The role of architecture according to Thomas Heatherwick, Christian Benimana and more

Five Design Indaba Conference alumni on how the role of architecture is evolving in society.

Since 1995, the Design Indaba Conference has hosted a number of renowned architects from around the globe. From industry icons to innovative beginners, the conference stage has seen it all.

But today, we are taking a look at what role architecture plays in the world according to former speakers who all explore the practice in their own ways.

For Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto it’s all about choice. “I like to create the architecture of the diversities, where people can choose varieties is quite a fundamental questioning,” he explains.

Known as a philosophical architect, Fujimoto spoke at the 2016 Design Indaba Conference where his talk highlighted the importance of designing spaces for users' consumption and freedom. 

An architect with a similar mindset as Fujimoto is Débora Mesa. The Spanish architect is one half of superstar duo, Ensamble Studios, who spoke at this year's Conference. For Mesa and her partner Antón García-Abril, it's all about the balance between reordered nature and prefabricated systems.

“Our approach is about developing these methods that allow us to understand architecture and the technologies that can build it and make the most of how we bring all the pieces together,” says Mesa.

During Ensamble's talk they spoke about how they’ve progressed as architects through the combination of architecture and technology.

Some architects approach the conversation differently, like Rwandan-born Christian Benimana who believes the role architects play is the most important one. He sees himself and his peers as the catalysts for change.  

“We are the ones who should take all of that and blend it into something that allows us to change the Earth's inherited natural environment and into an appropriate built environment,” explains Benimana.

When he spoke at the 2017 Conference, Benimana took the audience through some of his incredible community serving builds. Benimana is one of the leaders at MASS Design Group, a practice known for human-centred architectural projects. 

An architect who has a similar approach is Chilean Alejandro Aravena. Both Aravena and Benimana have looked to communities in need, and in Aravena’s case, he looked to the rebuild of an entire city.

“What we are trying to do is to use the power of design, which is mainly synthesis to integrate mainly all the forces at play. Intervention in cities helps to improve people's quality of life and not the other way around,” says Aravena.  

Lastly, we look at British architect Thomas Heatherwick, whose work is a hybrid between glamorous buildings and social impact spaces.

“I think to be a designer you have to believe that you are trying to make things better. You have to believe that you are trying to make a difference and that’s what motivates you and your team,” he explains.

During his 2018 talk, Heatherwick showed our audience just how he reinvents spaces, more specifically zooming in on the monumental Zeitz MOCAA, which lives in the city of Cape Town.

He went on to reveal that the build represented togetherness for a once isolated space.

Read up on announced architects for Design Indaba 2019: 

Architect Dong-Ping Wong to speak at Design Indaba 2019

Architect Annabelle Selldorf announced as Design Indaba speaker for 2019