Know the City

The City was founded by Zahira Asmal in February 2010. Working out of Cape Town, South Africa, The City celebrates diversity and debate on a cross-continental scale. The City investigates the dynamic cultural, social and spatial activities shaping our contemporary urban consciousness. Through publications, curated experiences and strategic connections, The City disseminates information to targeted groups in the private, public and civic sectors. Harnessing a global network of visionary designers, thinkers and communicators, we develop innovative solutions to social, cultural and spatial challenges. Our work is amorphous, curious, and celebrates multiplicity. We are motivated by the belief that imagination is the key to a shared future.

The City is a space for all.

Through singular publications The City delivers messages to targeted global communities that span the private, public and civic realms.

Stories come to life in The City’s interactive experiences that can be accessed through exhibitions, tours, academic studios and seminars.

The City brokers strategic connections to activate targeted media campaigns, professional profiles and international relations.


Zahira Asmal is a researcher, publisher and curator with a specialist focus on design, democracy and inclusive city-making. She has worked with academics, designers, architects, cultural institutions and governments globally, participating in debates, lectures and dialogues around architecture, culture and city-making. She has a global reputation for initiating and facilitating projects that consider the past influences, present conditions and future possibilities of cities.

Asmal is the director of The City, a research, urban activation and publishing agency. She published her first book, Reflections & Opportunities, in 2012. The book was published in English and Brazilian Portuguese and presented in 17 cities around the world. Asmal’s second book, Movement, was published in 2015. Movement comprises three editions which looked at the social, spatial, political, economic and cultural movements that have shaped the three big South African cities: Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

Asmal is also the director of Designing For All, a non-profit company founded on the belief that good design practice, through ideas, creativity, connectivity, culture and technology, will create inclusive spaces and places for all citizens. She believes that governments globally should procure these directly from entrepreneurs and change makers, rather than through the current model of top-down tender-based systems.

In July 2012, Asmal was selected to represent South Africa at the International Architecture & Design Showcase in London. There, she curated an exhibition titled A Nation Under Construction, telling the story of South Africa’s contemporary urbanism, architecture and social development through portraits, reportage, landscape and cityscape combined with a moving image installation.

Asmal initiated and conceptualised a place-making project that re-imagines under-used and abandoned spaces at Johannesburg’s prominent Park Station, said to be Africa’s busiest transport node, with 1 million people moving through the precinct each weekday. The project seeks to be a benchmark for better design procurement, and better design and management of public infrastructure in South Africa.

Asmal has worked with renowned architect Sir David Adjaye OBE on his book African Metropolitan Architecture and accompanying exhibition Urban Africa. The pair are once again working together, this time on an urban pavilion located at a site of special historical interest in Johannesburg.

Asmal’s current project is See, which explores contested urban histories, the equal representation and memorialisation of heritage and a construction of resilient post-colonial urban identities.

Asmal also serves as the advisor to the Africa Architecture Awards.


Editor, Movement Cape Town (THE CITY, 2015)
Editor, Movement Johannesburg (THE CITY, 2015)
Editor, Reflections & Opportunities (THE CITY, 2012)
Researcher, Adjaye Africa Architecture (Thames & Hudson, 2011)


Participating Artist, Unfinished City – Museum of African Design, Johannesburg 2017
Curator, A Nation Under Construction – International Architecture & Design Showcase (London, UK)
Researcher, Urban Africa by David Adjaye – Design Museum (London, UK)
Research & Development, Europolis by David Adjaye – Manifesta7 (Bolzano, Italy)
Research & Development, Monoforms by David Adjaye – Design Museum (London, UK)

Academic & Design Studios

Global Urbanism Studio, Washington University in St Louis – Cape Town & Johannesburg, South Africa, 2016 & 2017
Harvard University’s Masters degree elective course on 21st Century Architecture of Africa and the Diaspora – Johannesburg, South Africa, 2014
International Connections Programme during the London Design Festival – London, UK, 2013


200 Young South Africans (2012)
Monocle magazine Design Directory (2012)
Design Week Hot 50 List (2011)
Wallpaper* magazine Top 20 (2010)


Freedom, Movement Cape Town
Transition, Transformation, Movement Cape Town
Democracy Movement, Movement Johannesburg
Bold Moves, Movement Johannesburg
Making Form, earthworks
Designing the Future, Honouring the Past – Wanted
, Architectural Review
Arrival City, Icon Magazine
A Point of Departure, Visi
Chance Encounter, Financial Mail Travel
The Potency of Grace, Aerodrome
A Fresh Identity, Financial Mail
Inspired, Design Week
Less can be better, Design Indaba
Conciencia Creativa, Pasages Diseño
Design lights up, Lino
African Abstraction, Elle Decoration

