cement, Italtile, the South African National Convention Bureau, Hewlett Packard and Intel.

I believe that South Africans are superb problem-solvers – we are adept at dealing with difficult circumstances on tight budgets. The ‘on the ground’ solutions, implemented for the Congress on the tightest of shoestring budgets, are evidence of this skill.

It is with the greatest pride that I commend the UIA2014 committee members, staff, volunteers, consultants and service providers for their outstanding dedication, commitment and energy that has allowed this milestone event to take place.

And it is with gratitude that I acknowledge the support of SAIA and its President, Sindile Ngonyama; SACAP; the Congress sponsors, partners and stakeholders; the regional institutes of architecture; the media; and all those who have been instrumental in ensuring the good turnout and phenomenal energy of the event.

Delivering the Vision

It is no exaggeration to say that the UIA2014 World Congress has changed mindsets – with respect to both the role of today’s architect in sustainable city development, and the interaction that can and should exist between the profession of architecture, other built environment professions, and all stakeholders and communities that create and occupy the built environment.

This has been achieved through the content presented in, and discussions generated around, the UIA2014 Scientific Programme, Student Programme, Exhibitions, and Fringe Events; as well as the Spatial Legacy Projects initiated by eThekwini Municipality’s City Architecture Department.

The Congress keynote speakers, Programme Partners and South African hosts have, as thought-leaders, successfully facilitated numerous conversations between architects from different countries, backgrounds and thinking and allowed a cross-over of ideas and discussions around issues that are critical to our profession in Africa and our globalising world.

In addition, around 300 academic papers were presented, which added layers of knowledge and exploration to the themes of Resilience, Ecology and Values (Congress Proceedings are available on www.uia2014durban.org); and approximately 100 business meetings and workshops were held during the Congress week, including the AUA Bureau meeting, and UIA Council and General Assembly meetings – at which the bid to host the UIA 2020 World Congress was won by Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Early on in the planning of the Congress, it was decided to integrate the annual national Architecture Student Congress into UIA2014, in order to meet the UIA’s contractual requirement of a dedicated student programme for the event. This programme was carefully aligned with the existing themes of UIA2014 Durban, and was managed by the UIA2014 Student Steering Committee which comprised 21 students drawn from the two schools of architecture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Durban University of Technology. 

The student programme ultimately comprised 7 academic events as part of the main Congress programme; 1 social event, the Archiball on John Milne Road on 5 August; the 2014 Murray & Roberts Des Baker Student Competition; 3 city interventions in collaboration with eThekwini’s Spatial Legacy programme; and the Walnut Street event space.

With 139 exhibitors and over 13,000sqm of architectural and trade space in the International Convention Centre and Durban Exhibition Centre, as well as the activation of Walnut Street between the venues, the UIA2014 exhibitions’ overall concept revolved around two philosophies – movement and activation of the entire precinct, creating two poles of attraction on either side of a thoroughfare; and a mixed use approach to locating key installations in order to avoid ‘dead times’ of any spaces throughout the day.

Aside from the design, sales and population of the exhibitions, this mammoth task included obtaining approvals from the City and the ICC on the closure of Walnut Street, layouts and fire safety; the customization of stands and their approvals; interaction with suppliers and sub-contractors; facilitating the printing and logistics of exhibits from local, national and international organisations; the provision of additional infrastructure and structures where necessary; the efficient set up of the venues and all exhibition stands within a 3-day time period; and the eventual break down of the exhibitions by midnight on 8 August.

The process was highly collaborative, and the end result was a world class demonstration of talent, technology and achievements from South Africa and around the world.

In late 2013 and early 2014, with the support of eThekwini Municipality, two Calls for Parallel Projects were launched. The purpose of the programme ((later the Fringe Events Programme) was to expand the scope of UIA 2014 Congress; use the event as a platform for furthering conversations around the Congress themes and pertinent built environment issues; showcase South African talent and achievements to a national and international audience; create a platform for delegates to explore the city; and provide a space where delegates and local residents could meet, mix and share.

As a result of this initiative and the extensive related approval and organisational processes, a total of 72 fringe projects were activated in the broader Durban area, using the Congress as a catalyst. These included 6 book launches, 3 educational workshops, 23 exhibitions, 9 Other ‘Otherwhere’ projects, 6 Play & Social Activities, 11 Otherwhere tours, and 14 Public Art Installations.

Creating awareness

In total, approximately 4200 registered people attended the Congress – delegates, media, accompanying people and exhibitors – with more than half from South Africa.

In addition to the informal ‘word-of-mouth’ campaign carried out by all those who participated in the Congress from sponsors to speakers to exhibitors, we have also had phenomenal media coverage on this event.

This has helped to platform our architectural profession on the global centre stage, showcase the city of Durban as an important destination for big business events and inner city investment, and position our country meaningfully in the global arena of critical architectural thought and city making, interrogation and action.

The UIA2014 Communications Campaign was launched at the beginning of 2013 with an extensive electronic media campaign that eventually resulted in an online database of almost 10,000 subscribers, with 52 email campaigns sent in the 18 months leading up to the Congress, and a significant social media presence.

Due to the severe resource shortages experienced at all times, advertising of the Congress through the print media has always remained fairly low-key, as has the Congress’ presence at other related events.

That being said, 4 media events were held – on 17 September 2013 at The Chairman in Durban, on 15 April 2014 at the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, on 19 June at the Official Opening of the UIA2014 Offices at the Pump House on Durban’s Beachfront courtesy of eThekwini Municipality, and on 29 July 2014 courtesy of the Department of Public Works.

