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Zahira Asmal: The urbanist

Updated: May 13, 2019



Zahira Asmal @zahira.asmal is the founder of The City and the culture focussed NPC, Designing for All. The City connects a global network to develop innovative solutions to social, cultural and spatial challenges, investigates the factors influencing contemporary urban consciousness and curates related experiences and publications. Zahira tells us that her economics research at university focussed on economic inequality (specifically SA and Brazil which have the world’s highest inequality) and how the issue could be addressed, concluding that the design of cities was a key lever in levelling the divide. Years later, after a bit of a winding road which saw her working for the Design Indaba, in London assisting the world-renowned architect, Sir David Adjaye OBE @adjaye_visual_sketchbook , she established and curated a programme on South African design and architecture, through the lens of democracy and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This culminated in a book, Reflections & Opportunities which was presented in 17 countries. Zahira took the very same project to Brazil (who were the next world cup hosts), bringing her full circle in terms of those early days of university research. She has since published 2 more books on urban consciousness, is currently working on her third, is the mastermind behind the Parktown Station urban renewal project in Johannesburg (which she hopes to be a benchmark for better design procurement, and design & management of public infrastructure in SA) and continues to work globally, participating in debates, lectures and dialogues around architecture, culture and city-making. We are inspired by Zahira’s commitment to championing the role design and culture can play in making inclusive cities which contribute to more equal societies and her perseverance in raising the bar on public-private partnerships around urban renewal and design. Change never comes easily. Zahira says that growing up, her grandfather spoke about poverty as something to overcome, rather to endure and this has found its way into her urban design work.

Features artist: Katy Cambridge @the_portrait_artist

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