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As architects, women can be agents for change both in the workplace and in the way they approach designing the future built environment. This is the consensus at the Corobrik-sponsored 2018 Women in Architecture Workshop which brought together professionals in the architectural, property and social science spaces on 24 August 2018. Themed ‘Beyond the Binary’, the event took ensuing discussions to a new level, noting that the 21st century had seen a groundswell in the gender revolution, with a greater awareness that gender and sexuality are fluid.

Seen at the 2018 Women in Architecture Workshop, from left are: CNN Architects principal Karuni Naidoo; Corobrik marketing support manager Thilo Sidambaram; Tongaat Hulett Development director Karen Petersen; and Corobrik CEO Dirk Meyer. Credit: Women in Architecture/Corobrik

Speakers and panelists explored and unpacked this international movement and debated everything from women’s roles in the South African property sector to how a collaboration of professionals needs to challenge stereotypes and binary thinking patterns in order to change the design legacy of the future. Karen Petersen, Tongaat Hulett Development’s first female director and member of the Women’s Property Network, highlighted the need for transformation in the property sector, addressing gender inequalities whilst also motivating fellow professionals to build their confidence as leaders. Regional executive for ABSA Private bank in KwaZulu-Natal Tozi Mthethwa pledged support for the growth of women in architecture, while cultural inter-disciplinary researcher Russell Hlongwane explored issues around black identity in the contemporary world via poetry and a thought-provoking audio-visual presentation that led seamlessly into a fascinating panel discussion. Part one saw panelists reflect on the notion of binaries and the importance of challenging them. During part two, they outlined how binaries had become spatially entrenched and looked at aspects that needed to be considered in a more inclusive built environment. Wouter Gildenhuys, retired head of department and lecturer in architecture at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), reflected on challenging divisions throughout his academic career, noting that there is a need for a more multi-disciplinary approach to urban design and town planning. Senior architectural technologist Senzekile Mlambo emphasised that it is important for architects to interact with end users and other professionals to sensitise themselves to their

The Beyond the Binary panel discussion included, from left: senior architectural technologist Senzekile Mlambo; cultural researcher Russel Hlongwane; DUT Urban Futures Centre head Prof Monique Marks; architect Linda Danisa; psychologist Kerry Frizelle; and DUT architecture lecturer Wouter Gildenhuys. Credit: Women in Architecture/Corobrik

needs. “We need to understand what others are facing. Architects and urban planners can and do solve social problems and it starts with us in this room,” she said. Professional architect Linda Danisa also targeted gender and racial divisions. “We need to make sure that the spaces we create don’t leave traces of our ignorance,” she warned. Hlongwane pointed out that a western approach to architecture accentuated ‘otherness’ and noted that current architectural design is a symbol of opulence and “a luxury rather than a process of creating justice”. Much of the debate centred on the work of Prof Marks and designing urban spaces that not only catered for ‘invisible’ marginalised people currently residing in harsh environments but gave them dignity. The real challenge, she noted, was to engage those who were excluded and vulnerable and to stop the boundaries between people from being so stark through and inclusive rather than an exclusive design process. In closing, experienced architect Joanne Lees reiterated that although architects saw themselves as experts in their fields, they need to communicate with other disciplines to tackle broader social issues. “We need to talk. This challenges us as a profession,” she observed. The day culminated in a Creative Bricklaying Workshop with participants decked out in site clothes, protective shoes and gloves participated in the largely ‘male’ activity of building walls and creative paving patterns under the watchful eye of Corobrik’s master bricklayer and trainer Derek Dimba. Bursaries were also awarded – the Corobrik Bursary was awarded to DUT student Rohini Singh and the Absa Bursary to University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) student Hlengiwe Ngubane. The day closed with the opening of an exhibition of the work of 14 practicing women in KwaZulu-Natal by Janina Masojada.  


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