UJ Creativity Week/ Vertical Studios: 2013 – 2015

My first teaching role at the Faculty of Art Design & Architecture was dropped into my lap by Suzette Grace. By throwing me into the deep end of arranging a week long introductory week for the entire department of Architecture, she effectively kick started my teaching career. Thank you Suzette 😉

Creativity Week/Vertical Studios

The Creativity Weeks/Vertical Studios were meant to be a week-long participative event kicking off the year with a series of interactive and challenging exercises that bring together the current and new students of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg – across all years of study. The assignments are intended to take students into exciting parts of the city and explore/re-discover spaces in the City of Johannesburg.

They were meant to be a fun ‘orientation week’ for the start of the new year that allowed students to do something creative, fun and together for the start of the year. I used the oppurtunity as a way to explore some of my own interests in inner-city Jozi.

Creativity Week 2013

This first year I worked within an existing partnership between Dr. Barbara HoltmannEmma Holtmann and UJ, as well as employing the precedented work of the Creativity Week 2012 by Eric Wright . The week long programme was intended to facilitate the introduction and further development of Architectural thinking, doing and problem solving in Johannesburg’s dynamic inner city spaces – while bringing together the students from the various years. This facilitation the exposed the students to the larger strategies of the stakeholders involved in this area.

Students were asked to take part in the week long exposure to the inner city and the project partners that was facilitated by Dr. Barbara HoltmannJoburg Child Welfare and Joburg Region F who brought together government, business and NGOs in the inner city. This collaboration aimed at bringing about a systemic transformation of the neighbourhood surrounding and including the Old Drill Hall, which is the site of Joburg Child Welfare’s Thembalethu project.

By focusing on “what-it-looks-like-when-it’s-fixed” and co-creating a shared vision for the future of the inner city based on integrated approaches and partnerships, the process promotes change in three primary and inter-connected areas: health and wellness, access and mobility in the city and in supporting the city’s programmes.

Day 1 & 2:

The week began with the FADA Auditorium introduction, followed by group division and the first bus trips to the site. On site we were met by JMPD and the Best Life project co-ordinators.

DAY 3:

With the previous day’s elective’s workshop’s guiding them, the students then focussed in on their specific areas of interest and gathered on site data to begin their intervention proposals.

The purpose of the exposure and facilitation now being focussed around the question of how the students can use their skills as designers to improve the spaces they were tasked to engage with – and present their ideas to the group of stakeholders made up of city officials and academics.

DAY 4 & 5:

The students now were allocated time to work in their multi-year groups and produce the necessary documentation and presentation products to express their ideas.

Each group was led by a pair of BTech students who had been guided by Dr. Holtmann’s workshop to lead their younger members towards the outcomes and observations discussed on Day 2.

Final Presentation

The MTech 1 students were asked to critique the groups (A-I) and each group presented for 10 minutes to the student panel. Of these 9 groups, 6 were chosen to present to the stakeholder panel scheduled for the afternoon session and 3 prizes were chosen by the MTech panel:

The stakeholder panel; made up of City of Johannesburg officials, academics and welfare staff, were very impressed with the enthusiasm and quality of the student work and their presentation. They called for the work to be taken further and discussed finding a way to present this to the mayor.

Staff members pledged to try and facilitate future engagement with stakeholder panel by aligning their academic programmes to support the work. The students expressed their interest in taking the work further, possibly in their own capacity, and seemed to enjoy the week’s programme. A working relationship is being established with the stakeholder at the moment.

At the closure of the presentations a small function was held in the FADA basement parking, where the prizes were awarded and the students completed the week’s event – arguably the most important part of the week’s activities.


Vertical Studio 2014

The Vertical Studio was the evolution of Creativity Week based on the new undergraduate framing structure of the department. This year students worked alongside Thiresh Govender and Katharina Rohde in line with their PublicActs initiative.


PublicActs is a practice-based investigation into urban matters with a focus on cities in the global south. PublicActs brings together various creative disciplines such as artists, architects, urban anthropologists or geographers to connect with communities and actors on site. In collaborative processes public spaces are creatively audited in order to implement sustainable strategies for an adequate architecture and urban design. For more information: www.publicacts.org

PublicActs employs various methodologies and tools to interrogate and explore public space:


These sites are characterised as being: large and dramatic in scale, highly specialised, singular ownership, dedicated used, exclusive (sometimes), grand, controlled accessibility (sometimes).

