The future of cities according to women : Interview with architecture company Counterspace

“The idea of a future city is something immaterial, something imagined and hypothesized.”

In April and May 2017, the Constructing Future Cities project supported by the British Council engaged with 5 women artists on the topic of future cities. Read interviews with Counterspace below, Michelle Mlati here and Thozama Mputa here.

What aspect of the cities do you think impact women negatively the most?

Our cities and public spaces are definitely prejudiced towards women, and often leave us feeling vulnerable. But there are many, many, many strong women who work in the city despite this. We worked on a project in a community of male informal recyclers inhabiting a building in the city. There was a single woman who is the chief and owner of a Shebeen in the building, and governs the livelihoods of the recyclers as well as running her own business.

Does the idea of a “women’s vision for a city” have more to do with process or outcome in your opinion? 

Our cities deserve outcomes, otherwise what are we doing? We believe very heavily in very involved and engaged design processes, but we see them as potential outcomes, always.

Although gender roles in our societies are becoming increasingly fluid, our cities and systems still prejudice women.

Our projects often deal with undoing or reconfiguring perceived South African anxieties and insularities around the use of public space and the city. Often, this involves interrogating larger systemic urban, cultural issues through our research and interventions, of which patriarchy and sexism are a part. Through our urban research work and community engagements, we are made more and more aware of the vulnerabilities, narratives, experiences of women, and our design approach is often intentionally, directly or indirectly structured around these. Our approach to design is often narrative driven, and as women, we also see the city through our own lenses and perceptions, which we explore and draw – we restructure spaces through our compositions of photographs, collages, and models.

What inspired you to integrate art and architecture in your approach?

The idea of a future city is something immaterial, something imagined and hypothesized. For this project, we have tried to unpack our concepts for the future by overlaying and integrating art, architecture, sounds, texture and many other mediums, to create something that can be brought to life and experienced on paper. Since, we are architects, a lot of the way that we see the city is through visual studies and understanding the relationship between people, built form and landscape. We use visual mediums as ways of examining and understanding as well as representing and communicating. We see art and architecture as fluid and integrated.  The city is made of many complex underpinnings and as a practice we are experimental in our approach, exploring the city and its future in both critical and creative ways.

How have the visits, meetings and exchanges during the Constructing Future Cities programme influenced and translated in your artworks?

We have definitely been inspired by our visits to both Cape Town and Durban. As a practice that works predominately in Johannesburg, it was exciting extending some of our ideas on how we perceive space to other locations in South Africa. Our works were influenced by visiting new places and being exposed to different forms of public space. We witnessed how people interact and engage with these spaces. Each space having its own cultural and contextual identity.

The discussions at Freedom Café with women from various backgrounds as well conversations with female architects gave us insight into the challenges and opportunities that exist within the city and how, we as young (female) professionals can work to influence and improve the built environment.

What are you trying to communicate with your work ‘Future Addresses’  for this project?

We are looking at events as a way of describing space. This includes various type of events, from political, spiritual and recreational. These active moments of people gathering in space can provide us with an understanding on how people use space but more importantly the power that the space holds when people move together and engage as a collective. We represented major events such as ‘fees must fall’ and Marikana as catalysts to the state of our future landscapes.  The events create insurgent instants in the landscape where spaces are altered to become more that it’s physical parameters but the ephemeral- people engaging in conversation about future agencies and the what is urgent.

What would a women-led vision for a city “feel like” upon completion? How would any individual experience that space differently?

Pink and Gold

Future Addresses

Event as a spatial performant in the 21st century African city, an ideological milieu. We see micro- and macro- political, cultural, and social events in the city as catalysts for growth and transformation of our cities. Our cities have layered and complex spaces scripted by economic and religious rituals, capable of producing new architectural languages and forms

About Counterspace

Counterspace is an all-women practice invested in finding new architectural languages to bring about new urban forms. We look at, learn and borrow from the existing conditions, nuances, specificities, richnesses and urban rituals of our context, and propose new city futures. Our experiments and projections are based on real conditions and imagines new vernacular architectures emerging from these.