South African Women Architects

Statistics show that of a total of 8 842 registered architectural professionals in South Africa, only 21% are women.

The WiASA programme was therefore launched in 2015 to encourage, support, educate, develop and transform women in the profession, as well as women wanting to enter the profession.

Women bring an extra dimension to the table - different ways of thinking about property developments. A variety is positive in a creative environment.

It all started with:

Sophia Gray - First South African Architect

Although not formally trained as an architect, Sophia Gray is considered to be South Africa's first female architect. She was the wife of the first Anglican Bishop of Cape Town, Robert Gray. Sophy and her husband emigrated to Cape Town in 1847, where her husband was to establish a new colonial diocese, churches and schools. Sophy Gray had brought along architectural plans of churches that could be adapted to the design of churches and schools for the new Anglican parishes that were to be established throughout South Africa. Both Sophy and her husband favoured the neo-Gothic style of church architecture which was fashionable in Britain at that time and advocated by the Ecclesiologists. Even so, Sophy and Robert Gray felt that church design should not stick slavishly to the Early English Period, but should show some diversity. Of more than 50 churches built in South Africa during Robert Gray's bishopric, at least 40 were designed by Sophy of which include:

  • St George's Church - Knysna (1849)
  • St Matthew's Church - Riversdale, Western Cape (1854)
  • St Andrew's Chapel - Newlands, Cape Town (1856)
  • Church of St Mary the Virgin - Woodstock, Cape Town (1859)
  • St Luke's Mission Church - Swellendam (1869)
  • St Peter's Church - Plettenberg Bay (1879)

The School of Architecture at the University of the Free State started the annual Sophia Gray Lectures and Exhibitions in 1989. It was initiated and conceptualized by Professor Paul Kotze. The aims of this series are to highlight the contribution that architects and architecture make to society and were, initially at least, intended to create positive role models for the student body of the School of Architecture. It was named after the first professionally active architect in Bloemfontein, namely Sophia Gray.

Years later these women started their careers:

Deborah Preller

Partner Groenewald/Preller Architects

Qualifications: BArch - University of Pretoria

Deborah Preller designed for Burg Doherty Bryant & Partners and JH Architects in Worcester before pulling up stakes and moving to Jamaica in 1988, where she managed the Chang Group, a multidisciplinary development and construction company designing schools, community centres, new residential developments and luxury houses.

She returned to South Africa to become a partner in Groenewald/Preller Architects and has designed schools throughout the Western Cape and community-driven multi-purpose facilities, clinics and crèches, such as the community centre for Ithemba Labantwana in Gugulethu and Medecins sans Frontieres' Nolangile Youth Centre and Clinic in Khayelitsha.

Deborah has been an external examiner at a number of universities and universities of technology and has lectured part-time in applied design at the Cape University of Technology. She has served as president of the Cape Institute for Architecture and on the management committee of the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA). She is also on the editorial advisory boards of a number of publications, including the Digest of African Architecture.

Kate Otten

Principal Architect Kate Otten Architects

Qualifications: BArch - University of Witwatersrand

Kate Otten established her own practice in 1989 after gaining experience with other practices, including Jo Noero & Henry Paine Architects. An internationally award-winning South African architect, she has designed work as diverse as community libraries, the new Tzaneen Waterfront development, the museum exhibition space at the former Women's Jail at Constitution Hill and an art therapy centre.

Kate is a part-time lecturer in theory and design; she also lectures in architectural construction and design at the Alexandra Arts Centre. Her numerous awards include regional businesswoman of the year and a commendation from the South African Institute of Architects for her work on the former Woman's Jail.

Trudi Groenewald

Partner Groenewald/Preller Architects

Qualifications: BArch - University of Pretoria
Completed a property development programme at UCT's Graduate School of Business
Certificate in arbitration - Association of Arbitrators

Trudi Groenewald specialises in technical, industrial and heritage projects, among them the SALT Observatory Building at Sutherland. She became the first female president of the Cape Institute of Architects in 1992 and a senior partner in Burg Doherty Bryant & Partners in the 1980s, in charge of the Cape Town office. Trudi founded Groenewald/Preller Architects in 1990 with Deborah Preller. Among the work the practice has undertaken is renovations on the Robben Island Museum and the building of several projects for the South African Navy in Simon's Town.

Anya van der Merwe Miszewski

Director Van der Merwe Miszewski Architects

Qualifications: BArch & thesis with distinction (UCT History and theory) - Architectural Assosciation, London

Anya van der Merwe Miszewski established Van der Merwe Miszewski Architects (VDMMA) with Macio Miszewski in Cape Town in 1993. The practice has been recognised for a wide range of projects, including the Tree House, the Cape Town Convention Centre, the De Beers HQ and Bridge House.

