Voices of Africa: Nicole Nomsa Moyo On Solving Social-Economic Issues Through The Lens Of Design

Nicole Nomsa Moyo’s work in urban design and architecture is uniquely human. Birthed with culture and founded on community, her projects have gained renown from the architecture world for their future-minded, societal relevance. Her award-winning thesis, Ukubutha, proposed sustainable, waste-to-energy settlements for areas of her South African homeland, and her research on sustainable urbanization has been presented globally. Moyo currently resides in Toronto, where she works as an urban designer and entrepreneur of her company, Good Urban Design (G.U.D).

Maya Schubert: How has your heritage inspired your work?
Nicole Nomsa Moyo: My heritage is everything. My roots continuously nourish and guide me. No matter where I am or what I do I represent my beloved continent, Africa. My work is always geared towards celebrating the cultures and complexities of the continent. With “UKUBUTHA”, I made sure to remain authentic by merging my heritage into solving complex social-economic issues through the lens of design. I also just love dressing up in cultural attire on special occasions. I am a proud Ndebele woman.

Moyo’s Ukubutha is an interventionist strategy that aims to redress the socio-cultural and economic disparities in developing low-income communities.

Moyo’s Ukubutha is an interventionist strategy that aims to redress the socio-cultural and economic disparities in developing low-income communities.

Maya: How can African design tell the story and preserve the histories of Africans with integrity?
Nicole: African storytelling is about experience. When we create spaces, objects, film, and art we allow ourselves and others to have an African experience (whatever that may be). Design is a form of documentation that allows us to have tangible traces of our history. African history through design is best told by African voices.

Maya: How do you see the African design industry evolving?
Nicole: Africa is not only the continent with the most countries, it has the largest variety of tribes which each have their own unique characteristics, social values, beliefs, political and aesthetic values. I see more authenticity in the future of the industry, where untapped talent is able to reach its full potential. The African design industry is immortal.

Moyo’s projects, like this saltwater off-grid spa retreat, combine sustainable innovation with creative design.

Moyo’s projects, like this saltwater off-grid spa retreat, combine sustainable innovation with creative design.

Maya: Has COVID-19 taught you to pivot your brand’s focus or has it strengthened your resolve in your direction?
Nicole: There is an African Proverb that says – “When the rhythm of the drumbeat changes, the dance steps must adapt.” I am definitely moving in the new direction but grounded by the same vision: To use design as a tool to engineer social change for good. It’s been quite a daring time for me, I have finally registered my company G.U.D (GOOD. URBAN. DESIGN). I haven’t done anything with it yet but I have the most amazing plans in my head. When the time is right… You will see a lot of “GUD” come to life.

Maya: Can you describe your creative process?
Nicole: I perceive every design as a “problem” that needs to be solved through the best possible outcome. A masterplan, building, landscape, object, and art..all start as wild imaginative thoughts. I then create a storyboard to define my goals to produce a clear narrative of my intentions. Throughout the process, I constantly seek mentorship and feedback to improve the result of the outcome. And then voilà, a masterpiece produced by layered thoughts and mediums. I had so much fun coming up with an off-grid hospitality experience called “ZORORA” a Shona term meaning to rest.

Moyo’s concept drawings for Ukubutha were awarded Best Architecture Drawings in 2019 from ArchDaily.

Moyo’s concept drawings for Ukubutha were awarded Best Architecture Drawings in 2019 from ArchDaily.

Maya: What is your source of inspiration?
Nicole: Lately, it’s been Nature! It reminds me that everything has a place and time. Everything is constantly evolving from season to season. I started gardening this year and I love everything about it, including an array of metaphors as life lessons. I can plant a seed but I can’t control how it grows.

Maya: How would you define your work in three words
Nicole: Futurist, Storytelling & Anthropocentric.

Maya: How would you describe your personal style?
Nicole: I love all things textured, layered with a variety of mediums and Monochrome!

The digester system within Moyo’s huts will use organic materials to produce a methane-rich fuel.

The digester system within Moyo’s huts will use organic materials to produce a methane-rich fuel.

Maya: What would be your dream project?
Nicole: To actually get one of my speculative ideas built! I got really close with the Miami Design District commission last year, so I’m hoping my stars align soon. But, I am happy to share three things I constantly think about through G.U.D.

  1. To design monumental public spaces that are inclusive, filled with a spectrum of art, celebrate culture, sustainability and always have a stance on social advocacy.
  2. Being commissioned by the African Union, United Nations, etc., to design celebrated and solve problems in urban areas.
  3. Produce a multimedia story production on culture, design, and urbanism in each African Country.

Click here to see more of the Voices of Africa series.

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