Thabo Lenneiye on PennPraxis, global outreach, and cross-discipline collaboration

The new managing director of The Weitzman School’s PennPraxis is a Penn alum who has worked for years on complex mixed-use development and urban planning projects and spearheading DEI initiatives.

In January, PennPraxis, the applied research, engagement, and practice arm of the Weitzman School of Design, welcomed alum Thabo Lenneiye as its new managing director. For many years, Lenneiye worked on complex mixed-use development, airport, product design, and urban planning projects at Gensler, an international design and architecture firm. During that time, she also played an instrumental role in setting up Gensler’s Africa practice and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work.

After graduating from Penn, Lennieye led a studio with Associate Professor of Practice David Gouverneur that focused on Harare, Zimbabwe, alongside a local university.

Following independence in 1980, Zimbabwe experienced a golden age, when there was a strong desire to build a less racially and economically segregated country. The capital city, formerly known as Salisbury, was renamed Harare, heralding a new dawn,” Lenneiye says.

“Cities, and particularly African cities, are really facing a crisis. It became clear that the challenges that Harare is dealing with, as a result of rapid urbanization, are not entirely unique. Many cities around the world are dealing with this phenomenon. However, what we learned is that cities in the African context are often dealing with these issues in combination with complex spatial histories, nuanced by legacies of colonial design that aren’t always tailored to the local ecological and cultural contexts.

“David and our team of lecturers were very thoughtful in setting up the studio in a way that allowed the students to put aside any preconceived notions about the place, withhold judgement, and approach the challenge with a level of respectful curiosity,” she says. “The students rose to the challenge with an incredible level of kindness and humanity, which translated into trust with local communities, and resulted in deeply thoughtful design proposals.”

When she was a Weitzman student, Lennieye had wondered how PennPraxis might begin to bridge the divide from classroom academic exercise to real world impact.

“PennPraxis has the right elements to be a connector—within the Weitzman School of Design, and across the University—that fosters meaningful cross-disciplinary collaboration and scholarship to truly start to explore ideas and solutions to some of the most pressing problems humanity faces, all with a dedication to bringing a diversity of experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives to the table,” Lennieye says.

“PennPraxis has the opportunity to help prepare students to meet today’s challenges, and prepare them to bring their knowledge, enthusiasm and education to be part of tomorrow’s solutions. I am excited to work with the Weitzman community and the broader university to bring this to fruition.”

Read more at Weitzman News.