Guest Lectures & Workshops

DutchCulture – Inclusive City making, Amsterdam, Netherlands – 2017
University of Cape Town – Movement Cape Town: Freedom & Agency, Cape Town, South Africa – 2017
Jubilee Church – Re-imagining Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa – 2017
Mobility Indaba (Dutch Consulate) – Advocacy & Political Will, Cape Town, South Africa – 2016
International Architecture Biennale – Global Agents of Change, Rotterdam NL – 2016
Lloyd Hotel & Culture Centre – Movement Cape Town, Amsterdam NL – 2016
University of Cape Town, School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics – Publishing Architecture – 2015
UNIT Aracaju – Bridge to Brazil, Brazil – 2014
Wits Institute for Social & Economic Research – Park Station, Johannesburg, South Africa – 2014
Central University of Technology – Designing Democracy, Bloemfontein, South Africa – 2014
University of Cape Town, Business Science Honors & Postgraduate Marketing – Designing Democracy, Cape Town, 2013
University of Westminster, Namibia & South Africa: Post Colonial legacies, London – 2012
University of Westminster, Expanded Territories colloquium, London – 2012
University of Cordoba, Faculty of Architecture, Urbanism & Design – A Nation Under Construction, Argentina – 2012
University of Buenos Aires, Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism, Argentina – 2012
University of Witwatersrand, Infrastructure of Social Spaces, Johannesburg – 2012
University of Witwatersrand, Sports & Mega events, Johannesburg, South Africa – 2012
ESPM – Reflections & Opportunities: Design, Cities & the World Cup, São Paulo, Brazil – 2012
ESPM Sul – Reflections & Opportunities: Design, Cities & the World Cup, Porto Alegre, Brazil – 2012
Studio X Columbia University- Reflections & Opportunities: Design, Cities & the World Cup, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – 2012
Fundaçao Getulio Vargas- Reflections & Opportunities: Design, Cities & the World Cup, São Paulo, Brazil – 2012
International Travel Show – Designing South Africa, Berlin, Germany – 2011
Vega School of Design – Designing South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa – 2011
University of Witwatersrand, Robbrecht en Daem workshopArchitecture, media & procurement, Johannesburg – 2011
Johannesburg Stock Exchange – Mobility, Access & New Urbanism, Johannesburg, South Africa – 2010
South African High Commission – Designing South Africa, Trafalgar Square, London, UK – 2010

Conferences & Seminars

  1. 100 Resilient Cities Urban Resilience Summit 2017 – “The Future of Cities” – New York City, USA
  2. Africa Architecture Awards 2017 – Making Place in Africa – Cape Town, South Africa
  3. Franschhoek Literary Festival 2017 – Movement of Objects – Franschhoek, South Africa
  4. Open Book Festival 2017: Re-imagining the City – Cape Town, South Africa
  5. The Future of Public Space: African Cities & Public Space 2016, Cape Town, South Africa
  6. Architecture ZA 2015 – Keynote address – Johannesburg, South Africa
  7. XXV International Union of Architects World Congress 2014 – Keynote address, Durban, South Africa
  8. TEDxBelohorizonte 2014, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
  9. Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship 2013 – Keynote address, Cape Town, South Africa
  10. Women Inspiration & Enterprise Conference 2013 – Cape Town, South Africa
  11. Open Design 2013 – Keynote address, Cape Town, South Africa
  12. Pecha Kucha 2011 & 2013 – Cape Town, South Africa
  13. Design Dialogues 2013 – Cape Town, South Africa
  14. EKasi Entrepreneur 2013 – Khayelitsha, South Africa
  15. Think Fest – National Arts Festival 2013 – Grahamstown, South Africa
  16. Creative Cape Town 2011 – Cape Town, South Africa
  17. Design Indaba Expo 2011 – Cape Town, South Africa
  18. Football & Architecture, FestArch 2011– Perugia, Italy
  19. Geopolitics of the new world, FestArch 2011 – Perugia, Italy
  20. Brazil Trade Mission (Department of Trade & Industry) 2011 – Johannesburg, South Africa
  21. Soccerex 2011 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  22. Architecture ZA 2010 – Johannesburg, South Africa


Concurso Internacional Universitario Habitat (2016)
Southern Guild Design Foundation Awards (2015)
Des Baker Awards (2015)
Wallpaper* Urban Hotel Awards (2014)