At just 23 years old, Wandile Mthiyane is taking the world of socially-impactful architecture by storm, one brick at a time. Ubuntu Design Group, a non-profit architectural organization that gives a voice to impoverished communities, empowering them to create sustainable homes and healthy neighborhoods. Ubuntu, meaning “I am because you are,” highlights the concept of community.
Ubuntu is currently working on their first project (Pilot Home) to build a handicapped-accessible home in Umbumbulu, South Africa. What’s makes Ubuntu unique is that it stands for more than just building houses for the less fortunate; it stands as a catalyst for people from all races, backgrounds, and cultures to converge and create a global community that cares.
What is your background?
Growing up in a dilapidated shantytown in Durban, South Africa, everyone built their own houses, hence everyone I knew was an “architect.” My community worked together to build each other’s homes out of whatever materials they had, from a microwave to plywood. This effort instilled in me a culture of making things. We never had the opportunity to “play house” in a real house, so we built our tiny shacks to play house in. Despite the fun of learning how to build, I always aspired to someday have a high level of technical skill. I’m studying architecture so that I can go back and harness the local creativity of my community origins. My vision is to build sustainable homes, which preserve the cultural values of the communities that I serve.
What advice do you have for young architecture students?
Architecture has the power to empower, liberate, and enable. However, as seen in apartheid South Africa, architecture also has the power to oppress and segregate. Have faith you’ll make it out of school but start thinking about this: what type of architecture will you contribute? One that’s driven by the well being and insight of those you’re serving or one that’s driven by your ego, signature, or other factors?
How can others get involved?
Where can we follow your work?