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The DIOP Circle V.13

September 15th, 2019


Simba Mafundikwa

Every Sunday, we publish a story from a member of the DIOP community. Because each and every one of you is on a journey and we're right there with you.

This week, Simba Mafundikwa has put something special together. He's our 513th customer and takes Goldie with him wherever he goes. And he's sharing how his heritage impacts his architectural practice.

In the Southeastern part of Zimbabwe where I grew up, are the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, from where the country gets its name. Zimbabwe means “Houses of Stone.” My Father’s family is originally from Masvingo, the province where Great Zimbabwe was built.

In the middle of high school in Harare, I was put into a technical graphics class which introduced me to architecture as a career. After graduating, I completed a two year graphic design diploma at the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA).

While at ZIVA, I focused my 2nd year thesis project on sustainable and organic architecture in Zimbabwe. This allowed me to research and discover buildings that harness renewable resources from nature and improve people's lives through design.

In 2013, I left Zimbabwe and moved to New York to attend university for architecture. Living in Harlem with my spiritual grandmother, prior to school in the Catskill Mountains, helped me feel at home away from home with the many African and Black people who live in Harlem.

In contrast, it was quite a culture shock when I arrived at my university which is located in a beautiful but small town. This was my first time seeing this part of America. The mentality was completely different, however I was able to adapt much faster to the United States as a whole because of the slower pace of life outside of New York City.

In Zimbabwe, I thought of architecture in organic shapes and forms with the use of natural materials like granite rock at the Great Zimbabwe or thatch used on roofs for example. Studying in America, I was exposed to the technical side of the practice. In other words, the dreaminess of architecture was slowly fading as I learned the reality of designing buildings.

After graduating from university, I took part in the Afro-Imaginaries workshop run by GSAPP at Columbia University, with Harare being the chosen city. The workshop opened my mind to how we can imagine African cities of the future, devoid of the misconceptions and discourse often associated with the continent.

It was only after studying architecture and participating in the workshop that I realized many African cities are built on colonial grids and not rooted in the culture, customs, or how people interact in an urban area.

Great Zimbabwe was a true African city built centuries before colonialism. It is a big inspiration and I am always fascinated to see what the Zimbabwean people designed and built using the resources and technology available at the time. I often think of how African cities would have looked like today without colonial intervention.

Coming out of school, I wanted to gain more experience outside of the US. Initially, I wanted to go to Europe given my interest in how they approach sustainability and energy efficiency. Despite my fascination with Berlin specifically, I ended up in Seattle. I had never visited the West Coast prior to moving but it has been a life changing experience thus far.

A principal at the architecture firm I joined asked me to be part of an affordable housing project called Africatown Plaza, located in a historically Black area in Seattle, the Central District. I am always looking to be part of projects that involve people of color and improve their lives. In a way, it’s a good thing I moved to the West Coast instead Western Europe.

The best thing about architecture is that it’s everywhere! When I travel, I love documenting culture, architecture and a combination of both. I often visit museums, like the National Museum of African-American History in Washington D.C., for the buildings themselves and not always the art inside. I also love how good design can positively affect how people interact and feel.

The most difficult part, which I am still getting used to, is going into the early phase of a project excited about the design until inevitably cost or other factors dilute the design. Constraints are a necessary design challenge, but building codes can be onerous.

As a result, it is our duty as designers to find creative ways to overcome these constraints, while staying true to the design intent. The Africatown Plaza will be a good test of our design acumen as it moves past the conceptual phase and encounters these constraints.

My favorite buildings help me feel connected to nature and the environmental in some way through the quality of light, ventilation and biophilia for example. In Seattle, we are spoiled by diverse and beautiful outdoors in close proximity to the city.

During one of my first camping experiences in the Cascade Mountains, I found a clearing with the perfect amount of light coming through a canopy of trees. The temperature felt right so I laid down, looked up and imagined a space designed with similar qualities for people to enjoy.

The Seattle Design Festival provided an opportunity to explore the balance between nature and manmade materials. As a design team, we focused on creating an installation that supports nature and wellbeing of people by providing shade and biophilia. Seeing how people felt about and interacted with the installation was fulfilling.

If I could change one thing about architecture, it would be a greater emphasis on improving the quality of life in everyday settings at home, work, school and so on. My advice, especially to young people, is do your best to draw inspiration from people, culture, and the environment.

Lifting our eyes from our screens and being open can go a long way in changing someone’s life. Never forget where you come from and what makes you a unique individual.


The DIOP Circle V.13

September 15th, 2019


Simba Mafundikwa

Every Sunday, we publish a story from a member of the DIOP community. Because each and every one of you is on a journey and we're right there with you.

