“We need resources and people who are interested in history. That’s the only way you can tell that story.”
South African architect and designer Luyanda Mphalwa grew up during apartheid, in a society torn apart by racial segregation. In 1981, his studies were interrupted by the authorities, responding to his protest activism. He was incarcerated on Robben Island, a prison infamous for containing Nelson Mandela. After five years of inhumane confinement, Luyanda moved to exile in Germany, finishing his master’s degree in architecture. He returned to his nation in 2000, relocating in Cape Town to face a society dealing with the aftermath of apartheid.
For Luyanda, people play a pivotal role in conserving knowledge and therefore the legacy of history. Robben Island, now a museum, has become a symbol for the apartheid era and a major centre for education, knowledge exchange and preservation. But only humans can tell the story. That's why Luyanda points to the crucial interaction between generations. Elders and survivors have a duty to educate those that follow, using empathy and engaging storytelling to keep the narrative alive.
But it’s not just in this concept of legacy that Luyanda’s approach is human-centered. His architecture and design firm DesignSpaceAfrica, founded in 2009, designs buildings for social change. These innovative and affordable alternatives address people’s needs, adapting flexibly to financial, human and natural resources. As well as numerous design and architecture awards, Luyanda holds an honorary doctorate in science and technology from Walter Sisulu University, and is a member of several professional bodies.