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ADD Building School of the Built Environment
On Thursday 18th April 2013 the Centre for Urban Research and Innovations (CURI) in collaboration with the School of the Built Environment hosted a panel seminar on art and architecture in the city. Key speakers included Kathleen Louw of the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (Belgium), architect Heinrich Wolff (South Africa), Joy Mboya Director Arts Centre Director (Kenya), Joe Addo Director ArchiAfrika network (Ghana) and architect Berend van der Lans from African Architecture Matters (Amsterdam). The team which was part of a delegation attending the UN-Habitat’s 24th session of the Governing Council, engaged members of faculty and students drawn from all the departments in the School of Built Environment, School of Arts and Design and visiting students from Kenyatta University in a presentation whose theme was ‘art and architecture for inclusive and sustainable urban development in Africa’.
The presentations centered on the role of artists and architects of the city as it is they who feel the pulse of a city’s evolving cultures, identities and movements. Their input therefore in urban planning was considered essential in today’s African cities which are faced by unprecedented growth among other challenges. It further emerged that professionals in charge of shaping the urban form in African cities have tended to ‘copy and paste’ designs and concepts from other jurisdictions and cultures. This scenario was considered unsustainable and therefore not proper for shaping African cities. Giving emphasis to this argument, Joe Addo took the audience through the design of his own house which he used local materials to build.
Another key presentation was by Berend van der Lans who also gave a presentation on behalf of Heinrich Wolff. Wolff works presented are based in South Africa. He is more concerned with the role architects can play to contribute to the outcomes of social change. Wolff sees five important elements in social change, which he aims to address in his work: Development of freedom - extending the freedoms of the individual, through architecture and the building process; Environmental responsibility - environmental change as an essential component of social change. Local building materials, locally sourced and with a minimal environmental footprint are used, while aspects such as optimized daylight, entry, orientation of buildings, water collection and other techniques are implemented; Perpetuation of the values of dignity, equality and freedom of expression through architecture - overturning the differential treatment of people in spatial practices; Contribution to a more labour-absorbent economy - awareness of the potential of architecture for local skills development and job creation; and City as an open and all-inclusive domain. Berend’s presentation’s cardinal message was on the need for a new paradigm to be defined and that top down urban master planning is no longer the answer to the challenges at stake. He argued that inclusive thinking is increasingly seen as the key to sustainable urbanism, with a role for communities, social and cultural actors, as well as private investors which ultimately contributes to a balanced and inclusive growth model with a broad ownership.
To crown the day’s presentations, Joy Mboya presented an ongoing project by the GoDown Arts Centre Nairobi. Through looking at a vital pedestrian link from the GoDown to the City Centre and a circuit also starting at the arts centre, the GoDown in collaboration with White Architects from Sweden, have since 2010 been carrying out case-studies testing integrated planning in the city. In an intense series of actions under the umbrella of ‘Nai Ni Who? (slang for Who is Nairobi?)’, GoDown is developing community generated programmes for 2013, including talks, performances, exhibition tours, markets and mapping, to generate a good base for the creation of a people-centered urban zone, offering safe and inclusive public spaces and mixed use developments.

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