Architecture exhibition: New look for Nelson Mandela Bay

FEBRUARY 24, 2016

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s latest architecture exhibition showcases Nelson Mandela Bay in innovative and insightful ways – from a re-imagined South End, evoking memories of the old suburb prior to forced removals, to a built-up Baakens River Valley, connecting city to sea, to a brand new citywide rail system.

NMMU’s architecture undergraduate students spent the last three weeks working intensively on these and other projects, in collaboration with four visiting internationally-recognised architects, three from universities in the Netherlands, Argentina and Italy and one from Cape Town. The theme for the international architecture workshops was “Nelson Mandela Bay – Making a Place”.

URBAN DESIGN … Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s newest architecture exhibition includes 3D models of re-imagined public spaces in Nelson Mandela Bay, which students worked on in collaboration with international architectural experts. 

The exhibition opened on February 19, coinciding with the close of the workshops. 

In addition to working closely with the students, the visiting experts – Prof Armando Dal Fabbro, from the University IUAV of Venice, Italy, Prof Matías Imbern, from the National University of Rosario, Argentina, Prof Stephen Read, from TU Delft, Netherlands, and architect Carin Smuts, from CS Studio Architects in Cape Town – also delivered a number of public lectures in the Bay.

For the workshops, students were divided into teams, which included first to fourth years. Under the guidance of the experts, they developed plans and built 3D models, the various teams working on six different projects relating to developing public spaces in Nelson Mandela Bay and its surrounding areas.

“Think of this as six studies towards making a place in Port Elizabeth that will be worthy of Port Elizabeth and inclusive of the people in Port Elizabeth,” said Prof Read.

He said urbanism was not just about “making cities” but more about “talking … engaging in minor politics and debate about what a city must be”. He said it was also about including “more than what people want, and trying to include aspects of what people do”.

“The idea of our workshop was not a solution or a project. The idea was a vision of the future, for developing a city in the future,” said Prof Dal Fabbro.

School of Architecture Head  Boban Varghese said the workshops tied in with NMMU’s aim to produce architects who were locally engaged but globally informed. “It has been three remarkable weeks of experimentation and exploration.”

Closely involved in the workshops was the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), which has been tasked with rejuvenating and regenerating the inner city of Port Elizabeth, including Central and the old CBD. The School of Architecture this year signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the MBDA.

MBDA’s Dorelle Sapere said the workshops connected the university and the city. “All the projects [the students have] worked on will become reality in some form or another – they will feed back into actual projects.”

“I think the most positive thing about the architecture workshops was getting a real connection between the different students in the department,” said third-year architecture student Lauren Boliter, whose team focused on the urban revitalisation of Upper Valley Road. “It was nice to work on an urban scale – to design a whole urban scheme.”

The international architecture workshops, which have run since 2014, are the brainchild of senior architecture lecturer Ernst Struwig. “The three-week workshops programme is an important cultural project, [giving] students a broader engagement [with] urban issues from a national and international standpoint.”

GLOBAL EXPERT … Prof Armando Dal Fabbro, from the University IUAV of Venice, chats to lecturers, students and members of the public at the opening of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s newest architecture exhibition – which showcases the projects students produced during NMMU’s three-week international architecture workshops.