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"Beauty is actually an element or tool for sustainability" says CEO Wandile Mthiyane

Wandile Mthiyane shares 3 books that have influenced his life in architecture.

Wandile Mthiyane

Founder & CEO at Ubuntu Design Group

Wandile Mthiyane, founder of Ubuntu Design Group, grew up in the shanty towns of Durban, South Africa, and always dreamed of returning to make a difference in his home town. When the Ethekwini Municipality afforded him an opportunity to study at Andrews University, located in Michigan, USA, he was finally able to meet like-minded peers and make this lifelong dream a reality.

With this urgency and desire to help his South African community, Wandile found opportunities to learn from his professors and classmates about engaging his passion for architecture while using these skills as a tool to empower shanty towns back home. This was the birth of Ubuntu Design Group.

From there the Ubuntu team was afforded the opportunity to present the “Half-House Project” during the One Young World Resolution Project Summit in Bangkok, Thailand in 2015. They were awarded a fellowship along with start up funding for UDG.

What 3 books have impacted your life in architecture and why?

Ten Books on Architecture

Vitruvius, 1st Century B.C.

I read this book as a freshman in college and it altered my whole view of architecture. When I got to architecture school I had been exposed to abstract geometric steel, glass and concrete buildings as the epitome of architecture and I couldn’t wait to make up new shapes and geometry’s that would shape the future of architecture, until I read Vitruvius. Vitruvius made me realize that architecture was less about cool geometries and more about being well versed in varied sectors so that you could best understand, listen and serve your clients. Vitruvius argued that architects should have knowledge of philosophy, medicine, and other fields so that we could best serve our clients who worked in these fields. Architecture is about being creative and knowing your client.

The Pattern Language

Christopher Alexander, 1977

One of the things I struggled with as a beginner designer was the daunting task of turning a blank piece of paper into a masterpiece. I understood that I needed a central organizing idea (parti) that would guide all my decision making but I never understood where I should generate that idea from and how it could practically shape my design process.

It was Christopher Alexander who changed what was once a daunting task into something that I still look forward too by introducing the concept of drawing patterns that then guide your design process.

Christopher Alexander argues that architecture is a language made of different patterns (like grammar) and these patterns are formulated from the culture and context of a place and they’re what ought to drive the design process rather than arbitrary ideas one learns at school. For instance, in a warm climate like Durban South Africa, there’s a culture of spending more time outside than inside the building. From that observation one could develop a pattern that describes this phenomenon of indoor-outdoor living, this pattern will then drive the design of a home in Kwamsahu, Durban.

The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability

Stephen A. Mouzon, 2010

This is one of the most eye-opening books I’ve ever encountered. The biggest revelation from this book was learning how beauty is actually an element or tool for sustainability. Think about it, if someone designs a culturally contextual beautiful building in the community, the people will love that building. If people love that building they’ll take good care of it. If they take good care of it, the building will outlast other buildings that aren’t loved.

In addition to the building being loveable, it needs to be durable and frugal for the community to continue to love it across time. It is a very simple concept with a very profound message. This theory can be best seen in cities like Rome, several small buildings that may have started as shops, turned into apartments and are now vibrant pubs. This theory debunks the current trend of slapping solar panels on an inefficient box and calling it a sustainable building. Most importantly, Steve argues that before we can talk about sustainable buildings we need to start by designing sustainable places, The two concepts are inextricably interconnected.

Wandile Mthiyane South Africa designer and leaderWandile Mthiyane South Africa designer and leaderWandile Mthiyane South Africa designer and leaderWandile Mthiyane South Africa designer and leader
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