A project emphasising the significance of earth for dispossessed communities at the Avalon Cemetery was declared regional winner from the University of the Witwatersrand in the 34th Architectural Student of the Year Awards in a virtual ceremony on 11 December 2020.

“My project examined the site through an archaeological lens, reading the social relations of displacement, dispossession, erasure and marginalisation embedded in the landscape, and rewriting a set of spatial relations onto it. As a project that emphasises the significance of earth for dispossessed communities in the act of burial, clay brick was used as a primary building material,” explains Hashim Tarmahomed.

Hashim Tarmahomed, Regional Winner, Wits University. Image credit: Corobrik

Hashim Tarmahomed, Regional Winner, Wits University. Image credit: Corobrik

Avalon Cemetery is a buffer zone between the townships of Soweto, Lenasia and Eldorado Park, where the non-European community of Johannesburg, dissected into Black African, Indian, and Coloured, was displaced too respectively. “Not only is this terrain a common space of death, but it is also the generator of political agency and cultural presence,” notes Hashim.

Being a regional winner in the Architectural Student of the Year Awards is one of the most coveted accolades of its kind. “This is something that every South African architectural student aspires towards. I am incredibly honoured to represent the Wits School of Architecture and Planning. It is extremely rewarding for my work to have a platform alongside the most talented in the country. I am very excited to see the work that the other winners have produced and to engage on a national level.”

Hashim adds that the awards represent an invaluable opportunity for graduates to showcase their architectural ability and to have their voices heard, as much as it allows practitioners in the industry to follow speculative architectural content. “I really appreciate the acknowledgement of my work beyond a small academic community.

Billed as one of the most prestigious awards programmes of its kind in South Africa, the Architectural Student of the Year Awards selects regional winners from eight major universities, based on the students’ final theses. These regional winners then go through to the national round, where the top title is awarded, in addition to a R70 000 grand prize.

Hashim explains that his love for architecture was influenced by his geographic background. “As an inheritor of displacement, I have always been conscious of spatial and social injustices in a post-apartheid context. The translations of these narratives and counter-narratives into space is what truly inspires me.”

As for his support circle, he pays tribute to a supportive family and the efforts of his supervisors, whose belief in this project carried it through to the end. “I look up to the architects, artists and writers in the broadest sense who know how to wield their creative gifts towards achieving constructive ends. I think every challenge presents opportunity. My architectural education has been the biggest challenge and opportunity, and I feel incredibly privileged to be able to say that.”

Looking to the future, Hashim wishes for his career trajectory to be defined by both practice and academia. “As a designer, I hope to never lose my bearings and to maintain a sense of responsibility, curiosity and consciousness wherever I might end up.”

The company has long played a pivotal role in recognising up-and-coming young architects in South Africa, notes Marketing Support Manager Thilo Sidambaram, who herself has been involved with the awards for two decades. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that all regional and national events have had to be held remotely. “Despite the challenges posed, the country’s architectural students have still managed to excel, and we are proud to continue to support our universities during this difficult period.”

Look out for the National Student of the Year Awards ceremony that will take place virtually in May.