The inaugural Africa Architecture Awards took place last week at the building of the moment: Cape Town’s Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, the strikingly refurbished grain silo at the V&A Waterfront.

Yet the jury that picked the winners from 21 short-listed entries did not use purely aesthetic criteria to make their final decision, but a system of values and ethics.

The biannual Africa Architecture Awards aim to reward design excellence, but also encourage innovation and create critical debate around issues in the architectural world.

As head of the steering committee Lesley Lokko says, “Could an awards programme that was values-based, rather than criteria-based, provide new and bold forms of expression among African architects?”

Even the sponsors liked the idea of “disrupting things” and doing something differently from other award programmes.

The pan-African awards, sponsored by the 350-year-old French construction group Saint-Gobain, were open to any project executed on the continent, regardless of the architect being African or not.

More than 300 entries from 32 countries were received, from Cape Verde to Angola. The Africa Architecture Awards enjoyed the patronage of influential architect Sir David Adjaye, while Zahira Asmal advised.

The Grand Prix winner (who took away $10,000) also won the Built category: the Umkhumbane Museum, in Cato Manor, Durban, by Choromanski Architects. It is a spherical structure, raised above the landscape like a beacon. Publicly funded, it is responsive to the area’s history of forced removals. It made considerable efforts to involve the local community in its conception and making; residents even helped to lay clay bricks. Read more