A Future-Forward Approach     


The world as we know it is evolving and adapting at an unmatched pace. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we can expect to see a vastly different built environment in the next decade. But how will the building and infrastructure designs, landscapes, materials, constructions, and processes be different from what we see now?  

Given the impact of architecture on people and places is so long-lasting, we need to think ahead to a world where the next generation will benefit from optimally functioning spaces, exceptional innovation and implementation, healthy environments, ecologically sustainable buildings and communities, and the conservation and preservation of precious natural resources. Designing for the future starts today.  

We asked a handful of industry experts to give their take on a few future-forward approaches within the trade. Let’s see what they think the future holds… 

Donovan Square

Donovan Gillman 

Landscape Architect 

Immediate Past President of ILASA  

Owner of Urban Choreography 

How do you see biophilia and regenerative design principles being incorporated into buildings of the future? 

The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek a connection with nature. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularised the hypothesis in his book, Biophilia. He defines biophilia as ‘the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.’ Biophilic or regenerative design is part of systems thinking and understanding that humans are part of nature. Natural systems derive from the land we all come from and depend on for our survival. It is about respecting the soil, the air, the water, fire and the entire spectrum of life, from microorganisms to living flora and fauna, and all of humankind. By implementing this approach, we will do less damage to what exists around us, meaning our designs in the built environment will accommodate more spaces and opportunities for life to flourish so that we can be closer to and nourish our relationship with the natural world.  

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Biophilia and regenerative design will create living environments using less resources and circular economies that favour reusing and recycling as opposed to filling wastelands and polluting the air, rivers, and seas. New ecologies of urban spaces where buildings are clothed in and filled with plants and associated life will provide fresh air and clean water while generating food for us and the rest of our living brethren. These new cities will be hybrids of natural systems supported by new technology in the advanced horticulture, regenerative agricultural, and environmental restoration sciences. Urbanscapes of the future will be choreographed by transdisciplinary teams under the leadership of landscape architects rather than styled by architects, engineers, and a few other building specialists. With buildings like The Fynbos in central Cape Town and projects that apply systems-based landscape principles like we teach in our Resilient Planting Design courses presented by Roomtogrow Business Skills, we are designing a future for our children and their children to thrive.  

mpho sephelane recovering place market route
As a young and upcoming architect, what role do you see the youth playing in the future-forward designs of South Africa?  
In today’s context, contemporary architectural practice and education fails to recognise African ideas of space and form beyond the Afrocentric aesthetic trends. We have come to perceive traditional African architectural methods as ‘backward’ processes to be updated/improved, and the Eurocentric methods as the desired ‘forward’ thinking direction to be venerated. Although we cannot ignore our post-colonial present, I believe our role as young, upcoming practitioners is to consider the necessity of including discarded African symbolism and histories to exist alongside our current approach to architecture.  
One of the many ways we can begin this process is through finding and creating new design frameworks, languages, processes, and lenses through which to examine existing spatial issues. Frameworks that apply lessons from informality, adopt different ways of representation, prioritise knowledge sharing, and encourage radical design and material experimentation.  
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In appropriating design and material use, we can begin to translate our stories through architecture, collectively, as a way to preserve our cultures. Not only does this apply in the building processes, but also in the conception of narratives and participation of traditional symbols, ecology, fabrication of space, spirituality, and issues of sustainability. It is also important to cultivate a community of young thinkers and future practitioners to occupy institutions and professional spaces in order to propel transformational discourse on education and the translation of African knowledge systems in the built environment.  
Having said that, the success in designing our future cities may be rooted in understanding and learning from the layered connections of our past to our present, and how our individual stories may add value to spatial practices. 

Mpho Sephelane 

Winner of the 2021 Corobrik Student Architecture Awards  

Candidate Architect 


There is an ever-growing need to consider local, available, and sustainable materials and artisans when doing site-sourcing for building projects. What do you expect to see in the craft industry as we seek to combat climate change? 

The pressures of climate change and extreme weather events, resource shortages, economic instability, unreliable supply chains, and undependable basic utility provision continue to elevate the need to design and build consciously. Whether it’s from being required by regulations, encouraged by ratings, or doing the responsible thing, developing sustainably is of the essence. Local sourcing is often a requisite for public projects, and when done well, it boosts immediate economies, skills development, and social integration. Where good quality artisans and sustainable materials are available close to a site, this makes a lot of sense for the costs, timelines, and performance obligations of a construction project.   

