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MSA Baixa de Maputo

MSA stands for ‘Master Studio Afrika’ and is a joint program on architectural master (MSc/MProf) education and research on the Africa city between the Faculty of Architecture of the Eduardo Mondlane University of Maputo (FAPF-UEM), the Faculty of Architecture of the Delft University of Technology (TUD) and the Department of Architecture of the University of Pretoria (UP). The direction and inter-party coordination of the project is in the hands of African Architecture matters.

The first MSA project cycle in 2011 as well as the project preparation in 2010, has been made possibly through the financial assistance of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Maputo. The participating 36 students (27 UEM, 6 UP and 3 TUD) have presented their final master thesis on the Baixa de Maputo. Three workshops took place: a starting up field workshop in Maputo (21.02-05.03.2011), a mid-term review workshop in Pretoria (27-31.2011) and a concluding and evaluation workshop in Delft and Utrecht (24-26.02.2012). The field workshop consisted of exploration of the site, lectures by UEM lecturers and Municipality officers on the Baixa and first direction into research by design on the basis of the base material prepared in 2010. At the Pretoria mid-term review, the research results were presented together with collective urban frameworks and first steps into individual final design projects. Lectures on the Architectural Reading of Maputo, Urban Historic Landscapes, joint studio experiences in Africa and South America and informality in the city centre were delivered by lecturers of UP, TUD and the University of Witwatersrand. The whole group made an excursion to Soweto.

Cooperation between students and tutors was not limited to these two encounters. A weblog was established in March 2011 with a Dropbox to which the students uploaded their work. The repository ( is continuously open to all project stakeholders and regularly updated with new documentation.

In the research-by-design stage and the development of the urban framework, the students work revealed a number of cross-cutting themes that are taken as provisional findings and basis for the research application. The design interventions proposed by the students, on macro-scale (Maputo Municipality-Baixa), meso-scale (neighborhoods) and on micro-scale (individual buildings) address these issues and sometimes propose surprising and realistic solutions.

The following findings were made :

Definition and demarcation of the Baixa de Maputo

  • The Baixa literally is the lower part of the city, in itself subdivided into the Old Baixa, the original island in the estuary, and the New Baixa consisting of mainly reclaimed land.

  • The island quality of the Old Baixa is retained up to date, the Old Baixa still is an island, now within the New Baixa, with its narrow streets and cut-off from the sea.

  • The Baixa is seen as the gentrifying part of the city.

  • The heart of the Baixa is the Square of the 25th of June.

  • The rather extended surfaces of green fields (escarpments) and thinly used brownfields. (FACIM, railroad reserves) to be found within the Baixa providing great opportunities for large scale ecological developments.

  • The poor relation between the Baixa and the sea (except for the eastern part) due to blockage by the port works.


  • Water issue 1: floods caused by failing drainage due to increased hard urban surfaces combined with global climate change.

  • Water issue 2: anticipated shortage of clean drinking water.

  • Water issue 3: anticipated failure of waste water discharge systems.

  • Water issue 4: anticipated sea water rise.

  • Green issue: deterioration of micro-climate due to decrease of tree cover and green areas.

  • Urban Agriculture: to decrease dependency of the Baixa on the hinterland for food.

Public Space

  • The quality of public space is deteriorating due to new walled compounds and impermeable new buildings.

  • The quality of the public space is eroding due to the car traffic and parking, taking over from the pedestrian and the tree.

  • There is room for increased public space within building blocks.


  • An all inclusive mobility plan incorporating all vehicles; pedestrians (priority), private cars and parking (storied parkades), absence of bicycles (strange in a flat area), cruise ships, ferry to Catembe, aircraft approach routes, chapas, the disappeared tramway, train.

  • access ‘gates’ to the Baixa, the connection to the rest of the city and the hinterland.


  • the preservation of the democratic character of the Baixa, inclusion of all population strata.

  • continuity of informality in the Baixa (street vendors, prostitution, homeless).

  • diversity in use of the Baixa (residential, work, recreation).

Architectural character

  • Maputo has its specific typologies, in particular the multi-functional vertically stacked buildings that are so well adapted to the metropolitan character of the city.

  • The hybridity in building heights, the loose and deconcentrated placing of high rise in Maputo

  • The remarkable sense of good architecture from streetscape via building mass to detail in Maputo.

Built heritage

  • The high quantity of valuable built heritage and monuments in the Baixa.

  • The perceived threat of heritage to development and vice versa.

  • Urban Heritage Landscape policies and design strategies.

The findings will be presented in an exhibition and a catalogue in November 2012, on which more news will be unveiled soon.

At the concluding workshop in the Netherlands we came to following observations :

culture of displacement

  • The culture of displacement was commonly thought as main success of the studio. The encounter, dialogue and confrontation with similar challenges at foreign sites, as well as the difference in research and educational culture has reciprocally enriched the tutors and students;

  • Students confirmed that the working in a foreign environment together with the students and tutors from this foreign environment has contributed additional value to their work and learning;

  • the TUDelft students results rank between the best of the year;

  • A questionnaire was circulated amongst the UPretoria students : this culture of displacement, or, as they stated ‘cross cultural exposure’, was for them the greatest asset of the studio;

  • For the Maputo students the same applied, they were especially positive during the mid-way review and workshop in Pretoria.

program and curriculum

  • The year program worked out better than expected, though there were some small hiccups;

  • It appeared that the master graduation curriculae are essentially equal between the universities;

  • The mid way studio Pretoria in August was successful, but late in the process (it was foreseen in Delft in June, but could not take place then due to lack of funds);

  • There were too many students from UEM. To get motivation, financial support to and coordination of the group proved to be too high a challenge;

  • Teaching experiments were valuable but not taken further (the startup sketching commission, Lidy Meijer’s exercise in Maputo, the lectures by experts in Maputo and Pretoria, the excursion to Johannesburg-Soweto).


  • There is no studio thinkable without a central coordinator (was performed by AAM);

  • The web-based communication was not used to its capacity.


  • The master thesis year is agreed as being the best moment in the study, as a year is really minimum to enable exchange and result;

  • The formulation of the research question(s) and deliverables could have been more precise, and was not yet harmonized between the parties

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