Traditional architecture, inclusion in South Africa and housing policies worldwide


In 2018, one of the attractions at the Venice Architecture Biennial was the Architecture Landscape exhibition in the Arsenale hall, with drawings by South African architect Peter Rich, who is a confirmed speaker at UIA2021RIO. The Biennial curators, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, said that Rich reminds practitioners of something that tends to be forgotten: drawing by hand.

This exhibition featured fifteen drawings of eight projects designed by Rich, print it out on canvas panels measuring 1.5 x 2.5 metres, hung at a height of five metres from a wood and steel structure. These drawings included the Mapungubwe Interpreting Centre: one of his most famous works, it was honoured at the World Architecture Festival (WA F) in Barcelona in 2009 As the World Building of the Year.

This museum is surrounded by the Mapungubwe National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Limpopo province, in the northern part of South Africa on the border with Botswana and Zimbabwe. Uninhabited for centuries, this area is rich in archaeological sites, with ancient baobabs and very diverse wildlife.

The Interpretation Centre designed by Peter Rich is set on a geological mesa foundation that was sacred to several tribes. It is a low-cost construction, based on ancestral methods and technologies. Working with undulating shapes, domes and arched roofs that recall caves and grottos, Rich used stone and earth in the construction, which involved local communities. Outdoor walkways shaded by trees contrast with the rough aspect of the building.

This museum gathers together artefacts recounting the history of this region and its peoples. Deeply involved in these topics, Peter Rich born in 1945 in Johannesburg, studying and then working as a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand for almost thirty years. He extensively researched and documented traditional indigenous settlements in South Africa – a cultural heritage that was practically destroyed under apartheid. One of the founders of the Architects against Apartheid Group, his research has been acknowledged internationally, together with his work as an architect and activist, designing projects for indigenous communities not only in South Africa, but in other countries as well.

With apartheid dismantled and democracy in place, he began to develop projects for the South African government with sweeping social impacts, striving to reconcile traditional African architecture with Western practices, while also “regenerating the social landscape”. Today, Peter Rich is one of the leading architects in his homeland, and a voice clamouring for social inclusion: “I strive to serve the underprivileged, because they deserve it. I will continue the good fight and take it to the world,” he declared at the WAF prize-giving ceremony.

Global overview

From another standpoint and with different experiences, architect Claudio Acioly – also confirmed speaker at UIA2021RIO – brings a global overview to the discussion on the demands of the underprivileged, focused on housing. For more than thirty years, he has worked with planning, designing, administration, implementation and assessment of Housing and Urban Development policies in countries all over the world. Jointly with the United Nations Programme of Human Settlements (UN-Habitat), he has coordinated housing policies and programmes since 2008 in countries such as Malawi, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Vietnam, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador and Tanzania, among others.

Present at countless community removal and resettlement actions where UN-Habitat intervened in order to ensure human rights, he recalls the eviction of some 200 people from an area where they were squatting in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. “This was a floodland area, but the people were not consulted or advised. They went out to work, and when they came home, they found their houses demolished and their belongings scattered among the rubble,” he explained to the Revista Dois Pontos magazine produced by the Paraná and São Carlos Federal Universities.

On that occasion, his team gathered local leaders together and contacted the authorities in order to convince them that the removal would create far more serious problems for the city, if it handled in this manner.

A tricky occasion that he recalls in Brazil was the reinstatement of ownership for Pinheirinho, at São José dos Campos in São Paulo State, with around 1500 families evicted. “This was a very drastic violation of the right to adequate housing”, notes this architect.

He also mentioned successful resettlement actions based on dialogue with the communities involved: “in India, with technical support from the Spark NGO, people living alongside a railway line were identified, and they were all resettled. This example was followed in the Philippines, and in Kenya as well. In India, this matter reached a significant scale. When you engage the population in a planning decision-making process, there’s a good chance that things will progress smoothly, creating a foundation for sustainability”, he said.

He also mentioned the example of Singapore, which has managed to transfer almost 100% of its squatters into social housing provided by the State, as well as initiatives elsewhere in South America, particularly Uruguay and Chile: “in the latter, with almost a hundred years of an ongoing housing policy.”

In addition to UN-Habitat, he has also been a consultant to the World Bank and programmes run by other UN agencies, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) in the Netherlands. He is also an associate professor at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in the USA.

More detailed information about these speakers and others already confirmed for UIA2021RIO is available on https://www.gapcongressos.com.br/eventos/z0140/palestrantes_en.asp



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