The start of 2020 was also the start of my appointment as SARChI Chair in Spatial Transformation hosted at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa. It then also became the start of the world being confronted by COVID-19. Many challenges in parallel- yet also many opportunities which I hope I fully harnessed.

In 2020, I succeeded in making great progress despite the circumstances. The SARCHI Chair for Spatial Transformation (Positive Change in the Built Environment) was launched at the South African Cities Network (SACN) Urban Festival in October 2020. I simultaneously launched PLATFORM 100 as a key project of the Chair in partnership with Architect Mokena Makeka and DALBERG (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIKLgMi4PPk&feature=youtu.be). Many incredible people supported this launch and we are finding ways to honour them, celebrate them and thank them for having added great value to our project. Platform 100 aims to be a think tank, a community of practice, an interdisciplinary knowledge network, which aims to influence thinking and practice in the built environment towards the achievement of spatial transformation.

As part of the NRF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT PROJECT, aligned with the intentions of both the SARCHI CHAIR and the TUT Department of Architecture and Industrial Design Niche Area Project, and as part of our COVID-19 response, we have built toilets in service of the community with whom we partner in Bertrams, Johannesburg; we have also co-designed and starting the development of a communal open space in the area. Prior to this, we had helped improve the general condition of the building through waterproofing the roof as well as repairing balustrading and a steel staircase that were seen as major health and safety hazards for the residents, many of whom are children. This is part of the broader project intentions to support the residents of occupied inner-city buildings and towards studying the needs of these communities. We hope that this project intervention may set an example for other interventions in other occupied buildings across Johannesburg and elsewhere. We also hope to use the data to present a case for evidence-based policy change. This project was presented in an invited talk as part of the Urban Festival in October 2020 (http://h-ue.co.za/2020/10/01/empowering-the-civic-supporting-the-bertrams-community-in-the-time-of-covid-19/ and http://h-ue.co.za/2020/10/15/sacn-urban-festival/). We have also partnered with a researcher in Nigeria (a TUT post-doctoral candidate) and prepared a study on how residents of local neighbourhoods in a specific context in Nigeria have responded to the COVID-19 crisis (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zpmpp36_1ak). http://h-ue.co.za/2020/10/15/sacn-urban-festival/

I conceptualised and developed a book series titled THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT IN EMERGING ECONOMIES. The first volume on Cities, Space and Power, has been published (https://books.aosis.co.za/index.php/ob/catalog/book/159). The book forms part of AOSIS Scholarly Books portfolio of open access publications and is freely accessible and will be indexed in various international research repositories. The book can be cited by its unique Digital Object Identifier (DOI), https://doi.org/10.4102/aosis.2020.BK159. The book is aiming towards the bring to the fore voices that have been unheard in the built environment field. The book will assist in achieving transformation in thinking, without which we cannot have spatial transformation.

AFRICAN CITIES: ENVISIONING AN ALTERNATIVE FUTURE is a podcast launched by the Chair (https://www.buzzsprout.com/1298831) and will be discussing African cities, and the challenges they face, with a focus on spatial fragmentation and unequal access to opportunities. This podcast will take a deep look at African cities and the built environment in African cities. EPISODE 1 is titled “A Sudanese/South African with an interest in cities, space and transformation November” and was published on the 18th October 2020. In this opening episode, Prof Amira Osman presented some of her interests and background as a Sudanese/South African with an interest in cities, space and transformation (https://www.buzzsprout.com/1298831/episodes/6435856)

As SARChI Chair, I also managed the master’s programme in architecture; 17 students were examined by nine renowned academics and practitioners in a two-day event hosted in December 2020 at the Pretoria Art Museum in the suburb of Arcadia. For the third year running, under the leadership of Prof Osman, the department saw a 100% pass rate and a clear transformation in the themes, sites and projects addressed by the students. The abstracts for the 17 projects may be found here: https://www.scribd.com/document/492334849/TUT-Arch-Mini-Dissertations-2020

I also collaborated with the International Network for Appropriate Technology (INAT) and chaired their local committee for the 9th International Conference on Appropriate Technology (9th ICAT); I served as editor for the proceedings book: https://www.scribd.com/document/485488919/9th-ICAT-Technology-Exchange-and-Employment-Creation-for-Community-Empowerment-Cross-Pollinating-Innovative-Models. Several of my students, some funded through the SARChI Chair, have published papers in this proceedings book. I have jointly authored some of these. Again, we are in the process of reaching out to some of these collaborators and pursue further engagement and conversations.

The 9TH ICAT OPEN BUILDING AND APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY WORKSHOP session was conceptualised and moderated by myself and Prof Jia Beisi (Hong Kong). We had about 36 people in attendance from around the world. Our panel of ten were from South Africa, Hong Kong, China, USA, UK, Brazil, Egypt, Netherlands and Cyprus (http://amiraosman.co.za/2020/11/06/open-building-and-appropriate-technology-virtual-workshop-the-9th-international-conference-on-appropriate-technology-november-2020-pretoria-south-africa/). Those in attendance were from Singapore/Belgium, Japan, Israel, etc. It was a two-hour SACAP-accredited workshop. All the presentations are available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP0t0HBh_76v0JGkJAehwdg).

Several of our 9th ICAT partners were represented such as UJ and the international organisation CIB. This was an international event of great significance to the CIB104 Open Building Implementation network (which I jointly coordinate, and have done so for several years). We are also in the process of reaching out to groups and individuals who have been identified as potential partners in this process.

For the 9TH ICAT POSTER SESSION, I managed ten poster submissions all from different institutions in South Africa. The 2-hour session was conceptualised and moderated by Prof Amira Osman and Dr Ilesemni Daniyan. We had a panel of experts Dr. Olabanji Olayinka Mohammed, Mr. Oyesola Moses and John Ogbemhe (https://appropriatetech.net/media/attachments/2020/11/26/9th-icat-poster-session-panel-flyer.pdf). The session generated a great conversation between emerging and more established researchers. The posters are exhibited at https://spatial.chat/s/icat9-virtual-spaces.

As we are starting a strategy for 2021, we intend building deeper connections with partners already identified. Till our ANNUAL LETTER of 2O21, we will see you then!