Working towards a philosophy of architecture without walls, Mauritian born and Durban based architect Doung Anwar Jahangeer’s guided city- walks have been reshaping and shifting perceptions around the cities ‘in-between’ spaces. Neil Coppen treads the pot- holed asphalt.
Uniting a love of architecture with art and activism with imagining, Doung (who completed a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the then University of Natal in 1996) labels his city-walk initiative as an exuberant exploration, as well as a humbling cautionary tale, an allegory on the infinite complexities of spaces and timings in the city of Durban.
I have lived in Durbs all my life, yet after a five-hour meander alongside this urban Shaman and his toret’s of inner-city- insight returned feeling as if I had just visited a foreign country. The result is of course an unsettling wake-up call–one that tends to highlight the apathy with which engage the seemingly ‘inane’ everyday.
Perhaps Johannesburg based artist (and participant in one of Doung’s walk’s)–Bronwyn Lace best pinned the experience when she wrote”¦
“Doung’s international background and architectural training lead him to explore structures and hierarchies, and how we “break” them every single day. His well-known “city-walks” begin by pointing out buildings and walkways that are built for use in one way, but wind up being transfigured by the world and community around them. From small amounts of grass that magically crack their way through manmade cement streets, to unused walkways surrounded by dirt paths beaten into what was intended as lawn space, Doung inevitably leads us to a “vision of questioning.”
Such ‘questioning’ commences at Musgrave Shopping centre, situated in a plush Berea suburb, shortly after, one finds themselves descending into the urban centres and back-alleys of Durban’s CBD. To many of us, these are spaces we would never ordinarily amble through for that would mean penetrating the urban underbelly: routes our parents always cautioned us would cost us out lives and if not that then most certainly our valuables!
Playing upon such paranoia, Doung cautions participants at the start of the walk that they will be crossing from heaven into hell. Of course by the stroll’s conclusion on the cities harbour fringes one discovers that the opposite is true: that after the visceral clamour of down-town Grey Street and the muti market, it is the suburban malls that tend to linger on in the memory like a bad Orwellian nightmare.
Apart from the city-walk, Doung’s prolific body of work sets out to ‘implement’ and ‘imagine’ tangible creative solutions to the problems faced by most contemporary African cities. Of course his real challenge comes in coaxing city-managers and architects into such exploratory modes of ‘imagining’: stepping down from their air-conned offices and discovering what’s really going on down on the streets below.
To do this Doung has resorted to the necessary artistic measures. In a work entitled ‘Walking the Pink Line’ January 2007 he literally proceeded to highlight–with a gaudy luminous pink powder used as a traditional Zulu medicine for cleansing- ”“an informal network of pedestrian paths which the city- council had previously refused to acknowledge.
In an earlier work titled ‘The Parking Lot Projects’– at the NSA Gallery- Doung collaborated with his friend of five years, a homeless woman named Belinda Petersen, who camped alongside her shack, bed and personal belongings in a gallery space.
“Through Belinda” he explains, “the unseen is placed into the very public and elite arena of an art gallery. Belinda referred to her body as her architecture and we decided to use this as our starting point. Just as urbanisation creates unwanted spaces, so too does it create undesirable communities of people who are ignored and marginalised.”
Doung’s unorthodox vision is understandably not one that often fits into the polite confines of the gallery space: which is why when strolling the Durban cityscape –be it suburb or slum–one is likely to encounter several of his ‘interventions’ sprouting from side-walks or reclaiming vacant lots.
“It’s not the material that makes something contemporary” he muses “but how we adapt and creatively respond to a given situation. So often it’s about our inability to recognise the worth of daily beauty in front of our eyes.”
Such feat’s of street-wise ingenuity are frequently referenced along his walk: from the homeless man using the pavement’s concrete pot- plant holders to grow his own vegetables or the bird-shit Jackson Pollock’s splattered in pavement squares
“And to think” chuckles our guide with irreverent delight, “that we pay millions the hang such ‘works of art’ on our living room walls.”