Who is Lesley Lokko

Appointed curator of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2023, Lesley Lokko was among the curators of Domus special issue 50 Best Architecture firms 2020. We repost her statements from that time.

Lesley Lokko (Dundee, Scotland, 1964) is dean of the City College of New York Spitzer School of Architecture, and the founder of the University of Johannesburg Graduate School of Architecture, South Africa. She edited the book White Papers, Black Marks: Architecture, Race, Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 2000). She is the editor-in-chief of Folio: Journal of Contemporary African Architecture published by the GSA, and is a member of the editorial board at Arq: Architectural Research Quarterly published by Cambridge University Press. Lokko is a novelist whose first story, Sundowners (2004), was followed by another ten bestsellers. She holds conferences and writes about race, identity and architecture, and serves on juries for awards and prizes. In 2021, she was among the judges who awarded the Lions of the Venice Architecture Biennale and was named Curator of the 2023 Architecture Biennale.

We repost below the explanation with which she chose the architects selected for the 50 Best Architecture Firms edition published by Domus in 2020. Lesley Lokko was among the judges chosen for the occasion by Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani, along with Wowo Ding, Luis Fernández-Galiano, Rahul Mehrotra and Sarah M. Whiting.

“For African architects, an invitation to throw a spotlight on new and emerging talent brings with it a unique opportunity but also a rather unique responsibility.

There are essentially three kinds of architects living and working on the African continent: foreigners, generally part of the vast aid-and-development industry, whose patrons and clients are often worlds away from the conditions and contexts in which they work; African architects who’ve either trained abroad or who have a foot both here and there; and locally trained architects – this is the vast majority – who compete with the two other types to move out of the realm of new shopping malls, corporate offices and wealthy private clients, and into the largescale, civic and public architecture that our governments are unwilling or unable to commission. 

In the gaps between these three tribes, millions fashion and build their own environment at a range of scales and competencies, unperturbed by the battle for the soul of African architecture that is raging (usually) elsewhere. The landscape of African architecture is shifting before our eyes, and it has been a privilege to observe this in the past few years. Some of the key figures selected here have been around for a while, quietly getting on with the challenging task of producing good work in fluid, unstable conditions. Others’ careers have exploded out of schools both on the continent and abroad. These are hungry members of the millennial generation, ambitious and determined to make their mark in a rapidly changing landscape of opportunity, investment and intellectual capital.

The Africans selected here are as different from one another as they are from the global mix, which is something to celebrate. Interestingly, most teach as well as practice, which says something important about the role and significance of architectural education on the African continent. For many, the duality of practice and education is a way of keeping in touch with the uniquely young demographic.

The average age of Africans is 19.8 years compared with 38.6 in the USA and 39.2 in Europe. Thanks in part to this energetic youthfulness, ideas and information flow back and forth between the continent and its vast diaspora, forging new constructions of national identity, belonging and cultural hybridity. These are important in a place that for so long has been defined primarily by its otherness. 

One senses that this is only the beginning. Watch this space.”

Opening image: Lesley Lokko. Photo Debra Hurford Brown

Latest on Architecture

Latest on Domus

Read more
China Germany India Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Sri Lanka Korea icon-camera close icon-comments icon-down-sm icon-download icon-facebook icon-heart icon-heart icon-next-sm icon-next icon-pinterest icon-play icon-plus icon-prev-sm icon-prev Search icon-twitter icon-views icon-instagram