In 2014, we (Eric Wright, Claudia Morgado & myself) as a team of architects, lectures and urban researchers assembled a collective architecture/urbanism/landscape laboratory which closely engages with complex urban conditions of South African. We termed this collective Aformal terrain (AT).
Our first experimentation with this collective was through a critical studio with the leadership of Denver, Informal Settlement in Johannesburg CBD through the studioATdenver. This project was established to take course over a period of 3-5 years and support s much larger development process that Denver is already a part of in regard to the Department of Human Settlement’s work in Gauteng and South Africa. In addition AT worked on a variety of projects in our defined research area:
Aformal Terrain is a collaborative research group based at the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture.
Aformal Terrain (AT) is a collaborative and collective architecture/urbanism/landscape group who closely engages with complex urban conditions.
AT focuses on integrating resources and skills towards promoting awareness and generating appropriate responses to the context of rapidly changing and often unstable contemporary urban phenomena.
This approach is underpinned by people-driven methodologies for engagement, research, design responses and planning strategies.
The use of the term ‘Aformal’ frames a critical investigation (immersion) into complex spatial, social, cultural, economic and physical urban scenarios as an ‘in-between’ condition, or terrain. This direction is rooted in working with, and, within urban informal settlements with a focus on incremental in-situ upgrading and organic urbangrowth – interrogating current polarised definitions of the ‘formal’ and ‘informal’, and the often confused interpretations between legality and illegality.
Each Studio (project, exhibition, publication etc) is aimed at identifying and interconnecting multiple role-players (actors).
This occurs through an immersive, collaborative and co-produced process of engagement, establishing a platform to enable trans-disciplinary exchange and capacitation, consequently activating public, private and community joint efforts.
AT directs this purpose to three areas of action:
Teaching & Learning
To generate an awareness of varying urban conditions at multiple scales ranging from regional, through neighbourhood, to specific people groups.
This action relies on trans-disciplinary collaborative exchange with the aim of leading to well-informed and achievable plans that assist and support community-led development.
An embedded intention here is to further inform current professionals, settlement residents, local/city officials and current students (future professionals) about the nuances and complexities of participatory processes through immersive, real life projects (studios).
Awareness & Knowledge
Strongly tied to teaching-and-learning processes this action is underpinned by the co-production of knowledge and information through collective and mutual exchanges. This process identifies two main sources towards the production of relevant and useful knowledge:
Existing Data – sourcing, analyzing and sharing current data about the specific area of work/study. This includes; local upgrade plans (at city level), National upgrade plans (NUSP and the like), Global references and tools (investigating ‘Global South’ relationships and networks).
Local Knowledge – identifying collective community plans and objectives through discussions and exchange with local residents. This process aims to build on local knowledge with the aim of drawing connections between bottom-up and top-down processes.
AT intends to cultivate long-term sustainable relationships with the networks generated through the teaching-and-learning studios.
Real Projects refers to this intention – to identify potential roles for professionals and spatial practitioners through on-the-ground collaborative processes – assisting community action plans and governmental upgrade plans through providing relevant spatial and design services fitted to contexts of informal settlements.
