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Luyanda Mpahlwa

Luyanda Mpahlwa is part of a vanguard of designers reshaping and re-envisioning South Africa’s post-apartheid architectural landscape.

Luyanda studied architecture at the University of Natal and Natal Technikon in the late 1970s before being incarcerated for anti-apartheid political activities when he refused to give up the name of one of his comrades to a judge in 1980. After five years in prison, his release to Germany was negotiated by Amnesty International, where he completed his MS in architecture at the Technical University of Berlin. After graduation, he was the project site architect for one of the Nordic Embassies projects in Berlin, the coordinating architect for the Berlin Embassy, and co-initiator of the South African Embassy project.

After his return to South Africa in 2000, Mpahlwa’s innovations included designs for low-cost homes. The 10×10 Housing Project in the township of Freedom Park, a shanty town on the outskirts of Cape Town, was commissioned in 2007 by Design Indaba, South Africa’s premier design expo. Ten local and international architects were paired with ten Freedom Park families to build experimental homes on the government subsidy budget of 50,000 South African rands, or about $6,900 US. 

To reduce costs, Mpahlwa replaced traditional brick-and-mortar foundations with less expensive two-story structural frames made from timber and filled with sand. The design borrows from indigenous, mud-and-wattle building techniques that keep homes cool in summer and warm in winter. In addition to its thermal and sound-absorbing properties, sandbag construction also requires little to no electricity or skilled labor to erect. Several Freedom Park families now live in new two-story homes with built-in terraces and private gardens—a step up from their previous one-room tin shacks. 

Since the successful completion of the 10×10 Design Indaba Housing project, Luyanda has continued to pursue socially impactful design. One current project seeks to upgrade an informal settlement in the township of Philippi, Cape Town. Currently, the team has completed 400 government-subsidized units of a total of 5,000. The design philosophy borrows from the lessons learned in the 10×10 Housing Project of 2008, but on a larger scale and with different typologies in order to create better urban quality. 

Recently, Luyanda was appointed Adjunct Professor at the University of Cape Town, African Centre for Cities (ACC), an honorary position which he hopes to use to promote socially impactful design in the teaching of Architecture and Urban Design.