Writing Sumayya Vally
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2020 The Architectural Review

A Letter To A Young Architect

A special issue of The Architectural Review featuring the collected letters of 46 architects, critics, curators, writers, illustrators and editors to the eternal figure of the ‘young architect’.

Dear (younger) Sumayya,

  1. There is always architecture waiting to happen in places that are overlooked:
  2. you will soon fall in love with gold, kitsch, supernatural ideas,
  3. with very strange and everyday things – a disco-church on wheels in the inner city,
  4. the performance of a ritual gathering on a patch of veld-grass of a traffic island next
    to a highway,
  5. the rhythms and space of an Ethiopian coffee ceremony,
  6. the smell before a Highveld thunderstorm,
  7. the choreography of Fordsburg on a Friday before, during and after prayer time,
  8. the specific colour spectrum of a mine-dump sunset,
  9. the tenacity of indigenous plants and indigenous ceremonies and practices – all the magic that is Joburg. There is another canon here.
  10. Ingest atmospheres – learn how to read and feel colour, dust, mist, the phases of the moon. There is another canon here.
  11. Look at these things deeply.
  12. Feel them, absorb them.
  13. You will soon develop a mistrust for the historical record. Listen to that.
  14. Look so deeply at what is present that you notice the silences and the absences too. There is yet another canon here, in these silences and absences.
  15. Read in other languages.
  16. Write in your mother tongues. Look deeply at sentence structure and vocabulary.
    There is another canon here.
  17. Learn how to dissect the index of an archive.
  18. And how to make your own indexes for archives.
  19. Stay soft and sensitive – it is a deep strength, and architecture needs it. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
  20. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that everything you can ever imagine has already been done. They are incorrect.
  21. Beauty and social justice are not mutually exclusive. Beauty is social justice.
  22. There is an infinite number of untold stories, unheard voices, unrealised dreams, undreamt worlds.
  23. Poetry is a necessity.
  24. And dreaming is everything.

Love,
(older) Sumayya

Johannesburg, South Africa
26 June 2020

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Notes