Youth Reimagining Climate-Resilient Spaces for Tomorrow at EXPO DUBAI 2020

“We don’t live in the past, the past lives within us.” Charles Perkins.

In celebration of #WorldCitiesDay, Platform100 founders Amira Osman and Mokena Mokeka (Dalberg), partnered with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), to invite architecture, design and urban planning students from universities across the globe to submit 2 minute videos that expressed their bold and creative ideas for future spaces. 6 of these submitted visions were selected and presented at the final session of the #WorldCitiesDay Flagship event: Programme for People and Planet held at the EXPO 2020 Dubai on Sunday 31 October. Amira and Mokena joined Mr Alan Vallance (RIBA), Ms Sarah Lynn Rees (Monash University) and Mr Tan Szue Hann (World Cities Summit) as key-note speakers for the session.

“We, as stewards of the planet have a duty to the estimated 8,5 billion people that will inhabit our planet by 2030”, claimed Mokena as he opened the session highlighting the urgency, the agency and the importance of including the voices of youth as we strive for ecological justice in a future, for which we do not yet, have a template.

The important discussion about how we plan for an uncertain future was sparked by the viewing of the 6 ‘winning’ video submissions.

Prof Osman began the discussion with the key message echoed through all of Platform100’s work this year: “To change practice we need to change thinking.” Design can make a difference she argued but we have put so much emphasis on growth that we’ve forgotten the power of simplicity. Amira called for a return to our heritage of simple and elegant building principles that inherently reflect our relation to the natural environment. If, for example, we begin by correctly orientating buildings, there’s less need for a reliance on smart/advanced tech and then the tech we do select plays a more important role, enhancing good design. Not building in relation to the natural environment is, she claimed, poor design!

Sarah Lynn Rees continued with the call to remember cultural heritage by emphasising the importance of including indigenous voices in urban planning and in that way ensuring that all residents are able to identify and see themselves reflected in our cities. Not from a human-centric position but from an understanding that humans are too, a part of the system. When we plan and build we need to consider the whole system and that includes building for the natural (fauna and flora) inhabitants of an area. Designing from this holistic standpoint means we move away from seeing landscape as ornamental, to seeing landscape as habitat, we move towards an understanding of the role that architecture can play in nurturing the natural environment. ‘I take care of country and country takes care of me.”

Sarah further cautioned that despite the fact that we need to act fast, it is critical that we don’t design with a crisis mentality. Designing in a panic often leads to forgetting our ethical considerations. She posits that we need to change where we start the conversation, beginning not from the place of “we have a problem” but to start rather from an acknowledgement of the values and understandings of the communities we are building with, to commit to co-designing in collaboration with the communities we are serving.

Mr Hann pointed out the sombre truth that in the world of development there has always been an assumption that we are designing for a future that will be better than the past. We have seen from our present that neither our present nor our future is necessarily better than our past. In fact, our current future looks bleak and that requires a resetting of our education system. As architects, designers, planners rather than imagining how we design for a better future, our pragmatic approach needs to be how do we mitigate and lessen the impact of our current trajectory.

Our talks need to become more uncomfortable for we do have to act and we have to act now contended Allan Vallance. We need to harness the passion of architects and their training as problem-solvers.

Along with the calls to include other voices as co-creators, to incorporate vernacular wisdom, coupled with new technologies and new modes of measurement there is an imperative to shift environment from the side lines of architectural education to a position of core curriculum. As professionals we need to dream, to aspire, to bring back our histories and our heritage and we need to speak the language of government, we need to be able to translate our dreams into doable action, into implementable policy.

Amira’s closing statement is a challenge and an overdue prompt to all built environment professionals and practitioners: “If there is no equality, there is no resilience … no matter how smart a city might look!”

Congratulations to the students from the 3 RIBA accredited universities: Abu Dhabi University (UAE), University Teknologi (MARA) (UiTM) (Perak Malaysia), and Universidad Catolica de Colombia (Colombia). We were particularly proud of the 3 powerful and visually interesting South African presentations, all from the University of the Free State. Well done on the collaborative effort!

The full day’s events are captured in this online video. The youth session begins at 7:01.

Congratulations to all the students whose presentations were showcased at the World Expo.

  • Wilandri Bornmann, Kayla de Jager, Elani Engelbrecht, Su-Mari Gouws, Melissa Olivier, Tefo Phatlane Renier Veitch, Chris van Heerden, Meghan Pretorius, Marita Kotzé, Michail Cloete, JC Schoeman, Teresa Theunissen, Jacquelien Fourie, Lielie Fourie, Michelle VD Rijst (University of the Free State)
  • Alicia Horn, Anya Strydom, Arran Wood, Cayla-Jade Hallowell, Ellene Naude, Emihle Bunu Gert Ferreira, Heinrich Hofmeyr, Jean-Marie Bignaut, Lijani Griessel, Lize du Toit, Lugho Mkukwana, maliza Adendorff, Maryam Ismail, Rynard Lareman, Thereza de Klerk (University of the Free State)
  • Bernard Maree, Dapper De Wet, Andreas Badenhorst, Herman Viljoen, Drian Mostert, Janka Van Zyl, Mieke Badenhorst, Haino Vermeulen, Jak Prinsloo, Marike Louw, Chere Claase, Khanyisile Bodlani, Karabo Mosime, Phungwazana Monapati, Khalipha Radebe, Kgolo Mojela, Nzuzo Mjiyakho (University of the Free State)

  • Maya Wacily (Abu Dhabi University)

  • Laura Junca (Catholic University of Colombia)
  • Nur Rasyidah binti Mohd Nizam (Universiti Teknologi Mara Seri Iskandar)

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