Thomas Chapman: Welcoming change in the "ugly" city

Founder of Local Studio, Thomas Chapman has directed his efforts towards social change through clever architecture in Johannesburg.

“We’re lucky to a poorly planned and ugly city that welcomes change,” says Thomas Chapman. The founder of Local Studio has chosen the South African city of Johannesburg as his canvas, trading in the brown hues of “spatial injustice” for impactful cultural spaces fitting of the unique people who call the city home.

Since its establishment in Brixton in 2012, Chapman has steered Local Studio toward new directions for African architecture through innovations in community participation, public space design, and alternative construction methodologies. Their approach looks first at how a project impacts a public space, the interface between public and private. The studio also considers the needs of the community and which of those needs the project could address.

“We’re not really interested in projects where there’s pretty much no chance of social impact,” says Chapman.

The studio has its hands in a number of projects in Johannesburg such as the design of a pedestrian bridge in Westbury, an affordable housing tower in Braamfontein and a new cultural centre in Sophiatown called the Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre.

The centre is home to one of Chapman’s most recent projects, the Sophiatown Remembrance Screen. Described as the relationship between memory and architecture, the screen is a place for the former residents of Sophiatown to memorialise their former homes.

Around 65 000 residents were forcibly removed from the area by the Apartheid regime. The culture, tradition and sense of community created by the people who lived there is slowly being restored.

Watch the Talk with Thomas Chapman