Better Living Challenge


Getting to know our Selection Panel: Liza Cirolia

Jun 26, 2014

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll be interviewing members of our Selector Panel to get their views on the challenge and see what they’re looking for from the entries. We also hope to find out more about them and their own work…


When she is not toiling away as a much valued Better Living Challenge (BLC) selector in the Structural Home category, Liza Rose Cirolia is the coordinator of the Sustainable Human Settlements CityLab. The three year project, a collaboration between with the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements and the African Centre for Cities, offers an interdisciplinary and multi-scalar research platform which seeks to co-produce knowledge on housing related issues in South African cities.


An urban planner and housing practitioner, Liza has an undergraduate degree in Development Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as a Masters in City and Regional Planning from the University of Cape Town. Over the past ten years, she has worked with various academic institutions and NGOs in the Bay Area, Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, and Cape Town. Majority of Liza’s work is focused on youth activism, urban citizenship, and, more recently, land and housing challenges.


We sat down for a chat with one of the youngest members of the Selection Panel to discuss sustainable design and the Better Living Challenge (BLC).


What sparked your interest in the Better Living Challenge?

As a housing researcher, I am always interested in cutting edge thinking in the field. I hoped that reviewing proposals for the BLC would give me insight into the most innovative ideas and technologies emanating from the South African design sector.

What, in your opinion, makes a competition like the Better Living Challenge unique?

Many competitions offer prize money to winners. However, the BLC offers a bespoke package of support which can help innovators realise and market their projects.

What are some of the challenges you have faced, or expect to face, in judging a competition such as the Better Living Challenge?

Designers often shy away from rigorous research about the context into which their product might fit. They often fail to thoroughly research why other, often similar and well intentioned/conceptualised products, did not have the market uptake or positive impact that was expected. It was difficult to assess applications which did indeed respond to human/housing need, but had overlooked these issues.

Besides your background in town planning and housing, what other skills have you had to call upon in your role as BLC selector?

It is not always easy to understand the intentions behind someone’s words.  At times, amazing ideas may be constrained by poor writing skills or limited social vocabularies.  Other times, poor ideas may be hidden by snazzy designs.  Focusing on the content and potential of each proposal requires patience, translation, and a genuine desire to understand the core of the product and applicants innovative potential.  These skills are core to my earlier training in facilitation and conflict resolution.

What would you like to see the Better Living Challenge, and/or competitions like it, achieve in the long run?

The BLC is an opportunity to showcase exciting innovations in the field of sustainable living.  It may allow for small developers to overcome some of the capital costs of innovation, broadening the range of choices available to consumers.  These types of programmes form part of a broader paradigm shift towards more sustainable human settlements and urban systems. They supplement the broader systematic and structural changes which need to take place.

What green products or solutions do you use in your own home?

Green products/technologies are only a small part of sustainable living. My sustainable living choices include living in a high-density mixed-income block of flats along a major transportation route. I do not have a car and cycle or take mini-taxis to travel.  Whenever possible, I buy fruit and vegetables from local markets which support farmers and minimize environmental impact (such as packaging and pesticides).


Liza’s expertise in urban and town development is invaluable to the Better Living Challenge selection process and we are thrilled to have her on the team.