And, despite budgetary constraints, the Advertising Value Estimate (AVE) of the Congress from 1 April to date is in excess of R20 million. During that period, the Congress was covered in 564 clips – 219 Online, 248 print, and 97 broadcast. This quantifies only local and national coverage, and excludes all international coverage received.
In retrospect, the promotions agenda at other events leading up to the Congress was met as envisioned – while being executed at minimal to zero budget, thanks to the collaborative nature of these activities.

During 2014, promotions at local events included:
  • Design Indaba Live Simulcast Durban (27-28 February)
  • Decorex Durban (20-23 March)
  • What if This City (6 June)
  • Pecha Kucha (16 June)
  • Durban International Film Festival (17-27 July)

Further afield, the Congress was promoted at various international events through film screenings, the dissemination of printed newsletters and material, and speaking opportunities. These included the American Institute of Architects’ Convention, Chicago; the Australian Institute of Architects convention, Melbourne; and the World Urban Forum, Colombia.

For SAIA, as host organisation, the intangible benefits of brand building through the UIA2014 publicity are significant and, hopefully, sustainable. Although a voluntary organisation, SAIA has now been repositioned as a body that is strong enough to host a Congress which has been hailed as a benchmark for UIA events. In addition, through this process, SAIA has been able to further its association with excellence and thought leadership.

A Lasting Legacy

In addition to the anticipated lasting impact that the Congress debates and discussions will have on the thinking and perceptions of those who attended, there are a number of tangible direct outcomes from the event that are being recorded on the UIA2014 website under LEGACY.

So far these include:
  • UIA2014 Congress Declaration
  • UIA2014 Student Charter
  • UIA Awards announcements
  • SA Planning Institute: Statement of intent
  • 2050 Imperative on carbon emissions: adopted by the UIA on 8 August
  • International Committee of Architectural Critics: Awards and Declaration
  • Architectural Education Forum: Report on the AEF Programme Partner Activities

The Spatial Legacy projects initiated by eThekwini’s City Architects Department are, by, now, a well-known feature of both the Congress and the City. The intention was to institute mechanisms that re-invigorate and re-purpose assets in the inner city, and these projects also helped to expand the Congress reach into the public realm through activations in the lead up to, during, and after the event.

Step One of the partial pedestrianisation of Dr Pixley KaSeme Street was implemented in time for the Congress; as were the refurbishment of the Beer Hall and activation of John Milne Street in Rivertown; and the pilot Pocket Parks Project, including a student competition for a mobile pocket park.

Documenting Durban’s architecture and capturing the city as an ‘Otherwhere destination were also important Legacy components. This was achieved through the City Architects’ brochure series, the Congress-dedicated issue of the KZNIA Journal, the ‘Otherwhere’ Guide, and the 7 films that were produced in the lead up to the event, which document the city and its spirit through the engagement with 7 different characters.

An essential aspect of the Congress was the contribution that it made towards Education and Transformation of the profession. Open Architecture was launched by SAIA as the first of its transformation projects aligned to Skills Development. This initiative seeks to facilitate the training of architectural graduates who are seeking to become Professional Architects through a distance-learning agreement between the accredited learning site, the professional Architectural mentor in practice and the student.

Educational events held as part of the Congress included the Schools Outreach Project undertaken by the Student Steering Committee, which was held in Walnut Street and aimed to create a space for the introduction of the profession to school learners; Be an Architect for a Day, in which school learners experienced the work of an architect for a day through model-building; and the Student Debate on Architectural Education, a platform for students from around the world to voice their opinions on the dynamics of their architectural education.

In terms of investment, hosting large-scale events such as the UIA2014 World Congress has positioned Durban as an innovative, globally competitive eventing destination. Durban has shown that by holding events where consideration has been given to the social and economic impacts, the benefits to the city are good for the local community, good for the City’s image and good for business.

In addition to the benefits derived by the local economy, the Congress provided a catalyst for the refurbishment of one of the city’s most attractive buildings along the beachfront promenade, the Pump House, for use by the UIA2014 working team. The building, now a fully functioning asset, was renovated by the City Maintenance Department in line with principles of universal access.

As the venue for the UIA2014 Durban, the Durban ICC had in place an established programme of environmental initiatives, stretching to every aspect of operation. These include Waste, Water and Energy management programmes that fit comfortably with the Congress’ commitment to running an event with a reduced carbon footprint.

Furniture and artwork for the event was procured through development initiatives and community arts and fabrication initiatives. These included the embroidered Speaker Gifts, and the wire bowl given as a handover gift to UIA 2017 Seoul (made by KZN master weaver, Benzani Mkhize).

Hundreds of palettes and crates were donated to UIA2014 for the duration of the Congress – these were used as furniture in the Walnut Street Student event space and the DEC, and as cost-effective and recyclable structures for signage throughout the venue. In addition, the 4000 delegate bags were re-engineered promotional street banners, produced through a programme that aims to create employment and up-skilling. The street banners produced for the Congress will, in turn, be recycled as bags for future events held in Durban.


Ultimately, UIA2014 succeeded in its overarching intentions to create a broader awareness of architecture within the public realm, to develop a closer interaction between various stakeholders and the profession, and to platform the South African profession, and its achievements and challenges, within the global architectural profession.

A downloadable gallery of images from the Congress is available on http://uia2014durban.org/media/gallery.htm.

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