Examples include: Mary Fitzgerald Square, Bank City, Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, Monte Casino.


These sites are part of our everyday experiences and are characterised as being: accessible, open, transient, emergent, imagined, appropriated, contested, negotiated, intimate, multiple narrative, intensely used.

Examples include: a street, a taxi, markets,parks,squares…


These sites are new and unexpected which have emerged through innovative and/or survivalist responses to urban space. They are characterised as being: open, vague, abandoned, repurposed, inbetween, placeless, emergent, transgressive.

Examples include: under bridges, pathways, rooftops, open spaces, sidewalks.


These are not so much sites as moments where ‘public-ness’ is constructed. They come in to being for a short space of time due to some or other urban condition. They are characterised as being; spontaneous, creative, inter-active, social…

Examples include: sidewalk cafes, pop-up enterprises, trading moments…


These sites are closely associated with places of civic power and are characterised as having important public, social importance and gravitas. These are spaces where the voices of a democracy can be articulated and heard by those chosen to represent a society. They are characterised as being: harsh, concrete, exclusive, narrow…

Examples include: Constitutional Square, the Magistrates Court, Joburg Civic Centre Forecourt, The Supreme Court (Von Brandis Square), The Family


The 2014 UJ Vertical Studio adopted these methodologies and tools of PublicActs to explore the City of Johannesburg. Students will be exploring 7 identified zones in the city, using various forms of media to create a grounded and critical perspective on public space, identify spatial issues and propose a concept solution to address this.

Using the idea of selfies and space students were set the task of exploring the city on foot to take these ‘spacies’ while employing different forms of transport through a treasure hunt type event.

The students then were asked to explore the 7 themes through a set of ‘ironic’ post cards

Vertical Studio 2015

The fial year I ran this programme, we extended the brief into a more creative field, and worked with Eduardo Cachucho through his Derive App.

Student Instructions

Johannesburg’s inner city represents one of the most diverse cross-sections of contemporary South Africa in less than 5 square kilometres of concrete skyscrapers and bustling streetscapes.

From hipster’s to migrant workers, a vast array of characters unknowingly work together to make up a dynamic inner city ecosystem that represents the heart of the strongest metropolis in Africa.

As practitioners of space, we often  (sometimes intentionally) are distanced from the palimpsest of narratives that give meaning and value to the spaces we overlook daily – these stories that thrive within the interwoven networks and individuals that pulse through the CBD hold the potential to reveal new understandings of how a contemporary city in modern South Africa  flourishes.

Your task this week is to dive head deep into the complex spaces that make up the CBD and imagine what possibilities these stories hold for an ever changing city that still draws scores of hopeful urbanites to its lights. Using the Derive App (http://deriveapp.com/s/v2/) you will explore the city and collect objects, experiences, stories, characters. Then as a group  you will transform these findings into a short story of your own –  projecting 50 years in the future.

The first 2 days will have you engaging in the city with the Derive App. Once you have collected your story elements, you will then spend the next 2 days working towards building these elements into a narrative – projecting your story 100 years into the future.
Your story must focus on a character/characters and their relationship to the space you are designated too. The intention behind this task is to explore how people define their spaces in the city.

You may choose any form of narrative device from the list, which you will present to a panel of judges on Friday, followed by prize giving/party in the FADA Building Basement.

Task Description:

As a group you will choose one person to use their smart phone, and log into the Derive App. Once you are in your designated zone, you will log into the Vertical Studio Week Group and use a deck of 50 cards to collect your story elements.

Each person in the group must choose their documentation tool, all tools must be used in the groups.

  • Instagrammer
  • Tweeter
  • Sketcher
  • Videographer

Each group must use their specific hashtag #ujvertstudio_8

You may use any media to tell your story:

  • Film
  • Storyboard/ Graphic Novel
  • Story (oral/written)
  • Performance/Song
  • Photo Essay
  • Other?
Prize Categories:
  • Best film
  • Best photo essay
  • Best graphic novel/Storyboard
  • Best Performance/Song
  • Best Other
Student Submissions


Running these programmes was extremely rewarding, challenging and just good fun. It gave me the necessary exposure to grow and develop as a young teacher and urbanist,.

My intention for 2016 was to return this opportunity to the next round of younger early staff members who has helped me run these this programme along the way (Joana Ferro, Blanca Calvo, Tuliza Sindi, Sanjay Jeevan, Sumayya Valley amongst many others), but due to the dynamics of the school – this was not allowed and the programme became something very different.