Marlboro South, the University of Johannesburg & the (in)formal Studio

The MWCC working with CORC technical member
This story covers my involvment in Marlboro South with the Marbloro South Warehouse Crisis Committee (MWCC) in 2012/2013 while working at the South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance (SASDI)

This is essentially a photo essay of the events from my perspective, with supplemented referenced links from on-line sources, that depicts my involvement in the MWCC’s processes during this period.

Socio-Technical Support – May 2012

Marlboro settlement profile from South African SDI Alliance on Vimeo.

I began working in Marlboro South after taking the position of socio-technical support at the SASDI. Operating through the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) my task was to support the MWCC in their technical needs while they worked through the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) in lobbying local and national governments in the face of eviction threats around their rights to occupy the abandoned (some) warehouses in Marlboro South‘s industrial belt. 

The MWCC in action
Marlboro South Industrial Belt
The MWCC had been established after a fall out with various civil and local authority groups who had negotiated for the residents on their behalf to their right to occupy the warehouses.
The MWCC working with CORC technical member
As Socio-Technical support a large part of our our job consists of being in leadership meetings.

In total the MWCC represented 53 occupied warehouse who spatially had re-furbished factories ‘abandoned’ during the violent periods in Marlboro South during the early 1990’s.

Some warehouse were occupied with minimal changes
Other warehouse were completely adapted internally

While other had their internal delivery yards converted into housing.
At the time, I had just taken over from a former colleague, Jacqueline Cuyler, who had recently completed a temporary housing solution for residents under the MWCC while working for CORC in response to an earlier illegal eviction with the MWCC weeks before.
These temporary houses were part of the SASDI’s Community Upgrade Finance Facility (CUFF) project process, and were intended to house MWCC members while the leadership engaged the powers that be.
The idea of what is considered temporary emerged many times during my work in Marlboro South. These structures were erected in less than 3 days and were later dissembled in a shorter time, but are considered permanent by most institutional bodies for very obscure reasons.
What is interesting is which elements of the houses are considered crucial such as the stoep’s – an important social space – that doubles as structural stabilisation and a weather foot. As well as numbers and entrance features when built at this speed and for this purpose.
Retail and other business opportunities are quickly seized upon.
My first project was to help in a savings group that was looking to install a new toilet through the CUFF process. This involved assisting with the design, costing and facilitation through the various social processes that the SASDI work through.
Intern on site in Marlboro South
During this time I held a dual position between the University of Johannesburg (UJ) as a part time lecturer and researcher while working at the SASDI, and as part of my interest in developing and sharing socio-technical spatial design skills (1:1 Student League) I would bring interested students to various meetings to expose them to these complex spaces.
Students from the 1:1 Student League visiting an occupied warehouse
The University of Johannesburg’s (in)formal Studio – July 2012
Alex Opper, co-ordinator of the Masters in Architectural Technology programme at UJ has been collaborating with various professionals (26.10′ South Architects), NGO’s (the SASDI) and cultural institutions (Goethe Institute) to develop  interesting and relevant student brief’s through what they have now collectively referred to as the (in)formal Studio which include UJ staff Eric Wright and Claudia Morgado who practice as BOOM Architects.
1:1 – Co-FounderJacqueline Cuyler, with MWCC member waking the various sites in Marlboro South
The (in)formal studio undertook their first project in 2011 in Ruimsig, working with SASDI members, and sought to continue the project in 2012 in Marlboro South with the MWCC, and I was charged by the NGO with facilitating the relationship.
UJ lecturer Alex Opper and Architect Thorsten Deckler walk through Marlboro South with ISN memeber Albert Masibigiri

The challenge in developing the brief, was to satisfy the academic nature of a Architectural investigation into a complex socio-political environment with the crucial needs of such residents in their potentially un-spatial requirements.
My dual position between  UJ and the SASDI allowed me to play an important role in facilitating the needs of the MWCC while assisting in the development of the brief for UJ’s Architecture Department.
Working at the 26.10′ South Architect’s with Anne Graupner, Alex Opper, Claudia Morgado, Eric Wright and Thorsten Deckler to develop the brief
What emerged was an incrementally structured brief that broke down the site of investigation and design into 3 scales of research and intervention that eventually culminate into a potential architectural product that was the sum of an intense process of engagement with and for residents and the MWCC members.
The studio was then broken into sections of engagement on a weekly basis from large scale land use analysis to participative mapping site scale mapping all the way down to life-world analysis of individual residents of Marlboro South warehouses. This was done in mixed teams of post graduate and undergraduate students and Marlboro residents under the guidance of the SASDI Alliance.
Extract from UJ brief (University of Johannesburg, 2012 Brief Hand Out)
The studio was arranged with weekly meetings in both the settlement site and the University studio on campus, this was done in order to share the spatial realities of both participating groups.
Members of ISN and MWCC arriving at UJ
UJ Students arriving in Marlboro South
Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students

Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Students were then divided into smaller groups and asked to determine site specific design intervention solutions at a framework level and present this back to the MWCC and the residents for feedback in the scheduled workshop meetings. The groups would then begin to propose possible solutions within this framework from a small scale level of intervention to possible larger ones.
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
UJ Student presentation at UJ Architecture Department
Student presentations in Marlboro South  car wash facility outdoors
UJ Student presentation at UJ Architecture Department
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
UJ Student presentation at UJ Architecture Department
UJ Student presentation at UJ Architecture Department
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
UJ Student presentation at UJ Architecture Department
Student presentations in Marlboro South  car wash facility in Marlboro South streets
Student presentations in Marlboro South  car wash facility outdoors
Student presentations in Marlboro South  car wash facility outdoors
Unfortunately an impromptu later deemed illegal eviction of several sites occupied by residents and the MWCC by the City of Johannesburg made the issues of capacity and focus very difficult, as well putting the students at potential risk.
UJ students at one of the sites of the eviction
The studio was altered and majority of participatory work happened on the University campus and other adjacent venues.
Local restaurant in Marlboro South chosen due to evictions
From an academic standpoint the studio was highly successful in opening up student perspectives on the various forms of tangible and intangible support designers can offer, as well as exposing some of the student body to contexts and cultures not critically experienced before.

This studio process revealed how important it is for these processes to be managed by larger social groups, as universities do not have the capacity or scope to support such large social movements or deal with evictions and the repercussions of such an act. At first the large team sizes were difficult to manage, but put together large amounts accurate socially sensitive of data very quickly – this proved invaluable in the ensuing lawsuit against the city, while creating a large volume of work from which further exercises can be held.
Land Use Diagram that was instrumental in proving the illegality of the eviction by JMPD

Beyond the design studio – October 2012

While the design studio exists as one of the most flexible and adaptable spaces to navigate the intricate and dynamic world of socio-technical design processes, it needs to be considered in the larger picture of what design pre-professionals are required in the ‘real world’. If the processes employed in these spaces are not done so with an understanding of the expected role of the students then result can be defined by a product and process that only benefits an academic inquiry into development work, but not a pragmatic one.

These ‘living laboratories’ require sustainable systems of development through socially inclusive and open processes. These systems need to be clearly documented and the set up in a manner that does not rely on the individuals gains of singular entities, but speak to a larger drive of all parties involved; that of socially conscious open minded people within groups that are up front in their intentions around engagement.

The relationships that the design studio establishes and nature of the enthusiasm open minded pre-professionals carry through into the real world should be guided by a strong acceptance of these process by not only the tertiary bodies that facilitate, but by the profession that needs to look at its role in this and support those pushing through the current limitations.
The underlying ethos of these studios should not be one of design professionals entering an informal context and superimposing the values of formality in their support, but of seeking to understand and ‘un-learn’ in order to respond in such a way that works with the energies and capacities of the informal context. This approach distances the designer from control of the final ‘product’ of support, but allows for long term sustainability of support facilitating the most key aspect of design support – ownership
Eviction – August 2012
On August 17, 2012 I received a call from the a member of the MWCC. He was speaking fast and all I could hear over the background roar was that JMPD were evicting people from the warehouses and that a bulldozer had killed someone. Not sure what to do, I phoned the  lawyers (SERI) we were working with who told me all we could do was try and get the physical court order document and gain an interdict as soon as possible.
Armed with this knowledge and my camera I rushed to Marlboro South, but was denied access to the area by JMPD. After parking my car deep in Alexandra I ran the 2km gauntlet around the police blockade to the MWCC office, here I found out that no one was dead – but someone had fainted after a police bulldozer had knocked down her home.
Marlboro South was overrun with JMPD, a later estimated 500 plus members of orange and blue were demolishing selected sites over the industrial belt.
With the MWCC behind me I approached several official looking members of the police to try and find the court order, when I had eventually reached the top of the hierarchy I was joined by a journalist friend I called en route and the lawyers from SERI. Here we were shown the ‘official’ document for the eviction –  a handwritten note.

