Writing Sumayya Vally
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2020 ONUS

Soils, Walls, and their Funambulists

In architecture, ethics are malleable. In theory, the terms are rigid, yet the reality is elastic. Although much of the built environment is ostensibly designed for an individual client’s needs, architecture’s effects reverberate politically, environmentally and culturally, often in unexpected ways and far beyond the limits of any parcel or project. This issue of Perspecta considers the ethical questions and moral tensions that arise during the ideation, development, completion and aftermath of the design process.

A top-down, autocratic perception does not reveal the realities and qualities of our city, particularly its uitvalgrond. The realities of Johannesburg necessitate multiple gazes, multiple ways of understanding that cannot be deduced from the plan alone. Much of the city is comprised of subversive and informal activities occurring beyond the limits of formal planning and design. As such, we need new and different ways to understand them. Text and narrative may be one such gaze. Photographic studies, radio-active readings, sound, etc. may all be other points of entry into understanding our city.

Architecture is as much concerned with communication and story-telling as it is with shelter. Architects create and imagine new places and bring them into being, altering and shaping our realities. The relationship between our experi-ences, our mental images and our physical existences are never settled; all of these continuously form, inform and undo each other. There is no truly objective way of seeing. For spatial practitioners, rather than describe Johannesburg conditions through empirical planning technologies alone, we need to supplement our inventory of design language to include new ways of seeing. What can be recorded and described, in ways we are not accustomed to, can offer entirely an entirely new understanding of architecture.

– Sumayya Vally

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Perspecta 53: ONUS Yale School of Architecture

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