Nikki Jinka never considered becoming an architect when he was growing up but, as the saying goes, sometimes the profession chooses you.
He is now managing director of the Indigo Kulani Group (IKG), a multi-disciplinary infrastructure development company in the CBD.
“I had no exposure to architecture when I was young, and never knew any architects, but as soon as I walked into that classroom, I was hooked.”
Nikki grew up in Elsies River, and always wanted to be a life saver. “I loved swimming, I loved the idea of being on the beach all day and thought I could make a career of it, but wasn’t sure if it was going to pay all my bills. I also always had an interest in stage make-up. Studying architecture sort of just happened.”
He completed his BTech at CPUT in District Six, and subsequently completed his Master’s degree in architecture at UCT.
He said studying at UCT was difficult, because it highlighted many social inequalities. “It was the first time it was so obvious. It was hard because I often felt like I didn’t fit in, and it reminded me why architecture was such a ‘privileged’ career. As difficult as it was, I finished in hopes of one day being able to make it easier for someone else.”
After he graduated, Nikki worked for an architectural practice in the city centre, and while he learnt a lot, social inequality raised its ugly head again. “Working here highlighted the inequality in our profession, in our city and in our country at large. After a while I decided to go solo, and did some freelance work.”
During this time Nikki also started lecturing on short-term contracts at CPUT that eventually evolved into permanent employment.
“I taught in the ECP – Extended Curriculum Programme. This was right up my alley because it was for students who sometimes were ill-prepared, much like I was. It is what I was most passionate about.
“I wanted to create a space for students who were marginalised and sometimes under-resourced because it addressed the inequalities I’ve experienced throughout my journey as a student as well as thereafter.”
Within seven years, from short-term contracts to full-time employment, Nikki became the head of department (HOD) of the Architectural Technology and Interior Design Department at CPUT.
“My focus as HOD was to balance the scales, to ensure proportionate demographic representation and give all students equal opportunities.
“I know what it is like to be a student who travels by train in the rain, then missing the shuttle and you have to walk up to UCT Upper Campus with the huge bag that architectural students carry around. I most certainly wasn’t the poorest student in my class, but I knew what the disadvantages were of not having all the required resources readily at your disposal, so I understand the plight of students. I tried to be an HOD who could relate to the needs of a student.”
In his personal capacity Nikki also did some research on architecture as a career, investigating who excels, who doesn’t and what potential indicators to look out for. “From what the research suggests, architecture is a microcosm of much broader socio-economic challenges that our country faces.”
While at CPUT, Nikki reignited an old friendship with Sibongile Manganyi-Rath, an ex-classmate who founded the Indigo Kulani Group and grew it into a national success story but never had a branch in Cape Town.
At the time, the company was targeting the Western Cape as its next growth node and he agreed to set up this new office of theirs.
“I told her about my research into the lack of transformation of the profession, and asked if IKG would assist in nurturing young talent that otherwise might be lost. The idea was to establish an office that has (as one of its course functions, and central to its business model) the deliberate intention of making sure students get the training required so that they go back to school and further their studies.
“Although I enjoyed my time at CPUT, I left because I wanted to make a bigger impact in the transformation of the profession, and IKG and its foundation afforded me that opportunity.”
Nikki has worked in the city centre throughout his career, and thinks he is biased when it comes to Cape Town.
“I love this city – I have Cape Town in my blood.” However, he said, over the years it had become expensive to live in the city.
“Again, it shows how skewed society is. Gentrification is a very real and very big problem. People who have lived here for generations are being forced out because it’s just so expensive.
“What’s amazing about the city centre is it’s diversity, and if people are being forced out, we stand to lose its authenticity.”
He said the same thing was happening with large scale developments. “The city centre is often referred to as being conservative when compared to other major cities, but it is because we have a unique relationship with the water, the mountain and the island. It is central to the way we live. “Yes, the CBD is growing, but if we are not careful with the way we respond to the multitude of textures, the complexity of the flavours, and the diversity of the people who live in it, we stand to compromise what inherently makes Cape Town the city we love so much.”