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Journey through South Africa’s architectural legacy at the Biennale Architettura 2023

18 September 2023

This is an advertising feature in association with Brand South Africa.

For the 18th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, the South African pavilion explores how architecture has shaped the country’s social structures and communities through a multi-layered exhibition titled ‘The Structure of the People’ (until 26 November 2023). The presentation explores the nation’s rich indigenous knowledge systems, woven together with forward-thinking design principles. From the graceful forms of indigenous dwellings to the imposing grandeur of colonial architecture, the show takes visitors on a journey through the intricate blend of influences that have shaped South Africa’s development throughout the centuries. It is within this fusion that the nation’s own unique architectural identity emerges, paying homage to the country’s diversity and rich multiculturalism.

Installation view of the South African Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, 2023. Photo: Cristóbal Palma, Spies Architects

Curated by Stephen Steyn, Dr Emmanuel Nkambule and Dr Sechaba Maape, the space of the pavilion is divided into three sections, each offering a different perspective on ‘The Structure of a People’ with an emphasis on the potential of indigenous knowledge systems to offer solutions for global challenges while preserving cultural identity and fostering a sense of pride and belonging among the population. The first section, titled The Past is the Laboratory of the Future, explores pre-colonial southern African societies with a particular focus on the Bokoni people. Through stone carvings and architectural remnants, visitors gain insights into how architecture played a pivotal role in shaping the social fabric of these communities. The second section, The Council of (Non-Human) Beings, features contemporary drawings inspired by African philosophy and looks at non-western traditions of architecture. Lastly, Political Animals serves as a platform for the country’s emerging talent, presenting the results of a national competition that invited architecture students to represent the structures of their schools or universities.

Together these different parts celebrate the harmonious blending of cultural influences, the transformative power of indigenous knowledge systems and the potential of architectural design to transform lives and communities.

The South African pavilion is at the Arsenale di Venezia as part of the Venice Architecture Biennale until 26 November.