Touching the Earth Lighlty

Touching the Earth Lighlty
Material roots. ©
Touching the Earth Lightly focuses on material prototyping in the context of the climate crisis, and dwindling resources.

Malmö, Sweden
a is a Malmö/Cape Town based architectural practice, operating at the nexus of socially engaged and transcultural design.
Team members
Tomà Berlanda
Sunniva Berlanda Viking
Field of work
Architecture, Urban planning, Landscape architecture, Ecology, Research
Project category
Rural spaces
Project submitted

a is a Malmö/Cape Town based architectural practice established in 2019. Its co-founders are Sunniva Berlanda Viking, an architect, urban designer, and Africanist, and Tomà Berlanda, a Professor of Architectural Technology at the Politecnico di Torino and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town, combine a formal education as European architects with a lived experience in eastern and southern Africa.

a straddles multiple forms of practice, pedagogy and scholarly research that have helped its co-founders develop and articulate the position they speak from, centred around notions of land and community. By operating at the nexus of socially engaged and transcultural design, the studio’s intention is to experiment with a multiplicity of forms, negotiating local and foreign building techniques.

a believes it is architecture’s responsibility to imagine spatial infrastructures where services to be delivered play an integral role in redressing environmental, economic, and racial injustices. The practice posits one should interweave material co-production and translate the notion of dispersion across barriers, to achieve the spatial, and social, contract that is necessary to fight the planet’s inequality, and climate emergency

a’s work has been recognised and presented in various fora, including the 2019 Oslo Architecture Triennale, 2021 Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, and the 2024 UIA conference.

Maintaining that there is no distinction between theory and practice, a’s intention is to privilege design explorations and studies that are formed out of, and responsive to, their sites and environments. In working with communities, the engagement has been one that has allowed for co-production and knowledge exchange. From the onset the engagement with the common ground pivoted around the social fabric of the people inhabiting it.

Touching the Earth Lightly proposes to learn from the conceptual framing of an iterative design process, by highlighting one of the studio’s projects, the design for community centres dedicated to early childhood development (ECD) in rural Zambia. The scheme started as a prototyping experiment for UNICEF Zambia in 2019, and has since been replicated 11 times. Currently the practice has just completed the revision of the design for 40 more iterations. Conceived of as social landscapes of care, the centres benefit existing cultural practices, bringing new spatial perspectives, and augmenting educational and agricultural capacities.

a crafted the position to Touch the earth lightly, in order to focus on material prototyping in the context of the climate crisis, and dwindling resources. By recognising how colonialism had found in the modernist project a strong partner in the shaping of the global South, the studio’s work weaves together ethics and justice as form of repair.

Being interested in the way people live and give form to their shelters translates into a series of design moves. By testing the role of design as a metaphoric loom, each project becomes the anchoring point where services can be delivered, promoting resilience and social transformation, using a language of scarce material resources, and planting the seeds for an evolving, living ecosystem.