Mokena Makeka

Special Advisor to the Vice President of Academic Affairs

Mokena Makeka is an award-winning architect and globally recognized expert in urban design and strategy. As Special Advisor to the Vice President of Academic Affairs (VPAA) of The Cooper Union, Makeka works in close partnership with the Acting Dean of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture to advance pedagogical and interdisciplinary innovation centered on pressing issues including climate change, sustainability, social and economic justice, and accessibility. In coordination with the VPAA, he also collaborates with the School of Art, the Albert Nerken School of Engineering, and the Faculty of the Humanities and Social Sciences, when appropriate.

Makeka, who was raised in Lesotho and New York, brings to Cooper extensive, global experience in architectural practice and higher education with a focus on design and regenerative development, inclusive economies, geo-political economics, and the post-colonial landscapes of the African continent and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Committed to social transformation and cities of spatial and ecological justice, his creative leadership spans infrastructure, urban development, climate-smart design, land use planning, rural development, communications, and transportation. Through his passion for just ecology, he has been an esteemed educator and a leader for the integrated system thinking of land-based natural environments. His expertise touches on landscape, design and innovation strategy, afforestation, combatting soil erosion, and sustainable agro-forestry and carbon. He is the co-chair of the 2021 global Stakeholder Dialogue on mass timber building materials under the Climate Smart Forest Economy Program, and a thought leader on bio-economics and climate-smart cities. His work is focused on “the future of living according to one world” principles (Makeka 2022).

Prior to his role at Cooper, Makeka was a principal at Dalberg Advisors where he served as office director for Southern Africa. He is a board member of the Green Building Council of South Africa, president of the South African Institute of Architects, a past member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Design, and a member of the WCS Young Leaders in Urbanism (Singapore). In 2002, he founded the international, award-winning architectural and urban planning firm Makeka Design Lab/Works. Over the years, he has led design and advised on various urban, cultural, and public infrastructure projects in Lesotho, Madagascar, Tanzania, South Africa, and China, including Cape Town Station (2007-2016), Cape Town International Convention Center (2017), and Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront Silo district (2017). He was selected as one of the Ordos 100 architects by Hertzog & De Meuron and Ai Wei Wei.

Makeka has taught as an adjunct professor in The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture (2020-2021) and at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) at Columbia University. He was the Azrieli Visiting Critic of 2020 at Carleton University School of Architecture and Urbanism in Canada and is a 2014 recipient of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow. He holds a B.Arch (Hons) from the University of Cape Town and various executive leadership qualifications from the Harvard Kennedy School, Oxford University (Saïd Business School), and Wits University.

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  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.