African architecture recognised

2017-10-22 06:00
Winner: uMkhumbane Cultural and Heritage Museum in KwaZulu-Natal

Winner: uMkhumbane Cultural and Heritage Museum in KwaZulu-Natal

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As African architecture rises in global stature, the question that has become more difficult to answer is: What is the hottest new building built in Africa in the past two years?

The second biennial African Architecture Awards were handed out at the epic new Zeitz MOCAA Museum in Cape Town last month. And according to them, our latest gem is in Cato Manor.

Situated outside Durban, the uMkhumbane Cultural and Heritage Museum won its award as much for its place-making design as for its usefulness to the community it serves.

Big-name judges from across the continent – including star Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye and local legend Phill Mashabane – honoured the uMkhumbane designers, Choromanski Architects, for creating a space of such profound cultural value.

The local community was invited to assist in imagining and building the museum, which is located in a poverty-stricken area.

Aside from the structural beauty of the building, the architects “went to extreme lengths to revive the area and communicate its rich heritage,” read the citation. More than just a R75m museum, the building offers a space for contemporary Zulu cultural heritage to be celebrated, while also telling the rich history of the community subjected to mass forced removals during apartheid.

There was more good news for African architecture this week when Cameroonian architect Hermann Kamte was awarded an inaugural WAFX prize at the close of the World Architectural Festival in Berlin. Kamte created what is known as Lagos’ Wooden Tower, which also received a nod this week from the jury for green architecture at the American Architecture Prize awards.

Made entirely of wood, the structure “highlights Yoruba culture with its massive presence in the heart of Lagos”, Kamte says. The building addresses the rising problem of urban housing and is developed through natural, recyclable and local material.

This tower is especially interesting because it is built on the roof of Adebe Court, a residential housing estate, creating an environment where the sprawling city’s working and middle classes can live and interact communally.

“The use of wood provides the city with a breath of fresh air, marking a differentiation from the massive concrete buildings that dominate the city,” said Kamte.

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