This year, following the overall theme of AZA2015, our interest is in future African cities. In architecture and urban design, the future – and particularly science fiction – is often treated warily, as though architects and urban designers are afraid to commit their vision to paper or stone. But in many ways, ‘science fiction’ might be better described as ‘speculative fiction’, since it may have nothing to do with science at all, but rather more tangible human endeavours such as our relationships to resources, the way we farm and the way we live and love – endeavours that at their heart are more cultural than scientific, less rational and predictable and more prone to change.
African cities are often seen as too preoccupied with the problems of the present to speculate on an uncertain – and probably terrifying – future. Some would even argue that African cities are the cities of the future, but in a ‘watch-out-don’t-let-it-happen-to-us’ kind of way. In recent years, however, a spate of popular and critical films have emerged from the continent (South African Neill Blomkamp’s District 9; Cameroonian Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Le Présidente; Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu’s Pumzi, for example) that have turned the stereotype on its head. New films shot in Ethiopia, Namibia, South Africa and other African countries explore the complex history of rural landscapes vs. urban conglomerations; ancestry and tradition; past and present set against the future of space travel, alien life, and of course the ever-present shortages of water, energy and food. In Africa, trade and development happen through strange and wonderful combinations: the latest technology (fibre optic Internet cables, cellular phones that-can-access-anything-anywhere), juxtaposed against traditional networks of family relations, the African Diaspora, and a word-of-mouth system of exchange that operates highly effectively through people. African capitals have developed new systems of subsistence and communication, as described in publications such as Johannesburg: The Elusive Metropolis, (edited by Achille Mbembe & Sarah Nuttall). These stark juxtapositions have been a source of creative tension for artists across the broad cultural spectrum, including architecture.
THE BRIEF, WHAT IF… ?
Using the science/speculative fiction model, you are asked to imagine an AfricanFutureCity, based on a potent, creative mixture of extremely high densities; food and energy shortages; space travel and alien life forms. In your Future City, the history of ancestors, rural farming and tradition rub shoulders with as-yet-unimagined technologies, new forms of energy and survival. Your project should consider an overall sense of the large scale, but should zoom in on details of new, home-crafted solutions to basic resources such as food, water and energy, inspired by the vast library evident in science fiction cinematography, from David Lynch’s Dune or the Mad Max series to Ridley Scott’s classic, Blade Runner. Film has always been a medium of fascination for architects and this year, we are asking you to put aside the ‘traditional’ tools of architectural representation and design (plan, section and elevation) and explore the spatial qualities inherent in film. Your proposed AfricanFutureCity should be presented in cinematic format (either in film, animation or film stills) of no more than 9 minutes, accompanied by a single A1 drawing, for which a graphic template will be provided. You are also asked to construct (at any scale), an artefact/model that incorporates (or represents) some aspect of your film. This could be a section of a stage set; a time machine; a wearable body suit; a detail of a new housing typology – the only criteria is that it should be 3D and constructed/fabricated.
At least one of the judges will be a filmmaker. Registration details and competition rules will follow shortly.
(with thanks to Leon Krige for his essay, ‘African City of the Future’, which inspired the competition brief)