Posted: 10 June 2019

“Arriving at each new city, the traveller finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

On 11 March 2019 Cyclone Idai reached peak intensity off the coast of Mozambique. Three days later, it made landfall at the northern edge of the east coast of Mozambique with catastrophic effect. At the same time, coincidentally, staff and students of Unit 13 at the GSA, University of Johannesburg, boarded a small 33-seater bus for Maputo.

Throughout the journey we were interested in studying borders, boundaries and limits; the edges of cites, of nations, of developments; points where the land meets the sea and where history meets memory . . . the edge of our seats, our own patience, the horizon and the edge of our own understanding. We are interested in spaces that meet, where the edges of our discipline meets others; where the edges of global forces touch down on landscapes and built environments; the ‘space between’ that is created when edges are drawn and landscapes and societies seen to be ‘on the edge’. The reality of the impact of Cyclone Idai and the limited and peripheral coverage of it in local South African and international news media made it clear that Mozambique exists on the edge of global interest and concern. The cyclone displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Mozambique, and altered the geography along the coastline where it met land – large swathes of land along the edge of the ocean are now underwater. This event, occurring on the edge of South Africa, also impacted our daily lives in Johannesburg, contributing to rolling blackouts in the country as electrical supply from Mozambique was cut off.   

We travelled to Maputo to experience, observe and contemplate the significance of the new Maputo-Katembe Bridge. Contemplating this grand piece of the larger global trade network, we are acutely aware of the precariousness of the infrastructures of our time, where global forces create global impact – climate change affecting those on the edge both physically (coastlines) and economically (the poor and disenfranchised). As both an objectified symbol and physical experience of ‘progress’, we gazed upon, crossed and surveyed the bridge in an attempt to raise critical observations about the forces at play in city-making and architecture: What value can our practice bring? What does service to society mean in our time? What agency do architects have to improve the quality of life for citizens? What capacity does architecture have to affect positive change at scale? 

Our pilgrimage to this bridge, located in a context of changing architectural and political histories, has challenged us to think bigger: to look at the workings of global forces outside of our jurisdiction (economy/climate/history) and the possibility of engaging the edges of these forces in order to find new ways of working as architects.

This photo essay captures some moments of our field trip. Each image is paired with a quote taken from the conversation happening at the time. © All Photos: Eric Wright

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The nest of the city, where we were baptized as - in the spirit of the city.
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When they had money, they built what they remembered.
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The shade of the tree is your house, the rooms around it follow the logic of the labyrinth.
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We are where we are because of today, not because of the past.
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There is no justice for national debt.
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Guedes built with pieces of villages, as he remembered Lisbon, The Bauhaus and Le Corbusier.
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Out there, there is no pizza or internet. The city expects new people and people want pizza and internet.
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Maputo is a memory of many places from different times, collected in one place at the same time. Old architecture is a time machine.
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Old architecture is a time machine.
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Each city is a bridge from surrounding countries to the interior.
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We don’t split ourselves. We have it all, in mixes.
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They ordered this building from an American, not Mozambicans.
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There are ghosts in the basement. Architecture with many ghosts is hard to revive.