Friday 23 February 2018

Icons of Botswana

Icons of Botswana
(Reuters (Eng) 02/25/13)

Lekwalo Leta Mosienyane is regarded amongst his peers as a foundational figure of architecture and urban design in Botswana.He is the founder and director of Mosienyane & Partners International (MPI), an architecture firm and urban design consultancy with offices in Gaborone, Johannesburg and Cape Town. His major urban design works include the Phakalane Township & Golf Estate, Melrose Arch in Johannesburg and the Delf Symphony Development in Cape Town.

As an architect, he has produced noteworthy buildings such as the Botswana National Assembly, the Debswana Diamond Park in Gaborone, the Institute of Health Sciences in Molepolole and the Nelson Mandela Museum in Xunu, Eastern Cape. "When you ask me which of the projects I've done gives me the most pride, it's like asking, which one of the fingers on my hand do I appreciate the most?" he muses. "All of them bring me joy but each of them for different reasons." He is also responsible for formulating the Development Control Code of Botswana, drawing up the current development plan for Gaborone and is in the process of producing development plans for Selebi Phikwe and Molepolole. Mosienyane candidly reveals that whenever he starts a new project, even now after more than 30 years in the profession, he is overwhelmed by a sense of both fear and excitement. He finds solace in praying that the town he helps create will bring life and add to human aspirations. His first notable development in Botswana was the Phakalane Township, a project which he was commissioned to undertake at the age of 26. He says that the task of designing such a facility for the community was beyond him at that age and that it still remains beyond him so it's no wonder that he credits his urban design achievements to God. "Cities are built by God, not by men," he says. "God simply uses me to facilitate his intentions."

He counts himself as having been very fortunate to have been trusted at that young age to develop the very first private investment township in his home country and notes that he would have never been given the opportunity had his client, David Magang, not been an open-minded man who was willing to take a risk on a young architect.Mosienyane's clients are all different but they all have the same kind of vision, he says. They have dreamt about the city so he doesn't have to do any dreaming. His role is to bring that dream into reality. "The client must have a dream but I have to impress upon the client that it is human life that we are going to shelter in this dream of yours," says Mosienyane. "People are going to be born in your city, people are going to live in your city and people are going to be buried in your city so whatever we do, we have to respect the lives of the people who will inhabit this space that we are shaping," he said.

The great passion Mosienyane has for his profession is palpable as he speaks about the period in his childhood in which his love for architecture was first ignited. Back when Lekwalo was a primary schooling adolescent, his father used to tell him that he pictured the boy becoming a builder when he grew up. The young Mosienyane's deep admiration for his father inspired him to grow into an astute observer of buildings and to develop an unusually strong fondness for the concrete structures that seemed mundane to his peers. Lekwalo was born the seventh of nine children and his father was a commercial farmer who frequently travelled back and forth to major South African cities. Growing up in the small village of Lentswelemoriti, Lekwalo wasn't exposed to just any feats of architecture in his immediate environment but his father fed the desire he had sparked in the lad, bringing him pictures of skyscrapers in South Africa and telling him that these were the kind of buildings he wanted Lekwalo to build, not the simple structures in the village.

"He was really an amazing man because he talked about a builder but he didn't mean the chaps who were building mud houses in the village," Mosienyane recalls. "He said I would build roads and cities so right from an early age, this seed was planted in me and it later developed into a deeply felt desire to become an architect."This deeply felt desire would later take Mosienyane to the United Kingdom where he earned a BA in Architecture from Plymouth University, then a Graduate Diploma in Architecture and a Master of Arts in Urban Design, both from Oxford Brookes University. When he returned to his homeland in 1984, he immediately joined Dalgliesh Lindsay Group as a partner and became the first Motswana to co-own an architectural practice in Botswana. Within a few years, he left and started his own firm.

MPI established itself as a firm to be respected in the building environment world, largely due to Mosienyane's ability to look beyond Botswana's borders and produce developments internationally. This outlook is only growing stronger as Mosienyane is currently engaged in various projects in West Africa.When asked about what he considers to be the proudest achievement of his career, Mosienyane humbly responds that the human relationships that have come out of plying his trade are invaluable to him. His eyes gleam with wonder as he talks about his interaction with Nelson Mandela designing the Nelson Mandela Museum and how King Mswati III personally invited him to Swaziland having been impressed upon seeing the work Mosienyane had done. "I hope that I will be remembered not just for the buildings and communities, I am responsible for designing but also for the human relationships that went into the creation of those environments," says Mosienyane. "Human relationships are very important to me."

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