Perhaps the most remarkable thing about last month’s big architecture conference in Pretoria, Architecture ZA 2018 (AZA18), was that hardly anyone spoke about buildings. At least not in the ordinary, traditional sense of a building as a "thing". The talk was all about the spaces between them, and what happens there. As architect and urban designer Gerrit Jordaan put it in one talk on the day I attended: "The outside of the building is the inside of the city." And everyone, it seems, is preoccupied with the inside of the city. The conference’s emphasis on cities is, of course, a response to the rapid urbanisation taking place around the world, and particularly in Africa. It’s undoubtedly an urgent urban moment, placing some very real pressures on cities. But at the same time, there’s a sense of excitement among architects and urban planners that the global city of the future is an African city, in the same way, perhaps, that the American city was definitive of the 20th century, and A...

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