AT Team: Eric Wright (BOOM Architects), Claudia Morgado (BOOM Architects), Jhono Bennett (1to1 – Agency of Engagement), Stephen Hoffe (Build A Future), Katrine Lategan (ARUP),
AT Collaborators: Tyler B Murphy (Sins of Style), Tuliza Sindi (BRN WSH), Jabu Makhubu (UJ Lecturer), Blanca Calvo (CORC), Motebang Matsela (CORC), Gloria Pavita (UJ Student), Taylor Holloway (1to1 – Agency of Engagement), Phil Astley (UCL)
Denver Leadership & Volunteers: Welcome Mchunu, Bongmus Hadebe, Bheki Zondo, Daphne Mabaso, Jabulani , Bongani
South African Shack Dwellers Alliance: Sandra Van Rensburg, Rosy Mashimbye, Maureen Sikepo, Dumisani Mathebula
Local War Councillors: Clnr Neuren, Clnr Simelane
Critical Friends: Simon Sizwe Mason (City of Joburg – Management), Moabi Pekone (City of Joburg – Region F: Housing), Nicolette Pingo (Johannesburg Development Agency), Monty Narsoo (NUSP)
University of Johannesburg Students:  Ayanda Madi, Daniele Cronje, Jade Botes, Jamela Mkansi, Martin Jones, Mitchel Thirwell, Moeketsi Phori, Mulalo Mafela, Nathan Abrahams, Lucille Jacobs, Wandile Bongwa Mahlanga, Gareth How, Mohau Moidi, Brian Maila, Victor Martins, Ashish Nathoo, Alwyn-Jay Pretorius, Musa Mathe, Joana Ferro, Dewald le Roux, Crystal Francis, Melissa Brandt,Vikash Mithal, Tlali Nyareli, Sibusiso Lwandle, Pierre Perrault, Kerry Trebble, Isabella da Rocha, Megan Wilson, Wandile Mkhwanazi, Simone Pretorius, Siphosezwe Mahlangu, Thabang Semenya, Mohammed R Suliman, Travis Lee, Mfundo Magongo, Julian Almond, Aisha Balde, Rudelle Bezuidenhout, Kgaogelo Mashego, Karabelo Mlangeni, Binaica Morar, Kholokazi Ngoma, Ruben Smit, Jessica Rousseau, Kagiso Teke, Kyle Blake, Jaco Jonker, Maruscha Govenden, Palesa Khumalo, Ricardo De Sousa, Armand Barnard, Kagiso Bokaba, Nyasha Chirinda, Yusuf Dadabaay, Rosalie Ferreira, Lance Ho Hip, Tebogo Ntsoane, Thabo Ranaka, Mandy Shindler, Roland Britz, Llenette Jones, Lindani Langa, Tebogo Madito, Kashiya Mbinjama , Thabang Montle, Carol Phophi, Roberto Pinheiro, Leme Swanepoel, Nicholas Abrahams, Lerato Bothloko, Sanjay Jeevan, Tebogo Kgatla, Irena Konstantinova, Morena Mahlare, Tebogo Mokgwetsane, Njabulo Ndaba, Joshua Sampson, Reinhard Van Niekerk
 Allen N, Da Rocha I, Erasmus C, Gama J, Jamieson R, Kubayi T, Mabaso M, Makutu N, Mamba S, Mantle W, Mokgwetsane T, Molekoa K, Mothoagae O, Msiska A, Musehane K, Naicker S, Ncube T, Ramos D, Samsodien C, Thirlwell M, Trebble K, Tshivhase M, Vasconcelos T, Nkoana M, Moutloatse L, Adu Agyei D, Behane M, Botlhoko L, Carstens G, Chokoe M, Dekker A, Di bon J, Fourie B, George R, Hollis K, Jama A, Madi A, Makofane T, Malanda J, Mashinini N, Mayes J, Mlambo S, Mlangeni K, Paiva E, Perrault P, Phaladi K, Russwurm J, Saloojee Y, Suliman M, Wilmans M, Tsheoga M, Gono T, Carvalho M, Dart T, Ebrahim F, Greeff M, Isia F, Knobloch A, Makhubele N, Masango B, Mazwi N, Mntambo W, Moore S, Murakata P, Mvakade Z, Ngobeni V, Sikepe M, Sithole S, Tatham P, Thomas N, Van Rooyen R, Zwane J, Machaka M, Mahlangu R
 Simon Ngubeni (UJ Student), Yoana Hristova (UJ Student), Kobus Marais (UJ Student), Tiisetso Mokgopo (UJ Student), , Tresor Mbayahe(UJ Student)
AT Project Supporters
AT Funders & Supporters
This trajectory of critical engagement builds on methods and intentions developed through earlier formative collaborative platforms;
The core underpinnings, purpose and relevance of AT stems from and builds on the development of,and involvement in,these preceding studios
[i]informalStudio: Ruimsig (http://2610south.co.za/gallery24.php) Teaching staff: Thorsten Deckler (principal at 26’10 south Architects), Alexander Opper (director of architecture master’s programme, UJ), Lone Poulsen (architect and urban planner at ACG Architects), Melinda Silverman (urban design theory, UJ). \Ruimsig Community: The community of the Ruimsig informal settlement, including Dan Moletsane, Dingaan Matia, the community leadership and the eight ‘community architects’: Irene Mohale, Rosalina Mphuti, Julia Mashaba, Mildred Thapeni, Albert Masibigiri, Jemina Mokoena, Watson Sibara, and Alfred Mthunzi.UJ Students: Dewald Badenhorst, Dean Boniface, Dirk Coetser, Dana Gordon, Zakeeya Kalla, Daniel Lyonga, Julian Manshon, Matthew Millar, Karabo Mokaba, Jarryd Murray, Trisha Parbhoo, Sean Pillan, Taswald Pillay, Miguel Pinto, John Saaiman, Salome Snyman.Support: Goethe-Institut South Africa has financially and logistically supported the project from its inception; Steve Topham (NUSP); Andy Bolnick (Ikhayalami); Connie Molefe (of the Roodepoort Athletics Stadium management); Max Rambau & André Mengi (CORC); Tolo Phule and Lungelo Mntambo (Delite Visual Archives Studios); Pheagane “Jakes” Maponya, Pumla Bafo & Thabo Molaba (City of Johannesburg); Lisa Ngagledla, Nomahlubi Ncoyini & Pricilla Mario (for sharing the expertise of the Sheffield Road community in Cape Town); Mzwanele Zulu (ISN, Cape Town); Thembile Majoe, Sihle Mbatha, Phiwe Makubu, Mfundisi Masithe (ISN, Gauteng); & Andisa Bidla (CoJ Informal Settlement Formalisation & Regularisation).
