UKZN alumnus Mr Rod Choromanski recently scooped the coveted “Best new building in Africa” award, during the inaugural Africa Architecture Awards, for his design of the uMkhumbane Cultural and Heritage Museum in Cato Manor, Durban.

The prestigious awards attracted 307 entries from 32 countries, with uMkhumbane Museum being the only South African entry in the “built” category. The awards aim to recognise and reward projects from around the continent and seeks to celebrate design excellence, honour established architects and encourage emerging and future designers.

‘It was an epic moment for us to bring home this award to a working class community of our City, which had previously been subjugated to a difficult history and is still struggling economically and culturally. This Africa Architecture Award Programme 2017, the first of its kind, created an international platform, which globally exhibited the values and principles to this project.

‘It complimented the complexity of our team’s process that shares in the many voices who supported this community over time, which inspired us to take meaningful steps, in honour of their vision. It is an ongoing resilient, enduring project with many twists and difficulties, which is nurtured by the eThekwini Municipality, supported by the Durban Community and now leading Africa to proudly stand on the world’s cultural stage,’ said Choromanski.

The eThekwini Municipality together with the Cato Manor Development Association (CMDA) identified Cato Manor as an ideal location to develop the “uMkhumbane Cultural Place” in order to preserve the area’s rich cultural and political history and stimulate innovation.

According to Choromanski, it provides the opportunity for contemporary culture and powerful heritage to converge at a node, serving as a tool for social and ecological regeneration.

As part of a broader urban strategy, the site seeks to activate and network various cultural nodes within the community of Cato Manor and the surrounding areas, through community involvement, local artists and leaders.

Reflecting on his career choice, Choromanski said, ‘Having originated from a dislocated family history, affected by the Group Areas Act, I was inspired to follow in the struggle through architecture by creating equality in our country within the built environment, following in the vision of our great political leaders at the time.’

During his study on campus, he worked day and night within the design studios sharing knowledge and cultural differences which, at the time Choromanski felt was the beginning of social transformation through political change.

‘This choice of career and training has led me into a service of commitment and a lifelong practice to innovate our city and uplift people within the built environment,’ he said.

Offering advice to Architecture students, Choromanski said, ‘Respect heritage, and contemporary culture and bring it forward in your work, creating innovative narratives for future generations. Architecture is an extremely serious responsibility and requires dedication, where every project through your study and work career is special and builds confidence within you and your city.’

‘There is no greater experience than to discover your hidden potential through perseverance and development of your innovative voice to form a collective of great minds within our city.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photographs:  Prakash Bhika