Lunar Haven – Research Centre, Moon

South Africa is rising as an unprecedented global power in terms of humanity and in terms of architecture. The younger generation of architects is not only showcasing immense creativity, but also thinking futuristic to implement in their design creations. The GEN Z Series travels from Sofia, Bulgaria to Gauteng in South Africa to meet the 2023 graduated Master of Architecture Ronel van Rhijn from the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein. Bloemfontein happens to be the Capital of the Free State and the Judicial Capital of South Africa.

A Visitors’ City on the Moon

Ronel van Rhijn reveals, “I was born and raised in Gauteng, South Africa. After school, I moved to Bloemfontein to pursue architecture. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture in 2021. In 2023, I completed Master of Architecture at the University of the Free State. Interestingly, I met my husband at the university (smiles). I am the youngest in our small family. My elder sister pursued Law. My mother is a social worker. My father is an engineer. Being the first in my family to pursue a creative occupation, I am excited to start my career as a professional architect (smiles).”

3D Floor Plan

Ronel van Rhijn comes across as a lively and passionate soul, who wanted to be a rock star and a pilot during her growing up years. However, architecture allured her as destined. She has recently joined Richter and Associates Architects in Pretoria, Gauteng, as a Candidate Architect.

Johnny D has an interesting interaction with Ronel van Rhijn to explore her journey into architecture and her magnificent futuristic thesis ‘Lunar Haven – Research Centre, Moon’.


What was your childhood ambition? Have you always wanted to become an architect?

Growing up, I had never considered architecture. Considering everything else, from becoming a rock star to a pilot, I enjoyed life as an artist. When I entered High School, I chose art as one of my subjects. This is where I discovered my creative and artistic inclination. Eventually, I chose to study architecture full-time and pursue art part-time (smiles).

Floor Plan

How has architecture influenced your life as a student?

When I started to study architecture, I knew nothing about the field. I never realised how beautiful buildings can impact our daily lives. For the first time, I started noticing the buildings around me and discovered my passion for creating beautiful surroundings. It was a significant period of growth and very hard work with virtually no time for anything else, as the course was very demanding, but worth it (smiles).

Stargazing Area

Briefly tell us about your University and the Master’s Course.

The University of the Free State produces very sought-after professionals in the Architecture industry. I consider myself very privileged to have studied there. Our Master’s Course was a one-year full-time course, where we could choose any project brief and site. Not all universities in South Africa give their students this type of freedom at the Master’s level. For this, I am very thankful.

Free Fall

Briefly describe the significance of your project with the ‘Title of the Project and Site Location’.

The title of my project is ‘Lunar Haven – Research Centre, Moon’. It is a visitors and research centre on the Moon. I have envisioned the future with my project. It is set for the year 2100, when commercial space flights has become a buzzing industry. It is imagined what a future visitors’ or research centre on the Moon could look like. With world-renowned architecture firms collaborating with international space agencies on space architecture, and the ongoing developments of NASA and SpaceX, the potential identity of ‘Lunar architecture’ is explored through my project.

Space Hotel

This explorative thesis transcends the boundaries of traditional design, embracing the challenge of replicating Earth’s comforts and familiarity on the Moon. It invites visitors on an extraordinary journey to a world where technology sustains life. The Earth hangs in the distant sky and the Moon’s reduced gravity offers unique opportunities for exploration.


The project delves into the intricate details of providing essential services such as food, water, oxygen, sewage management and power on the Moon. Through science and architecture, the vision harmoniously combines functionality with an immersive visitors’ experience.

Aquaponics Area

The site is located within a Lava tube. Lava tubes are formed during some extraordinary lava flows caused by a volcanic eruption. As lava flows down a path, the outer layers of the lava cool down first and start to solidify into rock. The core that is still molten lava continues to flow, leaving behind a hollow tube-like shape. The size of the lava tube is approximately 1,300 m in length with an average width of 300 m and an average height of 80m.

Bowling Alley

Which National or International architect has inspired/influenced you? Please specify why.

The futuristic designs, style and parametric applications by UNStudio (founded by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos) have influenced me greatly. Even before my Master’s project, I would frequently use their projects for inspiration and as precedent studies. SOM – Skidmore Owings & Merrill inspired me to embark on this specific project. Recently, SOM together with the European Space Agency had presented a detailed scale model of their “Moon Village”, during the ‘Life beyond Earth’ exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale. It comes to show the growing interest in space architecture.

Living Pods Construction

As an Intern, what is the most important lesson(s) you have learned from senior architects while being a part of a project?

I have very little experience in an office, as an Internship was never a mandatory requirement at our university. In the few weeks of practical experience I do have, the senior staff helped me gain self-confidence and taught me how important it is to believe in what you do. I also learnt how to consult with both easy and more difficult clients.


Will the younger generation of architects make innovative changes to mitigate the catastrophic effects of the Climate Crisis? Elucidate your perspectives.

As creative as architects are, the climate crisis we face is extremely complex. Collaboration between various professions is required of which architecture is a part. I do believe in responsible design and building methods. I do believe Gen Z architects care enough to make efforts towards sustainable architecture and creative solutions to combat the crisis.


Which significant aspects of the global platform ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ did you like the most, and why?

It is amazing to see upcoming architects’ talents displayed for the world to see. Plenty of platforms focus on the work of established architects, but ‘zerobeyond – the new frontier!’ gives great opportunity to graduates with a much-needed global exposure to build their confidence. I hope to see more platforms like this in the future, where younger talents are showcased.


Local charm of cities has diminished due to Modern Architecture as every city looks alike and similar. How should architects/urban planners/landscape architects modernize cities, while maintaining the local charm?

I believe this is where culture and local materials play a significant role. Instead of a global style that Modern architecture strived for, architects should use the rapid advancements in the field as a continuation of vernacular or local architecture. If designers can achieve contemporary and new versions of traditional architecture in their respective cities, the architectural identity can remain intact while advancing the field.

Exploded View of Construction Details

Looking at the past in the current present, what are the futuristic architectural changes you would like to see in your home city/town? Elucidate the reasons for your vision.

In Bloemfontein, there is very little happening architecturally. The design of most new buildings seems to be driven by cost. I would like to see the same type of futuristic and award-winning architecture that are currently present in our Capital city, Pretoria, to be erected in Bloemfontein. To see individual and artistic expression also be given priority, I would like to see the architecture of Bloemfontein move beyond functionality and budgetary constraints and start to produce a variety of interesting and explorative buildings.

Futuristic Vision

Image Courtesy: Ronel van Rhijn

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