Young architects explore the social structures of their schools as part of South African Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2023

Dept Of Arts and Culture Arcitecture Press Selection-20

The Biennale Architettura 2023 in Venice is underway, and the South African Pavilion includes a series of models or artefacts that resulted from the Political Animals national architecture competition, run by the Pavilion curators: Mr Stephen Steyn, Dr Emmanuel Nkambule and Dr Sechaba Maape. The South African Pavilion is titled The Structure of a People, and is made up of three areas or zones. These models form part of Zone III, Political Animals.

The Political Animals competition invited students to develop architectural models and artefacts that represent the social structures around them. The first prize winners were Emma Skudder, Priyan Moodley and Michael Peneda of the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) for their Look the Other Way model. 

This model focuses on the disruption at the heart of educational institutions today. According to the Look the Other Way team, “these institutions are perceptively stagnant monolithic spatial frameworks isolated from surrounding landscapes. Through isolation within its surroundings access to these institutions becomes increasingly more challenging.” The artefact presented by the team from Wits is representative of the larger social structure of Johannesburg and becomes a microcosm for social structures of institutions throughout South Africa.

The team who placed second is from the Graduate School of Architecture (GSA), and their model Resonance stands as a commentary on the “nature of the Political Animal of the GSA through its evolution in two eras of pedagogical research.” 

In third place was a team from Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) with MAAT18. They fashioned a symbolic artefact to portray the quantitative and qualitative data of TUT’s Master of Architecture in Architectural Technology Programme. This artefact is presented in the form of a collection of “chalices.” Each chalice symbolises the team’s “commitment to honouring the fundamental connection between cultural heritage and knowledge through its course design. By manifesting these themes and values, this creation encourages students and faculty to reflect on and uphold the importance of cultural heritage and values in their academic and professional pursuits.”

The other finalist groups, whose models are also be exhibited at Biennale Architettura 2023, are TUT with Organized Chaos, the University of Free State (UFS) with Amplified Voices and the University of Cape Town (UCT) with Commemorating Cultures.

Organized Chaos depicts a psychological environment in which students “navigate their way through a year of unforeseen obstacles marked with bureaucracy, roadblocks, and socio-economic barriers.” 

Amplified Voices exemplifies the multifaceted nature of the voices emanating from the students of the UFS. “The students’ diverse linguistic expressions, liberated from societal constraints, form the foundation of their amplified voices.” 

The miniature model for Commemorating Cultures aims to represent the existence of a rich, complex society and how the voices emerging from an eclectic community with many different languages, crafts and areas of knowledge are gaining dignity.

An adjudication panel for the student competition comprised of Karlien Thomashoff (director of Thomashoff+partner Architects, Y+K Architects and WitOpWit), Ngillan Faal (Unit 7 Lead and programme convenor for Making – Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. Director of Faal & Kompin) and Nomonde Gwebu (lecturer and a PhD candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand). In addition to seeing their models displayed at the Biennale Architettura 2023, the three winning groups received prize money as follows: R6 000 for the third prize, R12 000 for the second prize, and R20 000 for the first prize.

The 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia opened to the public on 20 May 2023, and closes on 26 November 2023. The South African Pavilion is located in the Sala d’Armi Nord, first floor, Arsenale di Venezia, Campo della Tana 2169/f Castello, Venezia, Venezia 30122, Italia.

Find the South African Pavilion online: 




Photos: TC Mailia

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