When I first met architect Mokena Makeka just over a year ago he was frantically busy on the Cape Town Station project – parts of which had been fast-tracked for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Head of his own design atelier Makeka Design Laboratory, Mokena’s designs brought South Africa’s second largest railway station into the 21st century, with a modern retail zone and a station forecourt that is rapidly becoming a popular public space.

At the time this thirty-something architect already had an impressive list of public projects to his name.

A community centre in Khayelitsha was one of them. Comprising internal sports courts, offices and gallery space this design needed to examine the role of civic buildings in a post-apartheid South Africa and challenged the conventional wisdom that buildings in poor areas did not warrant substantial investment in quality and capital.

The  center is one of four civic buildings planned to work off a common public square that will create  a new public space for culture, set in a proposed urban park adjacent to it.

The Public Transport Shared Services Centre in Athlone, the headquarters for public transport in the Western Cape, is another of Mokena’s designs. It’s been been in the news recently with the roll out of the new Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system in Cape Town.

The centre  is home to 400 employees, a bus testing facility and customer care services. Responsive to its location, which includes residential and commercial precincts, pedestrian paths and a green corridor, and designed to maximise passive energy, this design is a benchmark for future provincial government projects.

But it is Mokena’s first public project, the redesign of a police station in Retreat with a modest budget, that shows his independent take on public architecture and his view that everyone has a right to good design.

Flouting the dictates of bureaucratic specifications, Mokena wanted to cater to the humanity of those who worked and visited the police station, as well as the neighbourhood in which it is located.  For this project he won the  Cape Institute for Architecture (CIFA) 2007 Award for cutting edge design.

Mokena’s influence on architecture and urbanism in Cape Town is increasing and he is no slouch in the global arena either.

He has been chosen to be part of Ordos 100, an ambitious project to develop 100 houses in Ordos in China, designed by 100 acclaimed architects from 27 different countries.

Mokena also sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council for Design, is an external examiner at the Columbia University School of architecture and lectures at the University of Cape Town.

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