More pictures from Greg Nicolsan’s work in Marlboro South  
–  The Daily Maverick

There was very little the lawyers, the NPO or the MWCC could do but watch as the police demolished their homes, as the process to block the order was delayed and most of the residents were at work at the time.

some residents chose to burn their homes rather than have the material confiscated (formerly mentioned CUFF project)
Other residents attempted to salvage what they could (CUFF project seen above)
As most of the inhabitants were at work, they returned that evening to find their homes destroyed and the material confiscated along with their personal belongings and valuables.

Post Eviction
The evictions continued for several days intermittently, the MWCC attempted to protest by blocking JMD access into Marlboro by placing obstacles in the roadways. Which resulted in JMPD employing crowd control methods including rubber bullets.
Residents were shot with rubber bullets during an attempted protest and block of further police evictions.
After the initial eviction, the Gauteng ISN and FEDUP, the Community Based Organisation (CBO) under the CBO’s within the SASDI, assembled in Marlboro to support the MWCC.
Asihambe (We won’t go: IsiZulu ) Solidarity March
While the Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) worked to obtain the official interdict, the CBO’s under the SDI prepared a formalised march to address the City of Johannesburg around the eviction.
Other technical members of the SDI, specifically a planner from the U.S working at the alliance worked tirelessly to examine housing and policy law to assist the lawyers in the case, while the my most valuable skills at this stage I could offer were that of  photo-documentation and poster design to support the march.
Evictions in Marlboro, Johannesburg
After weeks of court dates and legal jargon, the eviction was deemed illegal and the City of Johannesburg was under an official judgement ordered to:
  • Provide the 141 families with sites in Marlboro.
  • Provide material for the construction of temporary shelters.
  • In 4 months more land needs to be acquired if needed to accommodate the 141 families.
  • Start a meaningful engagement regarding the balance of families evicted later during the month of August.
  • Pay all legal costs.
The full story of the Asihambe Solidarity March is available here: 
The ‘Temporary’ Solution – October 2012
Several single mothers sheltered in the MWCC office during the eviction
During the process of gaining a temporary interdict for 65 families that could not be sheltered anywhere, the City of Johannesburg’s lawyers offered the residents ‘temporary’ occupation of the site on condition that they would not erect structures more than 1m high, that could not be made of ‘iron metal’ and that had no structural support – as seen here in the documentary “Landless”:
Using the South African Housing code’s stature on temporary housing as being a minimum of 24 sqm, and 2.4m high made of material that offered occupants safety and privacy. The city then replied that the structures could be 2.4m high, not ‘permanent’ and have ‘poles’ that could not be longer than 2m.
The SASDI offered support in providing temporary shelter for these families, but had very little money to support this. This put forward an interesting design brief for us providing the socio-technical support, as what the city had stated in writing was a clear omission of spatial and material elements and heigh restrictions.
As practitioners we offered an interpretation of that order to possibly build it out polycarbonate panels, and what if the houses were all put together in 1 large ‘tent-like’ structure maybe made of hydra form (non permanent bricks) – essentially working around the legal requirements through design.
We were advised by the lawyers to respect the spirit of the order and not be to clever in such a delicate situation.
A piece of government owned land was chosen by the MWCC and several army tents were donated by donors to the NGO.
These tents were an emergency solution to the temporary housing of the 65 most vulnerable families in the eviction. The names of each person was registered in the court order and were awarded temporary occupation by the court  on site until the City of Johannesburg responded. This was crucial as 1 week later Johannesburg experienced a rare snow storm that plunged temperatures to freezing overnight.
Permanently Temporary Solutions & The (in)formal Studio – November 2012 – February 2013
In the background to the eviction and court battles, the professionals and academics who had been involved in the studio were working on developing a more permanent housing solution to show the City of Johannesburg alternatives to addressing some of the major issues in Marlboro South.
The architect’s discussing a possible government owned site with the MWCC

This solution was to be part of a larger body of work, including the student’s design work, that would make up a travelling exhibition  to showcase these types of engagements and projects to a larger audience.
Graphic by the (in)formal Studio –
One of the major outputs was a participatively developed housing scheme that would re-house residents of the MWCC in a safer, more incremental pattern that worked with current spatial typologies and land use.
These possible layouts were work-shopped with various MWCC members and residents and developed into a larger development plan.
Layout plan by the (in)formal Studio –
The tools used for this larger development design, were used to attempt to negotiate a temporary solution for the tent dwellers who were occupying a different parcel land.
The 65 families were engaged on several occasions to develop an accepted layout for the City of Johannesburg to adopt in accordance with the court order.
This smaller temporary plan was put together through CORC and submitted to the City of Johannesburg as part of the deliverable from the residents side.
As the weeks went by, and the City of Johannesburg missed its court ordered dates of engagement, and the tent dweller residents began making temporary adjustments to their tent home, including a cooking area and other social spaces.
The walls get higher…
To date the tents are still up and residents are still waiting for the City to keep up its ordained mandate as local factory owners build higher walls and grow more angry at the situation.
The (in)formal Studio Exhibition – April 2013
“An exhibition covering the entire project was opened in the Goethe gallery in February 2012. 
Rather than delivering defined solutions this exhibition delivered on portraying and celebrating human engagement across a divide of one of the most unequal cities in the world. It recorded the contradictions and discomforts but also the tremendous potential which exists in seeing, and acknowledging each other as part of the solution.”

