Ed’s letter | African Architecture Rising

Jacquie Myburgh-Chemaly
Jacquie Myburgh-Chemaly

There is a delightful Instagram post, recently shared by Artlogic’s Mandla Sibeko, showing British starchitect Thomas Heatherwick dancing enthusiastically under the pipes of his cathedral to contemporary African art, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (Zeitz Mocaa) in Cape Town.

The scene was filmed during one of the many celebrations that marked the opening of this remarkable new structure and the story goes that, as Heatherwick joyfully waved his arms in the air, he cried out: “It finally happened!”

I’m not certain whether the British architect’s incredulity stemmed from his own or others’ scepticism about this ambitious project that was first mooted 10 years ago. But if there’s one thing the completion of the stupendous nine-floor Zeitz Mocaa in the old grain silos of the V&A Waterfront does confirm, it’s the fact that the African crucible is producing some pretty meaningful architecture right now. From David Adjaye’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington to Diébédo Francis Kéré’s Serpentine Pavilion in London, the African diaspora has already made its mark globally this year.

But it’s on the African continent itself where so much remarkable architecture is being created, as Graham Wood showcases in our main feature this month (see page 22). I’m certain even the brave mud architects of Mali and pyramid designers of Egypt had their naysayers back in the day, but surely it is in the very nature of architecture to be ambitious and daring.

So, of course “it finally happened”, Mr Heatherwick. There’s a new day dawning in African architecture, and we intend to join you on the dance floor to celebrate! Jacquie

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