Designer Watch – Nicole Moyo: empowering communities through design

Designer Watch – Nicole Moyo: empowering communities through design

December is the month many of us reflect on our past accomplishments and map out new priorities for the coming year. For some serious inspiration in the design for doing good category, we thought we’d shine the spotlight on a particularly bright member of our team. DIALOG urban designer Nicole Moyo was recently invited to present her master’s project at the ICCASU in Cameroon. Smart Urban Development: From Local to Global Actions was supported by the University of Ottawa and The United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat).Nicole reflects on the experience of speaking to UN delegates below, making humble mention of her thesis work (featured in video above). We’ve seen this work, and believe this project should be shouted from the rooftops of the world! It is incredible, inspiring, and has the potential to change the lives of millions. Read Nicole’s reflection below, then KEEP SCROLLING to learn more about her amazing project!






A Reflection on my trip to speak at ICCASU Smart Urban Development: From Local to Global Actions – Nicole Moyo

For three days, hundreds of participants from around the world gathered to identify, strategize, and address international urban-related issues with a concentrated focus on the future of Canadian, Chinese and African cities at ICCASU – Smart Urban Development: From Local to Global Actions.














Never in my wildest dreams did I think this amazing opportunity would come my way. Escaping the cold, thousands of miles away from home in Canada, to Yaoundé, the warm and vibrant capital city of Cameroon, to present my Master of Architecture Thesis Ukubutha (Zulu: meaning To Gather). The research project introduces ways in which global under-developed communities can convert waste-to-energy and empower themselves through a designed, community-led water, energy, and waste system. The presentation received a tremendous amount of support and encouragement to continue the pursuit of its research and development.

The conference could not have been in a better place, as we had chances to witness urbanization and natural systems in Yaoundé that revealed the great challenges and opportunities experienced by cities that are rapidly transforming.

Most of the discussion was around people-centred approaches to urban development in environments that are, and will be, greatly impacted by new technologies. Participants like myself enjoyed workshops and paneled sessions around the implementation of UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda. It is a framework with a set of five strategies that guide cities to plan, manage, and promote sustainable urbanization. In its mandate, safe, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable cities should have:

  1. Governance Structures
  2. Urban Prosperity
  3. Environmental Sustainability
  4. Spatial Development
  5. Social Inclusion

The value of bringing different international perspectives of ministers, researchers, and practitioners together in one place to discuss the existential challenges in our cities cannot be measured. I have learnt that as architects, designers, and planners, we often conform our practices to follow policies around sustainable development. But, as global citizens, we don’t have to wait for policy to inform design. We too should be accountable for creating innovative solutions that inform local and global policies.

This opportunity would not have happened without the tremendous support of family, friends and colleagues at DIALOG. I come back with a new experience and a widened perspective that has fueled my motivation to learn, collaborate and produce work of the highest international quality.

Thesis Project: Ukubutha-Towards a New Social Architecture in South African Townships

Nicole’s thesis, submitted to achieve her Master of Architecture from Carleton University in 2015, sought to investigate an underdeveloped urban community on the periphery of a former township in Pretoria, South Africa. The community is situated along the border of Mamelodi, one the oldest and seventh biggest townships in the country. The township was created under the Apartheid regime specifically for the alienation of physical race and culture residential divisions. Although vibrant with economic and social activity, thousands of people on the site have limited access to adequate sanitation or water, and have no electricity. Ukubutha is a Zulu term meaning to ‘gather’. The project name describes the intentions of an architectural response to crisis. The role of architecture is to mediate between the social needs of township communities without formal access to water, or sanitation and electricity. Although the South African crisis revolves around water and sanitation, Ukubutha recognizes the interconnectedness of needs and activities that improve standards of living.

The project has been covered by Design Indaba (link), and continues to receive well-deserved attention as evidenced by its inclusion at the ICCASU.

You can access the entire thesis here:

Learn more about Nicole on her website:





Leave a comment

That's super that you've decided to leave a comment! Please keep in mind that comments are moderated. So, please don't use a spammy keyword or a domain as your name. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation instead. Thanks for dropping by!