Mokena Makeka is an award-winning, visionary architect. Being defined rather as an Urban Thinker, he is one of the greatest architects of his generation and is progressively shaping the built environments of South Africa. His dreams are big, but so is his ability!
My Definition of Success | My original measure of success may seem quite egotistical in retrospect, but I needed to be the best designer in my unit as a student. I wanted to hold my own conceptually, intellectually and aesthetically. I needed to disprove the idea that black incompetence was the norm. I wanted to be taken seriously. I needed to find an indisputable sense of self-worth, I had to face my insecurities, and I wanted to be a leader and a voice in my field. I needed to make an impact. I wanted to be an agent of transformation.
Has Your Definition Changed As You Have Got Older | Yes. Success is about making a difference. In a country where prejudice is never far, making an impact is about demonstrating through professionalism and integrity that prejudice cannot be justified. We all have the capacity for excellence, if we are exposed to the right mentors and environment. So success at first was about me, now it’s about how I help others. Nothing makes me happier than bringing joy to other people through design. Success is using your talent for the common good. Our gifts are given to us to be shared and not hidden. Success is nurturing and developing people.
What Drives Me | As an architect, I always have to imagine and project forward…it’s like being a fortune teller. However I live in the moment, and try to live every moment as if it’s my last. The joy of seeing a building come out the ground, the surprise when’s client finally understands your vision, making spaces and places which inspire people. Thinking that my children will be able to point to my work and say- my father thought of that… I also believe that function without beauty is failure, a job half done. I am a glutton for learning. So every project becomes a journey, a challenge.
My Highlights | Being published nationally for my architecture whilst still a student. Winning an architecture award before I turned 30, when all my lecturers told me I will do nothing of consequence until I reach my fifties. Starting my practice from scratch as a student without a single cent or loan. Traveling to Rio, New York, london, Beijing, Shanghai, Bologna, Milan, Toronto, Dar Es Salaam and Cairo on the back of my design skill and being asked to share my ideas. Very humbling. I have recently been made adjunct professor of architecture at the prestigious Columbia University in New York, and am a father of two lovely girls.
The Difference Between good And Great | Greatness is about character, being good is about your training. Big difference.
My Key Talent | Resilience/stamina. I am not motivated by the pursuit of material wealth. This is liberating. I compare myself to the best, and although I often come short in my own estimation, I don’t drop my standards to suit. Supporting diversity and remaining open minded. I never underestimate anyone I meet, and this allows me to remain in a constant state of discovery. Curiosity is indispensable. And I´m not fearful of change. I am not afraid to think.
My Advice For Achieving Greatness | Build a network of opinionated and curious friends. Asking questions but do not necessarily accept the answers. Never take yourself too seriously, and accept there is always someone smarter than you in close proximity. Have an ethical core to streamline your options, and enjoying success is a right and not something to be shy about. Live your life with zest, try and make sure there is always someone smarter, more creative, or more disciplined than you in the room. Don’t overstay your welcome. Accept that some people may be blinded by the fury of your light. Not everyone is meant to understand or value you. Plant seed in fertile soil. Time is precious. Respect it. I am bad at remembering people’s names, but I always remember their actions. Somehow that’s more important. Be memorable, don’t just be present. When people attack you, it’s often because of their envy and insecurity. Never make an idol of anyone- we are all dust and shadows in the end. Stand your ground.
Principles I Live By | Minimize harm. Seek to inspire. Shun mediocrity. Be vigilant against prejudice and remember we all carry our wounds in different ways. Be remembered for good things. Laugh…laugh…laugh…and laugh again. But if someone crosses you don’t hesitate to strike back. The world is a tough place. The Makeka family motto – “Love with passion and guard your loves jealousy. Those who oppose love are your enemies. Destroy your enemies completely.
Characteristics of Success | Rigor. A spirit of enquiry. The love of books and film. Know your limits to reach them, and break them if you can…if you can’t move on and find other frontiers.
Lessons I Have Learnt | The first lesson is that the world is not a meritocracy. Progress is as much an outcome of circumstance, enthusiasm and a healthy dose of fearless naïveté. This is quite a challenge if you were raised on the narrative of hard work and education as being synonymous with success, they are merely doors, they don’t guarantee success. However hard work and education are the two best tools to reinvent yourself and find opportunities in unexpected places.
Dealing With Doubt | Too many times to count. Fear is a constant state of being. But I convert uncertainty and fear into fuel for action. I thrive on self doubt. But I refuse to let negativity become a part of my life. Negativity is counterproductive, but fear can make you a survivor. I refuse to be too comfortable.
Resources I Use | Hip hop, gym…fictional novels, sci-fi movies..twitter!
The Meaning Of Life | Life is fleeting, do your best with what you have. And follow your heart.
The Best Advice I Have Received | “Come on, I know you can do better,” “never leave a meeting, a conference or any public event, without saying something intelligent. Make sure you are remembered and have an impact wherever you go.” Don’t be ambiguous about what you want.
On Getting Rich | Talk to wealthy people…but be wary of their values. Wealth and ethics are rarely good bedfellows.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | A better Africa, great architecture. To be a model for others. To feel I made a difference. To be a symbol of pride for my family, my people and the public…