UJ’s Head of the Graduate School of Architecture, Prof Lesley Lokko, provides mentorship on Made in SA TV Show

University of Johannesburg (UJ) lecturer, Prof Lesley Lokko gets up close and personal as a mentor on the new SABC television programme, Made in SA Season 5 Challenge.

Head of the Graduate School of Architecture (GSA) in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Prof Lesley Lokko, has stepped out of the classroom and on to the screen to lend her expertise to an aspiring young architect on the new Made in SA challenge, which will be aired on Sunday, 11 February 2018, on SABC 3.

Made in SA is an inspirational factual entertainment reality series for the youth on SABC3. It celebrates young people of excellence by bringing them closer to their dream through a mentorship challenge. Made in SA gives them an experience of a lifetime and helps them understand more about their life goals.

In this episode, Prof Lokko draws on her long experience of teaching to help one bright and hopeful undergraduate architectural student, Ngonidzashe Tawuyanago, find his inner Leonardo da Vinci through a series of short challenges that she will hand out to him on the day. “I’m here to give him confidence, steer him in the right direction and to nudge him into asking the right questions regarding his work,” Prof Lokko explained.

During the Made in SA selection process to find a suitable coach for one of the episodes, UJ’s Prof Lokko impressed the show’s producers with her ability to explain complex architectural ideas and practices, enhancing clarity without losing nuance in her conversations. “Architecture is continuously moving, always changing and always looking towards the future. It’s so important for students on this continent in particular, to embrace the momentum that the transformation and decolonisation movements have provided. I’m always looking for alternative ways to help students understand that the best architecture comes from imagination,” she said.

Prof Lokko found that her experience of encouraging students to push their creative boundaries helps in mentoring the contestants on the show. “At the Graduate School of Architecture, we try to frame conventional questions of architecture – scale, form, site, programme – in slightly different ways, without preconceptions or constraints. Assumptions go out of the window. The freedom to think differently often produces the most exciting and innovative designs,” said Prof Lokko.

Prof Lokko was impressed with Ngonidzashe’s bold ideas and willingness to try new things. ”However, it’s sometimes easier to take risks in the classroom or studio than it is to do it on TV,” she added. ”When you’re aware of being filmed, you sometimes hold back for fear of being judged.” Filming took place at the Graduate Architecture Platform, the GSA’s Maboneng base where all their reviews and lectures are held. Prof Lokko designed a typical ‘brief’ (instruction) for Ngonidzashe, asking him to ‘investigate an area not more than 500m from GAP, and to collect six seemingly impossible things: objects or images that don’t fit together, things that look out of place, absurd, stranger-than-fiction, futuristic . . . things of the future, things of the past.

Similar to Alice in Wonderland, disappearing down the rabbit-hole of his own imagination, Ngonidzashe came back with a range of objects, sketches, fragments . . . things that caught his imagination. Prof Lokko explained that the first step in creating an open and curious imagination is to see things differently, to look beyond the surface of things and to develop your own interpretations of what you see. Equally important, the conversations they had after Ngonidzashe returned from his mini ‘field-trip’ proved influential in giving him the perfect platform to develop his ideas to an audience. “We talked through his choices, asking questions about what he’d seen, why he’d chosen certain objects, what his narrative about finding ‘things that don’t fit’ might be,” said Prof Lokko.

Whether appearing on a TV show or teaching in a lecture, Prof Lokko believes communication is key in helping to mentor an artist or an architect. The experience on Made in SA was illuminating. “It’s definitely helping me in how I approach things at UJ as I’m always trying to make things clear, direct and open. It’s so important that we, as lecturers, have honest, generous conversations with students,” she said. “You have to start with understanding, to which you apply energy, ideas and attitude – those things can come after you’ve established a dialogue between tutor and student. Mutual understanding and respect between you has to be the starting point. From that place of trust, all else follows.”

Catch the episode this Sunday, 11 February 2018 on SABC 3 at 07:55pm.

Prof Lesley Lokko
Prof Lesley Lokko
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