Caption: Globally there is a real urgency to understand what it means to live in our current economy. In terms of the built environment this is an exercise of class power. The architectural and design event of the year, ArchitectureZA 2015 (AZA2015) will touch on topics such as this where a multitude of international and local speakers will convene. Julia King (left picture) is one of the riveting international speakers. With a focus on sanitation and participatory processes in developing countries, King is not to be missed. Co-founder of the architectural office SLIK Architekten in Zürich, Steffen Lemmerzahl (right picture) has years of experience in algorithm-based design methods and advanced use of 3D/Visualisation techniques. He will also head the much anticipated Parametric Design Masterclass during AZA2015. Set to take place from 24 to 26 September 2015 in the heart of Johannesburg, this year’s AZA event is a gold mine of innovative thinkers and industry experts.

Taking place at the chic and popular space The Sheds from 24 to 26 September 2015, AZA2015 will tackle the much debated topic of our cities’ future. With leading industry minds coming together, the event promises to challenge visionary thinkers in the architectural and design fraternities.

Julia King is an architectural designer focusing on sanitation and participatory processes in developing countries. She is currently working on the United Kingdom (UK’s) Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded project ‘Super-diverse streets: Economies and spaces of urban migration’. The project explores the intersections between city streets, social diversity and economic adaptations in the context of accelerated urban migration in the UK. The research is a comparative analysis of ‘super-diverse’ high streets that aims to explore how urban retail economies and spaces are shaped by and shape migrant practices.

In addition, Steffen Lemmerzahl, co-founder of SLIK Architekten in Zürich will grapple with rule-based architectural design. He has been using and programming computers for more than 20 years and combined both worlds as the Chair for Computer Aided Architectural Design (CAAD) at ETH Zürich from 2004 to 2010, where he covered algorithm-based design methods and advanced use of 3D/Visualization techniques. Lemmerzahl will head the AZA2015 Parametric Design Masterclass alongside Enrico Daffoncio, which is taking place from 26 to 28 September 2015. The masterclass is an intensive, two and a half day programme and aimed at the design and construction of innovative pavilion prototypes.

Architects future and the ‘Futury City

There has been a lot of focus on the need to create equitable, inclusive cities under the mantra of the ‘right to the city’. “This is an architectural project, I don’t see this as a problem of rights – all citizens have right, it is the actualisation of the rights into practice which is missing,” says King.

Lemmerzahl adds that some experts speak of a big ‘void’ in the art world and that he envisions that architects and designers face a similar change of direction. “Here in Switzerland some architects get inspired by pre-modern designs, others try to be as pragmatic as possible within the traditions of modernity. Not one of them can inspire a whole generation of architects any more. It is likely that whatever the future will bring for design won’t originate from Europe or America for the first time in centuries.”

Architects and designers role in advancing cities

Speaking about architect’s most important role, King elaborates, “Architects should play a critical role in building cities capable of engaging with the complexities of what we can call the ‘majority world’. This involves engaging within the reality of which everyday experiences are lived and created. As we see the erasure of social welfare and the simultaneous deployment of rapid, unchecked urbanisation we need to understand and operate within emerging formations of city making.”

Lemmerzahl adds to this that architects’ role right now is translating the mental state of society into spaces and argues that a shift needs to take place where industry should spend more time influencing the mental state of society through politics and cultural debates. “Right now, two different kinds of cities come to our attention. Firstly, shrinking cities where we need to find formulas on how to keep them liveable with hardly any budget available. In these cities architects can enable the residents to help themselves, mostly by sharing designs and ideas. On the other hand, booming cities are facing waves of gentrification that drive broad levels of the population out of town. Here architects should help to find ways to make affordable housing possible, even in the hippest districts,” shares Lemmerzahl.

The built environment as an indicator of economic, social and cultural changes

Lemmerzahl highlights that there are cultural changes that had very big impacts on design, for instance the modern movement of the early 20th century. He continues that we observe a democratisation of architecture as a result of social changes. “While architecture has been reserved mostly to the elites up to the beginning of the 20th century, the working class came into architects focus during the 20th century. Lots of great minds have spent their working life to realise high quality, low cost housing. Nowadays this extends to people who have no income at all. Several architects start to work in informal areas around the world, they even take care of the funding themselves, improving the lives of up to a billion people,” he continues.

“Our physical environment is the spatial manifestation of our economic and political priorities and policies. Redistribution is not going to happen, we’ve had 30 years of trying to get this right and the game is over,” says King. “Architects must begin to understand the architectural project as a social and political project beyond the building. Architects can and must play a role in divergent yet local civic projects.”

King concludes that a recent McKinsey report indicated that India will have to build between now and 2030, around 44 Mumbai’s to deal with its urbanising population. “This is not necessarily a negative thing; rapid urbanisation is at the same time India’s most pervasive challenge but also its greatest opportunity. I firmly believe in cities as engines of growth, opportunity, hope, and social change – but only if they are done well.”

AZA2015 is proudly hosted by the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) and sponsored by PPC Ltd. Affiliated partners include: the Gauteng Institute for Architecture (Gifa) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ.) For more information about AZA2015, visit http://architectureza.org/. AZA2015 is also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/architectureza).