Anne Graupner, 26.10′ South Architects

This exhibition had two openings, one held at in Marlboro South where the members of the MWCC and residents were screened the movies that were made by local film makers Lungelo Mntambo & Tolo Pule from DeLiTe and edited by Nadine Hutton and the other at the official opening at the Goethe Institutes’ Parkview location.
Marlboro South Opening for the Informal Studio Exhibition
Directed by  Lungelo Mntambo & Tolo Pule of DeLite and edited by Nadine Hutton of 2point8
Directed by  Lungelo Mntambo & Tolo Pule of DeLite and edited by Nadine Hutton of 2point8


Directed by Tolo & Lungelo of DeLite and edited by Nadine Hutton of 2point8


Directed by  Lungelo Mntambo & Tolo Pule of DeLite and edited by Nadine Hutton of 2point8

MWCC members recieving their public recognition at the screening in Marlboro South
MWCC member presenting the introduction at the official Exhibition Opening
Post Exhibition Work – May 2013
I have recently left my position at CORC to pursue a  focused socio-technical role alongside the NGO, looking more at developing role for spatial design students and pre-professionals.
Quite soon after my departure the SASDI the NGO, by a chance meeting with a non-profit social group in Cape Town, was offered the opportunity by another non-profit group of being a solution to potentially house the 65 families living in the tents nearby in Marlboro South
The conditions were that the those effected should benefit from this donation and the project should not just house, but also socially develop the inhabitants. The SASDI, the MWCC and the newly formed (in)formal Studio collective are currently working on this.
Academics, professionals, NGO and CBO discussing the oppurtunity

Reflection – July 2013

This summary has taken me almost a year to complete. Looking back at the role I played in the social development process has been quite difficult as the notable differences in the situation of those I worked with has not changed much on the ground – although larger scale shifts in approach and thinking have happened higher up in the governance structures.
The role of anyone in an NGO supportive role, let alone someone with an architectural background, is extremely difficult. Having to work across many cultural, economic and social backgrounds while supporting other people’s processes to capacitate without falling into the temptation of short cutting important and tiresome methodologies and just doing it for people is a taxing mental challenge.
I had many sleepless nights (in my own comfortable bed, that looked over Marlboro South in the distance) during the eviction feeling utterly useless in the face of such a huge destructive force. These concerns stayed with me during my time at the NGO as the issues facing these initiatives are so complex and overwhelming that is often drains you of your resolve.
What eventually led me to step out of my position at the SASDI was the realisation that the role spatial designers (architects, planners, some engineers) can play in these processes is niche – but crucial. While it’s difficult to make changes to the large picture, I felt my role could be much more effective in my own ‘community’ of spatial design students and pre-professionals. By being involved from this position I could make the difference I wanted by first bringing these practitioners into these spaces they would not normally work in, and by developing additional ways of acting, thinking and intervening in such situations.
I am still involved with the South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance in Johannesburg, working with the organisation on various projects and assisting in the support of their new socio-technical staff. I now sit part time at the University of Johannesburg and Pretoria while focussing on the role that the 1:1 Student League and recently developed 1:1 – Agency of Engagementt in socio-technical spatial design in South Africa.
Other Links:
The (in)formal Studio 
26.10 South Architects
BOOM Architects
The University of Johannesburg – Architecture Department
The South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance
Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI)
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR)
Marlboro South Industrial Organisation
NGO – Non Governmental Organisation
NPO – Non Profit Organisation
CBO – Community Based Organisation
SDI – Shack Dwellers Intenational
SASDI – Shack Dwellers International Alliance
ISN – Informal Settlement Network
FEDUP – Federation of the Urban/Rural Poor
CORC – Comunity Organisation Resource Centre
MWCC – Marlboro Warehouse Crisis Committee
UJ – University of Johannesburg
JMPD – Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department