Letlhogonolo Sesana and Tlhologello Sesana are twin sisters aspiring to be architects and pursuing their dream at the Tshwane University of Technology. They pursued architectural studies, planning to make a substantial impact in the field, especially for underdeveloped communities like the one they come from. Living by the mantra “Architecture is our calling”, they consider this their “divine purpose, social responsibility and ordained obligation'”. They are sure to make waves in the future!

They both have a passion for indigenous architecture, social cohesion and artistic liberation, evident in the community projects they have participated in. Upon discovering their passion for social change and indigenous architectural, their mentor, a Mr Mthembu, encouraged them to enter the internationally renowned Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Design Excellence competition, which is an endowment established in the Department of Architecture, University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design to promote the investigation of architecture as a social art. Each year the Prize Committee selects a topic important to the understanding of the interaction of people and the built world that becomes the focus of the Essay Competition. This year’s question, centred on Architecture and climate resilience; it was: ‘‘what have architects done in the past, and what can they do in the future, to help reduce the negative effects of climate and climate change?’’

The Sesana Sisters’ essay proposal explored the genius loci and design lessons learned from traditional architecture and how modern architects interpreted it. The buildings considered in the essay were the indigenous African rondavel and Vodafone Site Solution Innovation Centre by GLH Associates Architects. According to the sisters, these represent “buildings that have exemplified a distinctive design response to our climatic conditions, particularly in celebrating the use of naturally sourced material, good design and social cohesion and they embrace modern technology for a better tomorrow”. They go on to explain: “It is without a doubt that we need to learn how to preserve & protect our genius loci, we need to guard our intimate space & realise that no matter how good ‘sustainable-systems’ may look, not every ‘system’ is meant for us in the African context… We are sacred, so we treat ourselves including our environment as such. Africans live for the totality (the collectiveness of the whole)…to be “sustainable” is to care: care about one’s origins, care about one’s people, care about biodiversity and the environment we come from. Because it is incongruous to think that humanity just replays history… we are the same people our ancestors were, and our descendants are going to face a lot of the same situations we do.”

The Sesana sisters are selected as Semi-finalists (the only South African participants), and were invited to submit a 2,500-word essay, expanding on their proposals. Five-to-eight of the best essays will be selected for the last round, where winners will be selected and offered a 25,000USD cash prize. At the conclusion of the Essay Competition submissions, all semi-finalists are also invited to submit for the Berkley Prize Travel Fellowship. Semi-finalists who select this option are invited to submit proposals demonstrating how they would use the opportunity to travel to an architecturally-significant destination of their choosing, preferably to participate in a hands-on service-oriented exploration.

We certainly wish them well.