Some of the challenges we face in South Africa include the availability of good craft and trade skills and their generational transfer; quality artisan education and apprenticeships; economic pressure on local makers and manufacturers; and the politicisation of procurement. 

A regionalist approach to design and construction combining craftmanship with technology in an aspirational way that is responsive to climate, economy, and culture can overcome social resistance to a perception of traditional skills and materials as regressive. 

A comprehensive digital golden thread using multi-dimensional Building Information Modelling (BIM) for the efficient design, construction, operation, and ultimate disassembly of the project can create better built environments and facilitate a circular construction economy. Buildings, and communities of buildings, viewed as ecosystems consider sustainability at every life stage. Design for disassembly extends the lifespan of durable materials. Buildings can become material banks – ideal for less sustainable elements or those with long periods of renewal. 

Regenerative design, including biomimicry and biophilia, has inspired several solutions like algae-fuelled solar power generation and hemp insulation. Hemp is low-carbon, non-toxic, renewable, has impressive R-value to thickness ratios, and grows easily in a range of climates, making it an ideal crop for local sourcing, contributing to both socio-economic and environmental sustainability. Traditional materials are being revisited in innovative applications for their sustainability credentials. Rammed earth is a site-specific material, thermally efficient, and ultimately easily dematerialised. It can be built with limited skills, and is easily taught.   

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Unsurprisingly, buildings that use natural materials promote productivity and feelings of wellness.  Timber is an obvious choice for its renewability and lower embodied carbon, and it’s not limited to small-scale cabins. Cross-laminated timber (CLT) has loosened design constraints, and larger spans and tall timber buildings are gaining traction. CLT also lends itself to factory prefabrication, which can ensure quality and faster site work. The established agroforestry industry in South Africa can easily expand to the demands of CLT, creating jobs and growing skills and artisanship.    

Open Buildings create flexible spaces that people can adapt as needs change, using less energy and materials, and increasing the longevity and sustainability of buildings. This approach recognises that buildings have lives beyond construction, encouraging people to be active caretakers and shapers, not passive occupants. Modularity lends itself to better planning upfront, accurate off-site production, with less energy use on-site, and a more manageable waste stream.   

Kathleen Western 

Founder and Senior Professional Architect 

Kathleen Western Architects 


As we face the ever-evolving digital frontier of the next decade, what role will BIM and AI play in designing future-forward buildings? 

Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies have instigated a paradigm shift in the construction industry – a shift that is both exciting and daunting to many professionals. 

BIM is a process of incorporating information into the digital components of a construction project – often represented by an information-rich, 3D model. When managed on an online, open-cloud platform, BIM models allow for multiple consultants to collaborate on the design and management of projects in real time. 

These models are increasingly being used for post-construction building management. These ‘living’ replicas of buildings, or Digital Twins, have become a highly efficient means to track a building’s material lifecycle and ‘smart’ systems management. This application of BIM is being expanded to create Digital Twins of entire city regions – tracking real-time, virtual models of urban infrastructure and resource flows. These models have been identified as a key element in improving South Africa’s metropolitan service delivery. 

BIM processes will experience a major evolution with the incorporation of AI and machine-learning technologies. Certain BIM software is already using AI to detect patterns in real-time building datasets, and to then make independent decisions to improve the efficiency, sustainability, and safety in the building management. Since machine-learning models rely on ‘self-learning’ and adaptive algorithms, they will become increasingly integrated with construction processes, allowing for better forecasting of real-time construction outcomes – easing the reliance on human input for tedious tasks. 

A major concern amongst many professionals in the industry is whether these technologies will be able to replace the human workforce. As with any innovative technology, certain human activities will become redundant and replaceable in order to achieve greater efficiency. It is important to remember, however, that these technologies will generate a plethora of new, currently unknown skills that will be required by the workforce of the future. Moving forward, it is important for us to understand BIM and AI technologies as ‘tools’ for designers and craftsmen to evolve with

Liam Ullrich 

Project Architect 

Daffonchio Architects, Cape Town Office 

Daffonchio Architects’ Cape Town studio focuses on sustainable contemporary and heritage architecture, with projects ranging from luxury residential to commercial, from design concept to completion. 


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