Know the City

Founded by Zahira Asmal in 2010 and working out of Cape Town, The City is a research, publishing and placemaking agency that celebrates diversity and debate on a cross-continental scale. Harnessing a global network of visionary urban designers, thinkers and communicators, we develop innovative solutions to social, cultural and spatial challenges. Our work is amorphous, curious, and celebrates multiplicity.

Motivated by the belief that imagination is the key to a shared future, The City puts ingenuity to work in the built environment through research, publishing, and critical and inclusive engagement. From architecture to design, culture and society, our focus is the making of cities. The City is a space for all.

The City curates interactive experiences (placemaking, exhibitions, urban tours and academic studio events) that bring personal and collective stories to life.

Through deft intersectional publications, The City shares vital information with audiences across the private, public and civic spheres. In addition to books, zines and digital media, we present research-based papers at seminars globally.

The City brokers strategic connections to activate targeted media campaigns, professional profiles and transnational connectivity.


Zahira Asmal is an urbanist. She has worked with designers, architects, academics, cultural institutions, governments and the media globally, initiating and facilitating projects focused on architecture, culture and city-making.

Her first book, Reflections & Opportunities, was published in English and Brazilian Portuguese and was presented in 17 cities around the world. Zahira’s second book, Movement, comprises three editions which looked at the social, spatial, political, economic and cultural movements that have shaped South Africa’s big cities: Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

Zahira is also the founder of Designing For All, a non-profit company founded on the notion that sound policy and practice in the cultural and built environment sectors will create inclusive places for all citizens. The company, through government engagement and collaboration, seeks to improve procurement processes, and better design and management of public infrastructure in South Africa.

In July 2012, Zahira 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.

Zahira initiated and conceptualised a placemaking project that re-imagines underused 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. For this project she has worked with the City of Johannesburg, the Johannesburg Development Agency and the Passenger Rail Association of South Africa alongside a team of built environment specialists.

Zahira has worked with renowned architect Sir David Adjaye OBE on his book Adjaye Africa 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.

Her current project, See, explores contested urban histories, equal representation in the memorialisation of history and the construction of resilient postcolonial urban identities.

Zahira served as the advisor to the Africa Architecture Awards in 2017 and currently serves on the board of advisors for the International Archive of Women in Architecture.

2018 Contributor, Tell Freedom (Kunsthal Kade)
2015 Editor, Movement Cape Town (THE CITY)
2015 Editor, Movement Johannesburg (THE CITY)
2012 Editor, Reflections & Opportunities (THE CITY)
2011 Researcher, Adjaye Africa Architecture (Thames & Hudson)
2007 Producer, Monoforms (Albion)

2017 Participating Artist, Unfinished City – Museum of African Design (Johannesburg, South Africa)
2015 Contributor, Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design – Guggenheim (Bilbao, Spain)
2012 Curator, A Nation Under Construction – International Architecture & Design Showcase (London, UK)
2010 Researcher, Urban Africa by David Adjaye – Design Museum (London, UK)
2008 Research & Development, Europolis by David Adjaye – Manifesta7 (Bolzano, Italy)
2007 Research & Development, Monoforms by David Adjaye – Design Museum (London, UK)

2018 – 2021 International Archive of Women in Architecture
2017 Africa Architecture Awards

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

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

Visibility & Voice in the Creole City
Fostering Inclusive Architectural Atmospheres, Africa Architecture Awards
Architecture in Motion, Elle Decoration
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

2018 Kunsthal Kade – Widening the Scope of History & Memory, Amersfoort
2018 Stellenbosch University – Visibility & Voice in the Creole City, Stellenbosch
2018 Institution for Creative Arts – Heritage, Memory & Making Place, Cape Town
2017 DutchCulture – Inclusive City making, Amsterdam
2017 University of Cape Town – Movement Cape Town: Freedom & Agency, Cape Town
2017 Jubilee Church – Re-imagining Cape Town, Cape Town
2016 International Architecture Biennale – Global Agents of Change, Rotterdam
2016 Mobility Indaba, Advocacy & Political Will, Cape Town
2016 Mobility Indaba, Advocacy & Political Will, Cape Town, South Africa
2016 Lloyd Hotel & Culture Centre – Movement Cape Town, Amsterdam
2015 University of Cape Town, School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics – Publishing Architecture, Cape Town
2014 UNIT Aracaju – Bridge to Brazil, Brazil
2014 Wits Institute for Social & Economic Research – Placemaking at Park Station, Johannesburg
2014 Central University of Technology – Designing Democracy, Bloemfontein
2013 University of Cape Town, Business Science Honors – Designing Democracy, Cape Town
2012 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, Buenos Aires
2012 University of Buenos Aires, Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urbanism, Buenos Aires
2012 University of Witwatersrand, Infrastructure of Social Spaces, Johannesburg
2012 University of Witwatersrand, Sports & Mega events, Johannesburg
2012 ESPM, Reflections & Opportunities: Design, Cities & the World Cup, São Paulo
2012 ESPM Sul, Reflections & Opportunities: Design, Cities & the World Cup, Porto Alegre
2012 Studio X Columbia University, Reflections & Opportunities: Design, Cities & the World Cup, Rio de Janeiro
2012 Fundaçao Getulio Vargas, Reflections & Opportunities: Design, Cities & the World Cup, São Paulo
2011 International Travel Show, Designing South Africa, Berlin
2011 Vega School of Design, Designing South Africa, Johannesburg
2011 University of Witwatersrand, Robbrecht en Daem workshop, Architecture, media & procurement, Johannesburg
2010 Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Mobility, Access & New Urbanism, Johannesburg
2010 South African High Commission, Designing South Africa, Trafalgar Square, London

2018 CoCreate Design Festival, Cape Town
2017 100 Resilient Cities Urban Resilience Summit, New York
2017 Africa Architecture Awards, Cape Town
2017 Franschhoek Literary Festival, Franschhoek
2017 Open Book Festival, Cape Town
2016 The Future of Public Space: African Cities & Public Space, Cape Town
2015 Architecture ZA, Keynote address, Johannesburg
2015 XXV International Union of Architects World Congress, Keynote address, Durban
2014 TEDxBelohorizonte 2014, Belo Horizonte
2013 Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Keynote address, Cape Town
2013 Women Inspiration & Enterprise, Cape Town
2013 Open Design, Keynote address, Cape Town
2013 Pecha Kucha, Cape Town
2013 Design Dialogues, Cape Town
2013 EKasi Entrepreneur, Cape Town
2013 National Arts Festival, Grahamstown
2011 Creative Cape Town, Cape Town
2011 Design Indaba Expo, Cape Town
2011 Football & Architecture, FestArch, Perugia
2011 Geopolitics of the new world, FestArch, Perugia
2011 Brazil Trade Mission (Department of Trade & Industry), Johannesburg
2011 Soccerex, Rio de Janeiro
2010 Architecture ZA 2010, Johannesburg

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