This week, Simba Mafundikwa has put something special together. He's our 513th customer and takes Goldie with him wherever he goes. And he's sharing how his heritage impacts his architectural practice.

In the Southeastern part of Zimbabwe where I grew up, are the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, from where the country gets its name. Zimbabwe means “Houses of Stone.” My Father’s family is originally from Masvingo, the province where Great Zimbabwe was built.

In the middle of high school in Harare, I was put into a technical graphics class which introduced me to architecture as a career. After graduating, I completed a two year graphic design diploma at the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA).

While at ZIVA, I focused my 2nd year thesis project on sustainable and organic architecture in Zimbabwe. This allowed me to research and discover buildings that harness renewable resources from nature and improve people's lives through design.

In 2013, I left Zimbabwe and moved to New York to attend university for architecture. Living in Harlem with my spiritual grandmother, prior to school in the Catskill Mountains, helped me feel at home away from home with the many African and Black people who live in Harlem.

In contrast, it was quite a culture shock when I arrived at my university which is located in a beautiful but small town. This was my first time seeing this part of America. The mentality was completely different, however I was able to adapt much faster to the United States as a whole because of the slower pace of life outside of New York City.

In Zimbabwe, I thought of architecture in organic shapes and forms with the use of natural materials like granite rock at the Great Zimbabwe or thatch used on roofs for example. Studying in America, I was exposed to the technical side of the practice. In other words, the dreaminess of architecture was slowly fading as I learned the reality of designing buildings.

After graduating from university, I took part in the Afro-Imaginaries workshop run by GSAPP at Columbia University, with Harare being the chosen city. The workshop opened my mind to how we can imagine African cities of the future, devoid of the misconceptions and discourse often associated with the continent.

It was only after studying architecture and participating in the workshop that I realized many African cities are built on colonial grids and not rooted in the culture, customs, or how people interact in an urban area.

Great Zimbabwe was a true African city built centuries before colonialism. It is a big inspiration and I am always fascinated to see what the Zimbabwean people designed and built using the resources and technology available at the time. I often think of how African cities would have looked like today without colonial intervention.

Coming out of school, I wanted to gain more experience outside of the US. Initially, I wanted to go to Europe given my interest in how they approach sustainability and energy efficiency. Despite my fascination with Berlin specifically, I ended up in Seattle. I had never visited the West Coast prior to moving but it has been a life changing experience thus far.

A principal at the architecture firm I joined asked me to be part of an affordable housing project called Africatown Plaza, located in a historically Black area in Seattle, the Central District. I am always looking to be part of projects that involve people of color and improve their lives. In a way, it’s a good thing I moved to the West Coast instead Western Europe.

The best thing about architecture is that it’s everywhere! When I travel, I love documenting culture, architecture and a combination of both. I often visit museums, like the National Museum of African-American History in Washington D.C., for the buildings themselves and not always the art inside. I also love how good design can positively affect how people interact and feel.

The most difficult part, which I am still getting used to, is going into the early phase of a project excited about the design until inevitably cost or other factors dilute the design. Constraints are a necessary design challenge, but building codes can be onerous.

As a result, it is our duty as designers to find creative ways to overcome these constraints, while staying true to the design intent. The Africatown Plaza will be a good test of our design acumen as it moves past the conceptual phase and encounters these constraints.

My favorite buildings help me feel connected to nature and the environmental in some way through the quality of light, ventilation and biophilia for example. In Seattle, we are spoiled by diverse and beautiful outdoors in close proximity to the city.

During one of my first camping experiences in the Cascade Mountains, I found a clearing with the perfect amount of light coming through a canopy of trees. The temperature felt right so I laid down, looked up and imagined a space designed with similar qualities for people to enjoy.

The Seattle Design Festival provided an opportunity to explore the balance between nature and manmade materials. As a design team, we focused on creating an installation that supports nature and wellbeing of people by providing shade and biophilia. Seeing how people felt about and interacted with the installation was fulfilling.

If I could change one thing about architecture, it would be a greater emphasis on improving the quality of life in everyday settings at home, work, school and so on. My advice, especially to young people, is do your best to draw inspiration from people, culture, and the environment.

Lifting our eyes from our screens and being open can go a long way in changing someone’s life. Never forget where you come from and what makes you a unique individual.


By Simba Mafundikwa

Follow Simba at @simbabwean and see more of his work at https://www.simbamafundikwa.com/

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of DIOP.


- Simba Mafundikwa


Follow Simba at @simbabwean and see more of his work at https://www.simbamafundikwa.com/

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of DIOP.