Luyanda Mpahlwa is part of the vanguard of new designers who are reshaping and re-envisioning South Africa’s post-apartheid architectural landscape. Mpahlwa has pioneered a new style of architecture that integrates and elevates African-inspired design in both rural and urban settings.
Mpahlwa studied architecture at the University of Natal and Natal Technikon in the late 1970s before being incarcerated for anti-apartheid political activities in 1980. Upon his release, he completed his MS in architecture at the Technical University of Berlin. He was project site architect for one of the Nordic Embassies projects in Berlin and was coordinating architect for the Berlin Embassy and co-initiator of the South African Embassy project.
Mpahlwa’s innovations include ingenious designs for low-cost homes, including the 10×10 Housing Project in the township of Freedom Park, a shantytown on the outskirts of Cape Town. The project, commissioned in 2007 by Design Indaba, South Africa’s premier design expo, paired 10 local and international architects with 10 Freedom Park families, to build experimental homes on the government subsidy budget of 50,000 South African rand, or about $6,900.
Mpahlwa, the creative director for the project, made the decision to replace traditional brick-and-mortar foundations with a less costly two-story structural frame made from timber combined with sandbag construction as fill for the walls. The design borrows from indigenous, mud-and-wattle building techniques that keep homes cool in summer and warm in winter. In addition to its thermal and sound-absorbing properties, the sandbag construction also requires little to no electricity or skilled labor to erect. Building of the house turned into a community project, with local women pitching in. Several Freedom Park families now live in new two-story homes with built-in terraces and private gardens—a major step up from their old one-room tin shacks.
In addition to the sandbag houses, Mpahlwa has worked on cultural heritage projects to commemorate the victims of apartheid in Freedom Park. He has also worked outside of South Africa, most recently on the redevelopment of an old ANC training camp in Uganda into a leadership school.
I am hopeful that, because we have been able to build this project, other architects will take on the challenge.
— Luyanda Mpahlwa