VDMMA has received many awards and commendations, both nationally and internationally, and its work has been widely published. She has been a member of a variety of committees and panels and was recently appointed a professor of architecture at UCT.

Sarah Calburn

Qualifications: Master’s degree in architecture by Research - Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT)

Sarah Calburn founded her award-winning Johannesburg-based architectural practice in 1996 after completing a master's degree in architecture. She was born in Johannesburg, graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand with distinction and has worked as an architect in Paris, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne.

Her practice specialises in design integrity, in the art of architecture. Sarah's practice has completed many striking houses and she is the author of a number of buildings-about-town: Gallery Momo, the Paul Smith shop, To'guna and in Swaziland the House on Fire. She sits on the committee of the Gauteng Institute for Architecture, from which position she has initiated a series of continuing professional development-accredited design master classes. Calburn has taught design at Wits, the University of Cape Town and RMIT.

Sarah has another practice called SPACE MATTERS - architecture and urbanism, in partnership with the Austrian architect Dustin Tusnovics. SPACE MATTERS is concerned with all scales of new community-driven developments and is committed to the formation of humane, balanced and optimistic environments in South Africa.

Laura Robinson

Director Cape Town Heritage Trust

Qualification: BArch - University of Cape Town

An architect by profession Laura Robinson's specialisation is in the management of cultural heritage, in particular the built environment and cultural landscape. The Cape Town Heritage Trust, which she directs, is tasked with the conservation and promotion of the built environment and cultural landscape of Cape Town. She is one of the founder members of the International Committee for Monuments and Sites and the executive treasurer of the South African national committee; she is also a bureau member of the International Scientific Committee for 20th Century Heritage.

Past and present board memberships include the South African Heritage Resources Agency, the Robben Island Museum Council and the Cape Town Partnership. Laura has been working with World Heritage Sites since 1997 and was responsible for the preparation of the nomination dossier for Robben Island. She serves on the South African World Heritage Convention Committee.

Projects include the development of a conservation management plan for the University of Cape Town, proposals for the revitalisation of various heritage buildings in Cape Town including the Old Granary and the City Hall, and the establishment of the management authority for the Taung World Heritage Site.

Nadia Tromp

Founder Member, Designer, Director Ntsika Architects

Nadia Tromp is the managing director of Ntsika Architects, one of only a few 100% black female-owned practices in South Africa. She completed her training at the University of Cape Town in 2000. Since then she has practiced in Cape Town and Johannesburg, becoming the principle partner in Paragon Habitat Architects in 2006.

While there, she was instrumental in the practice being awarded the bid for the Greenpoint, FIFA 2010 World Cup Soccer Stadium, as part of a consortium of designers. Currently, under the Ntsika Architects umbrella, Nadia is involved in exciting urban regeneration developments in Johannesburg CBD.

She has overseen the construction of the Yeoville Recreation Centre Upgrade and the urban environment upgrade of the Fashion District. She is also a director in an international architectural practice, called ATA, which has green/sustainable design at the heart of the practice and focuses on architectural design competitions.

Linda Mvusi

Actress and Architect

Mvusi was the first South African to get a best actress award at Cannes for her role in the film A World Apart. Her performance was thought creditable by Newsweek magazine. Mvusi returned to her profession as an architect and practices with her own company in South Africa. She has worked on the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, where she has been named in an award for excellence (2004) by the South African Institute of Architects. In 2004, Mvusi was working on a new urban development called Fort West in Tshwane.

We are now looking forward to many more women in architecture.

Congratulations to the 2017 winners of Women in Construction Awards.

Most Innovative Women Training Programme Award

  • Robus Engineering Training Services
  • Excellence in Career Development Award
  • NHBRC Women Empowerment Programme

Women in Concrete: Lifetime Achievement Award

Deborah Terhune - Director of Growing Up Africa

Pioneer of Innovation Award

Riefqah Abrahams - Director/Professional Architect of Archi Cape Town

Women in Architecture Award - Sponsord by South African Institute of Architects

Karuni Naidoo - Director/Pr Architect of CNN Architects

New Starter of the Year Award (Under 30 years)

Halima Simtitu - Graduate Engineer at National Housing Corporation in Tanzania

Young Entrepeneur/Rising Star Award (Under 40 years)

Bianca Shakinovsky - CEO of Pentafloor

Woman in Media and Communications Excellence

Mapule Mphaki - Marketing & Media Director - Growing Up Africa

Last modified: 18 January 2018