[ii]informalStudio: Marlboro South (http://www.informalstudio.co.za/)
Teaching staff: Thorsten Deckler (principal at 26’10 south Architects),Anne Graupner (principal at 26’10 south Architects), Alexander Opper (director of architecture master’s programme, UJ), Eric Wright (3rd year lecturer, UJ), Suzette Grace (3rd year lecturer, UJ), Claudia Morgado (3rd year lecturer, UJ). Support staff (UJ): Melinda Silverman, Suzette Grace, Leon Krige, Amira Osman, Annemarie Wagener, Absalom Makhubu, Dr.Finzi SaidiMarlboro South Community: The community of the Marlboro South informal settlement, including the Marlboro Warehouse Crisis Committee (MWCC): Charles Gininda, Thapelo Mogane, August Tswai, Maluleke David, Loveson Motlapa, and the community architects: Winnie Ngubane, Queenie Nkosi, Happiness Nkosi, Khanyisile Soncgca, Fezeke, Baliswa Mahono, Khanyi Ncube, Nonthando Madondo, Thabo Masenyetse, Phili Thafeni, Karabo Mokaba, Promise Nxumalo, Agnes Lekgotla, Mapule Lekgotla, Anna Mathibedi, Melissa, Jabulani Dwiazawa,Thulie Shabalala, Wonderboy Butheklezi, Andries Tzumbezo, Asanda Magqabi, Ayanda Libala,UJ Students: Francois Mercer, Elaine Engelbrecht, Francisco Hamilton Alves, David Cloete, Rick van Heerden, Shani Fakir, Nakedi Nkoana, Lance HO Hip, Brent Proudfoot, Renee van Rooyen, Dylan Watkins with Steffen Fischer, Jolien Dreyer, Eugene Ncube, Naeem Kooreyshi, Katrin Tenim, Martin Bam, Philip van As, Debbie Pienaar ,Laura Strydom, Katty Harris, Dewald Coetzer, Jurgen Rubirske, Lemohang Sekhoto, Shyam Patel, Joseph Matebane, Ashlea Weaver, Calvin Copeling, Basil Moutsatsos, Nhlamulo Ngobeni, Samantha Trask, Jaco Jonker, Lungelo Zulu, Alex Verissmo, Grant Woodward, Jaques Wienekus, Motebang Matselela, Sachin Mistry, Caitlin Bell, Robin Theobald, Keron Muller, Michelle Jordaan, Thabiso Siwana, Gareth Jones, Marc Sherrat, Glen Jordan, Lucille Jacobs, Tlale Masiu, Hanle van HuyssteenSupport: Goethe Institut South Africa has financially and logistically supported the project from its inception; Steve Topham (NUSP); Andy Bolnick & Ryan Bosworth (iKhayalami); Sandra Van Rensburg, Andre Mengi, Jhono Bennett & Jacqueline Cuyler (CORC); Tolo Phule and Lungelo Mntambo (Delite Visual Archives Studios); South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance (SDI): Rose Molokoane (FEDUP), Patrick Magebhula (ISN)