Undoing Apartheid Architecture

Wandile Mthyiane and Durban Mayor James Nxumalo

Story by: Sean Joyner, Archinect

Wandile Mthiyane’s story captures a special reality about architecture and its unique relationship to people. Growing up in Durban, South Africa, Wandile lived in a community designed as a part of the nation’s oppressive apartheid regime of the past. And while the unjust laws of that history have been abolished, the consequences of its effects remain. Wandile decided early on that he wanted to counteract the remnants of this “apartheid architecture” that loomed over his fellow South Africans, and so he embarked on a journey few would have the grit to see to the end.

Determined to study architecture in the United States, the young dreamer raised himself to a position to eventually gain the support of one of the most powerful men in Durban, a crucial step in his path to realize his vision of a better future for his people. Today Wandile is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ubuntu Design Group, a social enterprise design firm with a non-profit arm that is transforming the lives of families in Durban; he was selected as one of the 200 rising leaders in his continent as part of the Obama Foundation’s Leadership development program, working with and receiving mentorship directly from President Obama himself; he is a TEDx Fellow; and a One Young World Ambassador. But most of all, Wandile is a servant-leader. He embraces a calling in life to serve humanity.

I connected with Wandile for an in-depth discussion about the work he is doing with Ubuntu Design Group and how he is fighting to undo the architectural effects of systemic racism in South Africa. We also dive into his early life, how he came to pursue a career in architecture, and how, at such a young age, he has found himself partnering with universities across the world to teach students his unique approach to architecture and design.