FUTURE CAPE TOWN | Voices of the city: Zahira Asmal

daily movements have inspired me to explore the social, spatial, political, economic and cultural movements made by people in the city 

Our voice of the city this week is the managing director of The City and the founder of DESIGNING_SOUTHAFRICA, Zahira Asmal.

FCT logo

Voices of the City is a weekly feature that spotlights the everyday lives of our citizens, living and working in the city. By asking the same five questions to all our interviewees, we discover not only how our experiences of the city differ, but also what we share. It is a daunting task to try and capture the diverse experiences of our city’s inhabitants, but we feel that it is a worthy, and necessary, endeavor, in order to better understand the present and future of our city.

This week we meet Zahira Asmal, the managing director of The City and the founder of DESIGNING_SOUTHAFRICA. As an author, curator and publisher, her projects address democracy, inclusive design and city making. In doing so she has collaborated with governments, designers, architects, academics and the media globally. She has traveled the world presenting her ideas and specific challenges in this realm.

Asmal’s work has earned her a top spot on Design Week’s ‘Hot 50’ list and Wallpaper* magazine’s ‘Top 20’ list. She was also included in the Mail & Guardian’s ‘200 Young South Africans’ and their ‘Book of Women’, as well as being listed in Monocle Magazine’s Design Directory.

Having worked with renowned London-based architect David Adjaye OBE on his book, African Metropolitan Architecture, and exhibition, Urban Africa, the pair are once again working together – this time on an architectural pavilion at Johannesburg’s prominent Park Station.

Her first book, Reflections & Opportunities: Design, Cities and the World Cup (The City, 2012) was published in English and Brazilian Portuguese and focuses on the design legacy and lessons learned in city making from the 2010 World Cup. The book was presented over 20 events in 17 cities in Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, the US and the UK.


What about Cape Town inspires you the most?

I love the freedom of movement I have in Cape Town. I enjoy that I am constantly engaging with nature and the urban realm in such close proximity. I feel lucky to be able to walk to the ocean, to work, to my favourite coffee shop and up the mountain from my home. These daily movements have also inspired me further – to explore other movements made by other people in the city – socially, spatially, politically, economically  and culturally. This research has led me to publish anthologies on Movement that will be launched later this year. I am excited to share this work that has been 2 years in the making. They are well-researched, insightful books that will reward the curious individual – whether resident or visitor to Cape Town.

Movement both covers Asmal

Do you have a place that you enjoy in the city?

Sea Point is one of my favourite places in the city. It is wedged between ocean and the mountain. It connects the sea to the city and it connects Cape Town’s diverse publics to one another. Its fine-grained urban structure, public transport and density create a thriving promenade and high street. The result is functional, democratic and inclusive. The Sea Point promenade is possibly one of the most vibrant and diverse public spaces in South Africa, not only because of its extraordinary location, but also because the urban form makes it possible for a wide range of elements to exist alongside one another. Very few places in the country have this kind of integration on all levels. Sea Point is an open, beautiful place – exposing us to all sorts – local and global – terrestrial and marine – encouraging us to learn more about one another. This democratic, resilient and flexible urban model should inform the city-making of the future.

What was the last exciting event you attended in the city?

I spent most of this year editing and publishing my two books on Movement so the last exciting event I attended was in summer – the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival.

What frustrates you about the city?

I am frustrated by the severe divisions that continue to plague Cape Town and the apathy and misunderstandings that seem to accompany this social and spatial division.

You can have dinner with one person living or dead. Who is it and why?

My grandfather. I miss him.


Movement Cape Town and Movement Johannesburg

Movement creates cities. Whether people move to urban centres in search of better lives, ocean currents connect traders, protests spark political change, or a resident makes a routine trip to the corner café, all forms of movement concurrently define global cities. Movements have affected the look, feel and progress of cities in particular and interesting ways. They infuse cities with energy and give them their individuality, their idiosyncrasies, and their joie d’vivre. Movements are the lifeblood of a city, pumping vivacity into its metaphorical heart, and in so doing energising relationships between inhabitants and their city. 

This innovative series of publications and experiences uses movement as a conceptual device through which to read three major South African cities: Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. The publications are for people eager to know more about the South Africa’s big cities through specially commissioned contributions from architects, academics, artists, photographers, urbanists, activits and through leaders all passionate and knowledgeable about the movements of Cape Town – past and present.


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  1. Elske Kritzinger / earthworks magazines
  2. Biography: designingsouthafrica.com/about/who-we-are/
  3. Covers and spreads of the Movement Cape Town book – The City, 2015