Urban areas are complex agglomerations of people, infrastructure, buildings and economies. Multiple flows and processes run through cities from migration to trade and metabolic systems. African cities share many similarities with other urban areas in the world, but are also incredibly varied with notable idiosyncrasies. This panel seeks to explore urban areas as a site for innovation in design and city planning, where new collaborations and approaches tailored to different African contexts have resulted in positive and sustained outcomes.


RAAS Architects: Founder, Chief Architect and Manager

Founder and director of one of the leading architecture firms in Ethiopia, Rahel Shawl prides herself on designing quality building projects and being a leader, mentor, and role model for young architects in her country. 

Shawl cofounded ABBA Architects in 1992 and founded RAAS Architects in 2004. Her collaborative local and international projects employ traditional and contemporary approaches that are true to the environment and its users. Rahel received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007 for her work as the local architect on the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa, and she has been honored by the Association of Ethiopian Architects. Her passion to inspire and share knowledge with architecture students and young professionals led to her inclusion in her book “Temsalet: Phenomenal Ethiopian Women,” and she was appointed Honorary Good Will Ambassador for Zer Ethiopia, an NGO promoting education for girls.

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Urban Law Lab: Founder, Editor

Thomas Coggin is an SJD candidate and Fellow at Fordham University's Urban Law Center. He is a South African lawyer and is the founder and editor of the Urban Law Lab, a collaborative research project which takes a critical approach to understanding the relationship between law, rights, and the urban environment. Prior to joining Fordham, Thomas was a member of the faculty at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where he coordinated and taught the law of Property. He has published in South African and foreign academic journals on property law, the right to the city, and the New Urban Agenda. He previously ran the Urban Joburg blog, which was featured as part the Guardian's Cities Blogger of the Week feature, and he was invited to deliver a TEDx Johannesburg talk on viewing Johannesburg and its urban condition through a rights-based prism. In 2015, he was selected as one of 20 experts worldwide for a UN-Habitat policy unit on the Right to the City and Cities for All, which served to inform member states of the United Nations in their deliberations on the New Urban Agenda. Following this process he had the opportunity in 2016 to present to member states on the role of law vis-a-vis national urban policy.


University of Juba: Acting Director of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning

Justin Tata is the Acting Director of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Juba in South Sudan. He holds several public appointments in land administration. Tata returned to South Sudan just before its independence in 2011 and has been working ever since on its development. His current focus is on the creation of a transport system that will support daily life and the economic cultural development of the world's youngest country.

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Harvard University's Graduate School of Design: Associate Professor of Urban Planning

Michael Hooper is an Associate Professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design (GSD). Prior to joining Harvard, he spent several years working with the United Nations Development Programme, including a year posted to the Kenya Ministry of Planning. Hooper’s research focuses on the politics of housing, land use and urbanization. He currently works on projects related to the themes of displacement, disasters and participatory planning. Hooper has been a visiting research fellow at the University of Oxford and the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. Professionally, he is a chartered town planner in the United Kingdom, a certified planner in the United States and a registered professional planner in Canada. He received the Urban Planning and Design teaching award from GSD students in 2011, 2013 and 2014.