AN ARCHITECTURAL DESIGNER AND RESEARCHER, Thandi Loewenson (b. 1989) wants to learn more about the connections between land and African liberation and dig deeper to understand how the racist exploits of colonialism have influenced not only dispossession and redistribution of surface terrain, but also bear on resources below ground and high up in the atmosphere. Loewenson is thinking about the continent’s natural resources and the mined metals vital to producing the world’s technology, as well as the digital cloud and weather systems. She just won a major fellowship to support the project.

Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) announced Loewenson is the winner of 2024 Wheelwright Prize. The $100,000 grant for early career architects is designed “to foster intensive, innovative architectural research that is informed by cross-cultural engagement and can make a significant impact on architectural discourse.”


Thandi Loewenson. | Photo by Niall Finn


Born in Harare, Zimbabwe, Loewenson lives and works in London, where she is a senior tutor at the Royal College of Art. She earned a Ph.D. in architectural design from The Bartlett School of Architecture at the University College of London. Her studies and collective activities have focused on race, space, and architecture and inequality and oppression in architectural education and practice.

Loewenson describes her practice as mobilizing “design, fiction and performance to stoke embers of emancipatory political thought and fires of collective action, and to feel for the contours of other, possible worlds. Using fiction as a design tool and tactic, and operating in the overlapping realms of the weird, the tender, the earthly and the airborne, Thandi engages in projects which provoke questioning of the status-quo, whilst working with communities, policy makers, unions, artists and architects towards acting on those provocations.”

The project for which she was awarded the Wheelwright Prize is called, Black Papers: Beyond the Politics of Land, Towards African Policies of Earth & Air.

“The question of land, and its indelible link to African liberation and being, echoes across the continent as a central theme of liberation movements and the postcolonial governments that followed. Instead of solely engaging land as a site of struggle, this work situates land within a network of interconnected spaces, from layers deep within the Earth to its outermost atmospheric reaches,” Loewenson said in a statement.

“This research presents a radical shift: developing a new epistemic framework and a series of open-access, creatively reimagined policy proposals—the Black Papers—in which earth and air are not distinct, but rather concomitant terrains through which racialization and exploitation are forged on the continent, and through which they will be fought. The Wheelwright Prize is uniquely placed to support such ambitious inquiry, enabling me to bring together seemingly disparate yet closely bound parts of our planet, and agitate for a more just and flourishing world.”

“Instead of solely engaging land as a site of struggle, this work situates land within a network of interconnected spaces, from layers deep within the Earth to its outermost atmospheric reaches.” — Thandi Loewenson

At the 18th Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2023, Loewenson received a Special Mention for her participation in the International Exhibition in the Central Pavilion, where she presented The Uhuru Catalogues. Curated by Ghanaian Scottish architect Lesley Lokko (recipient of the Royal Gold Medal 2024 from the Royal Institute of British Architects), the exhibition highlighted Africa and the African Diaspora and more than half of the participants were of African descent.

In Venice, Loewenson’s installation touched on the same themes the Wheelwright Prize is funding. The parameters and expected outcomes of her new research were outlined in the announcement:

    The Wheelwright Prize will support her study, which will include aerial techniques for surveying and prospecting, as well as the mining of “technology metal,” minerals employed in networked devices that also underwrite a global system of digital dispossession. Among the forms her findings will take are the Black Papers, studies that aim to shape both policy discourse and public perception. Incorporating drawings, moving image, and performances as well as critical creative writing, the Black Papers are designed to reach broad audiences through popular media including video, radio, and social platforms like WhatsApp.

The prize is supporting two years of travel and research in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The expansive lens through which Loewenson views the field was a winning prospect.

“Expanding what constitutes architectural research, Thandi defines a sectional slice of inquiry that spans from the subterranean to the celestial. Her project is nothing short of a full reconceptualization of land and sky as material realities, sources of value, and sites of political struggle,” GSD Dean and Professor of Architecture Sarah M. Whiting said in a statement.

“Such vision exemplifies the kind of ambition the Wheelwright Prize is meant to support. Along with the rest of the jury, I could not be more thrilled that she is this year’s winner.” CT


FIND MORE about Thandi Loewenson on her website and Instagram

FIND MORE Royal College of Art podcast (September 2023) explores “how architecture has historically shaped colonialism, racial capitalism, and carbon economies” with Thandi Loewenson on the occasion of her participation in the Venice Biennale of Architecture


“Biennale Architettura 2023: The Laboratory of the Future” documents last year’s Venice Biennale of Architecture and the International Exhibition curated by Ghanaian Scottish Architect Lesley Lokko that featured Thandi Loewenson. “Olajumoke Adenowo. Neo Heritage: Defining Contemporary African Architecture” highlights the vision of Olajumoke Adenowo of Nigeria, one of the most prominent female architects on the continent. Several other volumes explore contemporary African architecture and design, including “Francis Kéré: Radically Simple,” the first monograph of Burkina Faso architect Francis Kéré, the first Black architect to win the Pritzker prize (2022), the highest honor in the international profession. He is also the co-author of “Francis Kéré & Iwan Baan: Momentum of Light.” Also consider, “The Black Experience in Design: Identity, Expression & Reflection.”


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