18:00 SAST

18:00  SAST

Unit 14
Rogue Economies - Trade Roots: HOME

Unit Leader: Thiresh Govender
Unit Leader: Jiaxin Yan Gong
Unit Tutor: Sarah Harding

Trade and exchange has been a powerful force in shaping human societies throughout history. These include the Spice Route, Silk Road, Salt Route. They have shifted and made plastic static geographies and connected otherwise hostile and incompatible partners around a shared commercial interest. The power of these exchanges and their capacity to shift, distort, merge, fracture, invent and destroy societies is of both interest and concern. These powerful global exchanges – viewed at more granular and local conditions create new languages, practices, and spatialities in order to bring about rather unique rituals of exchange; sometimes symbiotic, sometimes exploitative.These exchanges of goods, services, cultures, labour and bodies are trans-scalar - operating at the scale of global corridors and networks, to more intimate neighbourhoods and homes. They have come to define our modern existence in bewildering and unfathomable ways. We are made more powerful, but also more vulnerable through these exchanges.

The value of migrant labour in remittance sent back to global south homes, make up $441 billion of the $601 billion in global remittance (Khattab & Mahmud 2018:1). This presence of bodies, cultures, markets, goods, services through varying degrees of porous borders result in a set of radical socio-spatial arrangements that exceed our collective imagination or capacity to create at will. The volume, scale and trajectory is too momentous to ignore as a determining force in our cities and future. Economic currents, within the framework of this investigation is considered a determinant of new inventive architectures. Our African cities are severely reliant on and defined by these economic currents - be they small, large, sanctioned, illegal, ephemeral or permanent. We believe that a careful and critical gaze into these exchanges can yield untold truths and insights towards a more speculative, tangible and inventive urbanity. This is not a choice, but a necessity, whereby as architects, “…we find new languages, methodologies and conceptual tools for understanding the African city[ies] as an analytical category in their own right, not just as a deviant form of existence.” (Kihato 2007:217).  

Trade Roots within the framework of the Unit investigates the origins, practices and spatial consequences of more contemporary and emergent Trade Roots affecting our cities. It does so by looking deeply and critically at the underlying orders that motivate these exchanges - be it out of necessity, power, opportunity and the social, economic and spatial consequences that result. We are particularly interested in the exchanges at the intersection of great friction, chaos and rupture. Those that are unsanctioned, clandestine, opaque and shadowy in nature. It is these almost un-welcomed, claimed and crude practices, that are pushing the conceptual envelope of our existence and demonstrate new relational languages of prosperity and interdependence.

We see architecture playing a dual role, both as a discipline to observe and one to speculate on radical new possibilities. It is through the augmenting of traditional architectural devices, that we aim to draw out the extraordinary and build a compelling spatial lexicon spawned from emergent trading practices. We lean on and exploit representational conventions of cartography, ethnography, plans, sections, axonometric, collage and animation to conjure the possibilities of what emergent trading practices can yield in making a more audacious, progressive and impactful architecture.

Trade Roots is a three-year investigation that will examine three specific conditions of a trade route in each of its three years, namely, Home (the new place of arrival), Port (the place of departure) and Conduit (the route between). The intention is to build a critical inventory of the spatial mechanics of these sites’ conditions and to dare to speculate on what the consequences of these could be for our cities through architecture.


Cruz, T & Forman, F (ed). (2015). Informal Market Worlds: Reader : The Architecture of Economic Pressure. Rotterdam: NAI 010 Publishers.
Kihato, C. (2007). African Urbanism in Endless City - The Urban Age Project, edited by Burdett, R & Sudjik,D. London: Phaidon Press.


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