“Create inhumane environments, and people will behave likewise”
This session explored the connection between our environment, physical conditions and mental health. Professor Osman stressed the need for anti-fragility, whereby communities, mental health and institutional transformation can cope – and even thrive – because of the volatility caused by a pandemic. In the context of a pandemic, architecture should be seen as a first responder because disease shapes cities. Epigenetics is the study of how the external environment can cause changes to people’s genes and mental health. For many South Africans, their external environment includes exposure to violence, poverty, racism, classism and other kinds of oppression. Much collateral damage has occurred during the transition from one extreme (apartheid) to another (democracy), especially as people have been forced to adjust to these new circumstances without acknowledging the past and how space influences wellbeing. People behave inhumanely in inhumane environments, and so it is not surprising that oppression has had such a large impact on our behaviour and how we relate to one another.
Professor Amira Osman is a Sudanese/South African architect/lecturer/author/researcher. She is currently a professor of Architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology.