UCL Bartlett School of Architecture PhD: Year 1 Milestone – Upgrade

Within the solitary and barren empty ocean of the doctoral voyage, one of the few milestones available beyond starting and finishing a PhD at UCL is the ‘upgrade’. This is an upgrade from an MPhil student to Candidate Doctoral Student and involves the submission and presentation of a package of written work that includes a Case for Upgrade, a draft chapter, an outline of the proposed study and thesis. At the Bartlett School of Architecture this includes a public presentation of the Case for Upgrade and is open for feedback from staff and peers.


Locating Spatial Practice Within the Post-post City: a Situated Southern Urban Design Inquiry Around How

First and second supervisors

Case for Upgrade Abstract:

Full Text here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/architecture/jhono-bennett

South African cities remain among the most unequal urban areas in the world; the tacit logics of their designed built forms play a significant role in how these inequalities continue to manifest decades after social and political reform. The socio-spatial city-making forces that led to these asymmetries were not an impassive by-product of centuries of segregated development, but were conceptualised, drawn, designed and implemented by built environment practitioners –  individual spatial designers who were socially, historically, politically, technically and ethically situated in South Africa.

This observation is made to highlight an important, and under-explored, inter-scalar dimension of agency between the individual practitioner, the disciplines, and the socio-spatial systems that require more situated explorations of spatial  practice in regards to city-making in contemporary South Africa, as well as in similar spatially unjust contexts. In response to this observation,  the doctoral study will respond to the growing efforts of Southern scholars in developing more locational and theoretically contextualised forms of urban research and engagement and will employ Southern Urbanist principles from which to develop and explore the research questions.

The study is positioned at the disciplinary intersection of architecture, urban studies and arts-practice in developing a situated design-research methodology to creatively, ethically and iteratively guide the approach. In addition, the study will work with a community of contemporary local practitioners through a series of engagements around the nature of spatial design practice as well as a practice-orientated auto-interrogation of my own work over the last decade.

Ultimately this inquiry will attempt to locate and reveal the various tacit values embedded in the how of socio-spatially focused post-Apartheid South African spatial design practice, and seeks to contribute an additional partial perspective to the ongoing conversations around Southern urbanism through the development and documentation of a practice-orientated situated research-methodology that focuses on spatial design in Southern cities.

The work presented was made up from a series of selected design research exercises that I have been working on since early 2020:

Developmental Gestures

A self-critical and satirical reflection on the nature of socio-technical design work in South Africa that examined the various gestures, postures and actions that make up the field of ‘development’ work.

Spirit of the Order

Through Dr. Jane Rendell’s Site Writing Module I engaged with critical inquiry with my work with the Marlboro South evictions in 2012. This exercise led to my primary method of reflective animation that I will be using going forward.

Catalogue of Auto-Critique

Throughout the process I have been cataloguing reflections, observations and self-critique on the visual methods and techniques as a means of building a positionally iterative tool for navigating the demographic and locational dynamics of this work.

All this work is documented on an instagram account I have made for the doctoral design research explorations:


Next Steps

From this point, the next few steps will be to arrange the field work that will be taking place in Johannesburg in 2022 and work through the proposed design research structure.