Thandi Loewenson wins 2024 Wheelwright Prize

Harvard GSD officials announced today that the 2024 Wheelwright Prize winner is Thandi Loewenson—a senior tutor at London’s Royal College of Art from Harare, Zimbabwe, that holds a PhD from The Bartlett. Loewenson’s winning proposal is called Black Papers: Beyond the Politics of Land, Towards African Policies of Earth & Air.

The Wheelwright Prize is an open international competition hosted by Harvard that awards $100,000 every year to a talented early-career architect doing new forms of architectural research. The jurors on this year’s selection committee were Chris Cornelius, K. Michael Hays, Jennifer Newsom, John Peterson, Noura Al-Sayeh, and GSD Dean Sarah Whiting. Loewenson’s project was selected over the other finalists Meriem Chabani, Nathan Friedman, and Ryan Roark.

With support from Wheelwright, Loewenson will focus on seven African countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Her future output is what she calls Black Papers, a set of studies designed to shape both policy discourse and public perception.

The Black Papers, Loewenson said, will include drawings, moving image, performances, and critical creative writing. This choice in media will help Loewenson’s research reach a broad audience across video, radio, and social platforms like WhatsApp.

work from Thandi Loewenson
Thandi Lowenson, still from Whisper Network Intelsat 502, 2022, performance and drawings, graphite on tarkovski paper. (Courtesy Harvard GSD)

All in all, Loewenson’s research will contend with a dynamic terrain of social and spatial relations in contemporary Africa, she shared in a statement. Black Papers is informed by the history of African liberation movements and postcolonial struggles, and attempts to complicate the political relationship between sovereignty and land by emphasizing what Loewenson calls “the entanglement of Earth and Air.”

The ephemera Loewenson will study includes satellite imagery and digital infrastructure that casts light on the exploitation of mining labor. Loewenson’s study of “Outer Space” will incorporate aerial techniques for surveying and prospecting as well as the mining of “technology metal,” minerals employed in networked devices that also underwrite a global system of digital dispossession, she shared.

“The question of land, and its indelible link to African liberation and being, echoes across the continent as a central theme of liberation movements and the postcolonial governments that followed. Instead of solely engaging land as a site of struggle, this work situates land within a network of interconnected spaces, from layers deep within the Earth to its outermost atmospheric reaches,” Loewenson said in a statement.

“This research presents a radical shift: developing a new epistemic framework and a series of open access, creatively reimagined policy proposals—the Black Papers—in which earth and air are not distinct, but rather concomitant terrains through which racialization and exploitation are forged on the continent, and through which they will be fought,” Loewenson continued. “The Wheelwright Prize is uniquely placed to support such ambitious inquiry, enabling me to bring together seemingly disparate yet closely bound parts of our planet, and agitate for a more just and flourishing world.”

The $100,000 in funding will support two years of Loewenson’s future research and travel.

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