To maintain social distancing measures, the adjudication process for the AfriSam-SAIA Sustainable Design Award had to take on a slightly different form for 2020. To cut down on inter-provincial travel, we commissioned a professional tour guide from Kirfara to walk a very small film crew and one or two of the local adjudicators through each site. Each video was then made available for adjudication. Kirfara guides us through his experience with the AfriSam-SAIA Sustainable Design Award. 

A few months after lockdown ended, the AfriSam-SAIA Sustainable Design Award team asked if I could assist and chaperone a videographer, scribe and adjudicators to sites shortlisted for the afore-mentioned awards. It would take the next six weekends. Departing on Fridays and returning Sunday evenings, this would fit well into my current Monday to Friday responsibilities of school runs and domestic errands. We would drive from airports to specific sites and attend meetings with architects and other role players in six general regions around South Africa. 

From the start, we met with interesting adjudicators. Rubbing shoulders with architect gurus, academics, doctors and freedom fighters changed my infant perception of the world of architectural design. Not only do they have a firm understanding of how humans relate to the world around us, but their art is also to plan and create the spaces we live, work and play in. 

The design and redesign of our relationship with earth relies largely on the direction of sustainable architecture. To re-establish and sustain a relationship with Mother Earth will take a careful approach. We now realize that we have no choice but to change our direction of perpetual growth and consumption of everything around us.  

Growing and building are no more important than renewing, re-using, re-engineering and rethinking the way we live.  

Every project visited spoke to the delicate nature of life on earth. Our visit here is a short one. Those after us will enquire how we lived, how we impacted the niches of our neighbours, both within our species and outside.

In KwaZulu-Natal, we drove through the Valley of a Thousand Hills. The project site was breathtaking and the commitment of the leaders to sustainability at Thanda ECDC commendable. The better parts of Shaka, Piet Retief, the impis and soldiers of these historical lands smile in their graves. Sisuka kude (we have come a long way). 

The Thanda Early Childhood Development Centre

Site settings in the Western Cape ranged from township, urban to farmland, biosphere and a regional small-town hospital. Diversity, drought and pandemics were discussed as we traversed the Breede River Valley, Kogelberg Biosphere and the rugged West Coast. The projects were stunning.  

Botha’s Halte Primary School (Worcester)

Kogelberg Nature Reserve new administration building and tourist accommodation

Additions to the Vredenburg Provincial Hospital

Limpopo and the Waterberg were next on our list of marvellous design sites and their stories. Facing challenging traffic on the great north road, we spoke about the turbulent times of the Mfecane or Difaqane and how it would have been on the highveld plateau in those days. Ours, for the afternoon at least, was the direction of Rhodes’ imperial dream. But we took a left turn to Bela-Bela, Modimolle and Vaalwater. We visited two refreshing, natural, modern design sites. Each contrasting in how they blended into the natural environment.  

Limpopo Youth Hostel (Bela-Bela)

House of the Big Arch (SwebeSwebe Nature Reserve in the Waterberg)

The sub-tropical Lowveld forms the eastern frontier where South Africa meets Mozambique and Zimbabwe. This is where conservation meets adventure, and the bushveld gifts us with a unique safari experience. Every visit to Kruger Park is a journey. The speed limit is 50km/h and any distance feels long. There is an astonishing diversity of trees, mammals and birds warranting continuous indiscriminate observation stops along the way. This time, our route from Numbi to Skukuza and Lower Sabi was rich in game- and bird-viewing as well as timely interesting discussions and chats. Temperatures soared into the forties. Vultures soared on the thermals of the bushveld. One of our crew shared that this was a memorable first visit to Kruger Park.   

Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative 

New Thanda School Facilities (Hectorspruit)

In Gauteng, we visited a private school, public university and art gallery before heading south to the Free State. Our final site visit for the weekend was in the ancient geological setting of the Vredefort Dome. The remains of a 2-billion-year-old impact crater, the largest verified impact crater on earth. It felt like holy ground and it was refreshing to experience a low impact lodge in this vulnerable area.  

African Leadership Academy, New Fred Pardee Learning Commons (Roodepoort)

Future Africa Campus (University of Pretoria), Proefplaas

JCAF Art Gallery (Forest Town), Johannesburg

Witklipfontein Eco Lodge (Vredefort Dome), Parys

Our final weekend was a perpendicular crossing of the Cape Fold mountains, a traverse through the Klein- and proper-Karoo. A 700km round trip rich in dirt roads and mountain passes. Through valleys lined with Ostrich farms, dairies and mountains filled with famous caves accessed through historic ports. A traveller’s dream, ours is the country where history and legends are made. The dramatic cloud cover during our site visit made for an interesting and productive photographic opportunity. The light was good. On a hot day in the Karoo, a small town on the great north road with all its challenges gave us good light.  

Hillside Clinic, Beaufort West

The past six weekends provided me with new hope for this time. My first formal employment since February, and not exactly the same work as what I am accustomed to. Change is good. On every site, I was fortunate enough to spend quality time behind the lens. Given the challenges of our time, this opportunity provided me with a fresh focus. I love to show people around South Africa or the continent, I’m privileged to experience this through their eyes. I love looking out for their safety and to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. To travel is also to be disrupted. I live in the curiosity of disruption. I have a passion to get people from A to B safely, and learning life along the way.  

We are carefully moving, travelling. Revisiting our history and showcasing our heritage. We are checking in on nature and seeing how we can turn the tides of conservation. We are champions of sustainable design and give credit where the relationship with mother earth is improved. We are learning.