Speakers and sponsors of the AZA16 architecture and design festival were welcomed at a pre-event dinner hosted by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), PPC Cement and Wits University in Braamfontein on Wednesday, 31 August.

The three-day festival started on Thursday and runs through Saturday, 3 September at Wits University. Now in its sixth year, the festival features six international and 20 local speakers, as well as a host of expert workshop and tour leaders.

The event is being hosted by the Wits and the SA Institute of Architects, with support from the JDA.

Hannah le Roux, director of Wits’ architecture programme, welcomed the guests at 13 Venue and Bar in Braamfontein before handing the microphone to Taffy Adler, director of the Braamfontein Urban Revitalisation Project at Wits.


Introducing the university’s Re-imagining Braamfontein programme, Adler said: “If you look around, you will see a magnificent scenario of Johannesburg that perhaps people who have been [in Joburg] for some time have not seen for a while.

“You are really in an environment which is incredibly dynamic, not only from a political point of view, but also the kind of dynamics that is occurring at people level.”

Adler encouraged the visitors to pay close attention to the inner city dynamics of the environment they would be spending the next three days in.

Nokubekezela Mchunu, one of the organisers of the festival, described it as a celebration of trend-setting architecture and the thought leaders of the present and future of the industry.

For delegates, Mchunu said, it provided an opportunity “to transfer knowledge and get a more intimate understanding of the award-winning projects that they normally read about in journals”.


Stanley Saitowitz of San Francisco, California-based Natoma Architects, said he was impressed with the latest developments he had already seen in Braamfontein.

“It is very exciting to see some of the things that are going on in South Africa,” Saitowitz said. “When I was a student at Wits in the late sixities, Braamfontein was kind of like an office community, and to see how it has become a student’s town is very exciting.

“It has become vibrant, the streets are full of life, so it is very exciting for me to see what is happening.”

Saitowitz will be delivering the AZA16 Masterclass on Student Housing, during which he will talk about architecture and the “fabric of the city” and showcase some of the work that he does in the US.

Another speaker, Matilde Cassani from Italy, said she looked forward to exploring Johannesburg’s architecture.


“It’s my first time here in South Africa, I am really fresh, I don’t know much but I am really enjoying it,” Cassani said. “What I find exciting is that the urban situation is really changing, and it is something that we don’t experience in Europe, which is very slow.”

AZA16’s other international speakers are from the UK, Belgium, Mozambique and Australia. Topics being covered range from the effects of big data on complex design ecologies to the intimacies of crafted detail and local communities.

The festival will explore the theme of “scale”, how it transcends professions and the endless array of interpretations it allows for.

The programme intersperses keynote lectures with parallel sessions offering delegates a choice of design or professional practice topics.

Between the formal events, a diverse programme of creative activities, exhibitions and informal presentations will put delegates in touch with speakers in a more relaxed and intimate way.