Inam Kula

20 Nov 2023
20 Nov 2023

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Africans are starting to grapple with notions of post-colonial and decolonial identities, and architecture is going to play a central role in this.

What drew you to architecture?

I think my passion for architecture grew intrinsically. From a young age, I had always been interested in careers in engineering and the built environment, as I have an older sister who is a chemical engineer. I was always very inquisitive, had a hyper-sensitised awareness of the environment around us and loved a good challenge. At the time, I did not know any architects or too much about the field. However, at my sister’s graduation, I noticed that, unlike other fields, there weren’t a lot of people like me who were graduating. It was at that moment that my competitive, 13-year-old self decided that this was going to be my future career.

How have your degrees helped you in your career?

Well, for starters, to become an architect one needs a master’s degree. Therefore, I would not have been able to become an architect had I not completed my master’s degree in architecture. My PgDip in planning has assisted me to broaden my vantage and concept of how to design builds that fit appropriately in an urban setting. My degrees have generally helped me get jobs in amazing places where I get to envision not only the future of South Africa but of the continent at large.

What has been a highlight of your career so far?

I have two highlights: The first is having been invited to be a contributor at the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial. At the time, I was both an architecture student and a student activist. My role was to present the case of the #RhodesMustFall movement and the contributions it made on accelerating conversations and discourse on the contestation of public space in society. This moment was important for me as it highlighted that there was a need for marginal voices and stories to be heard, and that there are platforms and spaces available for such stories to be shared and heard.

The other was working at the MASS Design Group, a firm based in Boston and Kigali. At this organisation, I was able to work on a number of projects ranging from healthcare to education, as well as memorials, all of which entailed social justice elements. The ethos of the firm echoed to me once more that good design is not solely about aesthetics, but that there is justice in designing beautiful and dignified builds, and places for disenfranchised communities. Whilst at the firm, I was also privileged enough to be one of the lead architects on the conceptual design of the Winnie Madikizela Memorial and Museum, which is set to be built in Soweto in the near future.

What advice would you give to current students?

The advice that I would give to young architecture students is to believe in yourself. There are going to be moments in which you have doubts, but your ideas and experiences are valid and worthy.

How do you see architecture evolving in the near future, specifically in Africa?

Historically, architecture has always been at the centre, or the foundation, of creating communities, cities or any living environment. Africans are starting to grapple with notions of post-colonial and decolonial identities, and architecture is going to play a central role in this. African designers have already started to imagine and redefine alternative futures and narratives which are not founded on the continent’s violent and brutal past. Architecture, if used correctly, has the potential to heal the traumas of our society, through the creation of good spaces and living environments.