Masters Dissertation – Milestone 1


“Design, like many things,  is not a linear process…”
(Koning Darth Laubscher,2011)

Only now, in the 13th week of my final year, am I finally feeling like I’m getting into the issue of what I’m really dealing with in my Master’s Dissertation.
Its amazing how much of the time has been spent thinking, writing, discussing and throwing out the multitude of ideas and themes that present themselves in one moment as the salvation of your deadlines worries then quickly become the core of your design thinking struggle.
What has been greatly rewarding is seeing how an idea is formed from the initial spark of interest and through the repetitive process of  moulding, critiquing, reforming it slowly takes shape into something that is worth putting on paper.

The Year Breakdown

The year has been divided, by our fearless leader – one Koning Darth Laubscher, into several Milestone Deadlines. These deadlines are supported by smaller hand in milestones and have had the class on their toes since we started in February.
Although it feels like the order and requirements for each of these submissions is counter to what one feels like doing at the time, it has been remarkable how this ‘un-linear’ process has worked to push the progress of the work to where it needs to be, the words of our critical co-ordinator sound constantly in my mind:
“Design, like many things,  is not a linear process…”

Milestone A –  Critical Review: Precedent Theses

We began the year with a critical evaluation of previous theses submitted by Pretoria Students and compared them to International Theses that we could find.

The University of Pretoria has an amazing database of theses, that are extremely well organised and freely available to anyone.
This resource has been invaluable so far:

Milestone B – Mapping Exercise – Mamelodi vs Menlyn

This was followed by an exercise in mapping, where we examined and discussed the various academic methods of mapping and presented a small experimental mapping exercise.

The experiment my group choose was to attempt to map perceptions of place between Menlyn and Mamelodi.

We set up the narrative of two different people breaking down in their cars and depicted what they saw and felt from two similar vantage points in BP petrol stations in either point and documented the going ons of the station over a 12 hour period.

This was presented in a short video and followed by a series of questions to the class. These answers were then mapped quickly mapped and discussed.

Milestone C – Theory Overview

We were asked to depict and summarise the theories that we had been taught and explored since first year, again, at first we thought was a mundane exercise, but after completion we realised how much we had actually been exposed to over the course of our careers so far, as well as the theories we were going to explore this year.

I presented Ken Yeang’s theories of biological integration of buildings into the environment and cited Simon Van Der Ryn’s writings of Ecological design around buildings, both theorists covering the topics of Deep Ecology.

Diagrams adapted from Ken Yeang’s Eco Masterplanning, 2005 

I also was looking to explore the themes and principles around Open Building and spoke of the work of Nabeel Hamdi and John Habraken.

 Diagrams adapted from Nabeel Hamdi’s Placemakers Guide, 2010
Hamdi Poem from Small Change

This became somewhat of a confidence building exercise, I borrowed the graphic concept from an image I found online, I could not find the original author to reference, but adapted it so display my career thus far.

Mapping of my Career thus Far

We were also required to represent a parti-diagram, which I realise now is more a functional process diagram of how I intended to approach the design

Functional Process Diagram of  my intended approach

Milestone D – Chapter 1: Broad Strokes

The submission had us write out our first chapter, which in a thesis document is intended to explain and set up your entire book – a sort of abstract chapter.

Book Cover : Draft x

By this stage I had decided on working in Mamelodi, and I had a vague impression of how I wanted to explain my ideas.

I knew I wanted my project to deal with some of the issues around developing the previously disadvantaged areas in this country and I felt that I wanted to be involved closely with the chosen client.

I had visited an NGO earlier in the year and while I knew that I wouldn’t work with them, I felt the interview I had with them had started some ideas in my mind.

 Diagram Explaining my idea’s around developmental Aid in South Africa

Still unsure of my focus at this point, I found myself writing a very general description of what I intended to do, although the process of writing opened up my thinking and forced me to start thinking more towards a design problem and a building.

Milestone E – Critical Building Review and Group Site Discussions

Critical Review – As part of our pre-scribed work we were required to write a short article in the same style and format as the Architecture South Africa. It was easy for the class to design a template for this, but the difficulty lay in that we could not write about an already published building.

Site Selection Summary – Closing in on where, what and how I wanted to work, I drew up a good old fashioned SWOT list.

At this stage I was still battling with my site choice and had visited a few sites in the area:

Viva Village is an NGO run by Melonie and Leon Kriel in Mamelodi East. They are very active in aiding the people of this area in developmental aid and several initiatives running at the moment from day care to trade skills training.

Ext 12 was where I discovered a group of guys making bricks with some low cost materials and production methods. This seemed a very interesting place to work and I was quite interested in the idea of brick making and the energies around the production of these bricks.

Eerste Fabriek was a site that another of my group member had chosen, as was well situated in the GAPP framework in terms of future development and contained some very sensitive and beautiful heritage elements.

By now I had been joined by two colleagues in the Mamelodi Labarotory of research and we had been luckily enough to come across GAPP Architecture’s proposed framework for the Mamelodi/Nellmapius area and used that as our basis for the proposal.

We had also decided on some ideas around a group framework, and the themes around the process of manufacture and production emerged as the dominant idea at the time.

Group Concept Diagram

In the end I chose a site adjacent the Pienaarspoort Station, in Mameldoi East after some good advice in regard to working with existing energies and infrastructure, also due to its energy levels around the station, the nature of the housing in the area, and basically a gut feel.

Mamelodi East

Milestone 1 – Concept Presentation

Probably the hardest presentation of my career so far, we had to present our concepts to a jury of externals.

At this stage I’d begun to understand that I was really dealing with aspects of community and how they are more defined through the ideas of a network rather than the current notions of ‘community’.

Visual Thesaurus Diagram of Terms around Community

This process of drawing out exactly what we were going to do and present it was extremely difficult, but through this I reached an amazing level of clarity in my own thinking.

Mind Map of thoughts around Community and Vulnerability at the time

Even though what I presented was not exactly what I was going to do, the act of putting my current thinking on paper and defending it allowed me the freedom to start thinking about how I’m going to intervene on site.

I decided after that presentation to focus on the networks around the brick makers I had met earlier in the year.

Milestone F – Framework Presentations

We had to present our ideas for our framework presentation and summarise how we were going to intervene at an urban level. Because the 3 of us working in Mamelodi were so far apart, we agreed on the points of GAPP’s framework we liked and then each responded individually to our own sites.

Milestone G.1 – Chapters 1-3: Broadstrokes

The last submission of the term was the broad strokes submission of chapters 1-3. Again this process of forcing ideas onto paper has brought me to a clearer stage of thinking.


Moving Forward

Post hand in I’ve begun to start considering the notions of ‘temporal architcture’ for this site.

My gut is telling me that the intervention needs to be designed into many phases with each phase being functionally holistic towards the next:

i.e While working in Slovo Park we designed benches for the mobile clinic, but those benches were designed to support walls later to house the actual clinic e.t.c

So the quick easy phases (required for interventions in economically  vulnerable areas) can be implemented to meet the basic needs while the function remains intricately linked with the space for the next more complex

Within this idea is that of a temporal architecture; the beauty of aesthetic  beautiful lies in its ‘non completness’ the same way that buildings under construction are more interesting and expressive than the complete product.

And that in an area like Mamelodi, this is crucial in order to allow the building to grow with the people’s development and cultivate ownership and meaning towards the structure.

I feel the programme’s around the brick makers and linked construction activities will serve to enforce this idea as well.


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