Mail&Gaurdian Top 200 Young South Africans Award 2020 – Civic Sector

Happy to share that I have been selected for the Mail&Gaurdian 200 Young (while that lasts) #mg200young South Africans for 2020 in the Civic Sector.

Jhono Bennett – Civic Sector 2020: Award Page

This award means alot to me personally and I see this an important recognition of the journeys all of us involved with @1to1_AoE have been on since 2010. I am proud to be selected amongst others doing such amazing work here in South Africa.

Looking forward to the next 10 years 😉

UCL Doctoral Position: TACK Network

After more than 2 years of stepping out of my role at 1to1, my teaching work at the University of Johannesburg as well as my practice work in South Africa I will be beginning a PhD position at the University College London’s Bartlett School of Architecture. This position is supported by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions EU funding through the TACK/ Communities of Tacit Knowledge Network and will see me engaging with a dynamic and committed network of scholars:

‘TACK / Communities of Tacit Knowledge: Architecture and its Ways of Knowing’ is a newly funded Innovative Training Network, as part of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions within the European Framework Program Horizon 2020. It trains young researchers in understanding the specific knowledge that architects use when designing buildings and cities. TACK gathers ten major academic institutions, three leading cultural architectural institutions as well as nine distinguished architecture design offices. Collaboratively these partners offer an innovative PhD training program on the nature of tacit knowledge in architecture, resulting in ten parallel PhD projects.

The research program consists of ten PhD projects, which are pursued by ten PhD candidates, hosted by ten academic partners. While the individual PhD projects constitute independent doctoral projects in their own right, nine of these can (in terms of content) be grouped in three clusters:

  1. Approaching Tacit Knowledge: These PhD projects approach tacit knowledge from historical and theoretical perspectives
  2. Probing Tacit Knowledge: These PhD projects examine tacit knowledge through concrete cases
  3. Situating Tacit Knowledge: These PhD projects situate tacit knowledge in architecture by developing innovative concepts and methods

I have been placed in the Situating Tacit Knowledge Cluster under Dr. Peg Rawes under the Values Project.

” The three PhD candidates working on this research cluster will develop new theoretical concepts and new heuristic approaches to examine how tacit knowledge is understood in architectural practice and how it can be made explicit and communicated. They will investigate how value-systems that are inherent to specific cultural contexts (for instance concerning the public role of the architect) affect the perception and reception of tacit knowledge in architecture, and examine how self-reflexivity can sharpen the understanding of the functioning of tacit knowledge.”

The 3 year programme is jam packed with conferences, symposia and meetings and actively encourages and support mobility across the network, including a practical secondment as well as secondment to cultural institute in the network.

It has been a long journey to reach this point, and I am grateful to the individuals and institutes who supported me in this difficult transition period as well as those (who have been personally acknowledged these last months) who played such an important role in shaping my research and practice through the opportunities offered. Thank you.

Through Local Eyes: Key Note Presentation

My submission, Design Praxis in a post-Rainbow Nation City: a reflection on the limits & opportunities of spatial design led service learning in South African cities, to the ‘Through Local Eyes: Place-based approaches to emerging architectural, urban design and planning challenges in Africa and the Global South Conference’ was selected as the ‘Best Emerging Scholar’ Paper.


I was invited to present the paper at the International Conference in Addis Ababa as a Keynote speaker and was met with a rich and constructively critical response from the audience and panel.


Over the last few decades the discourse on the relationship between inter-stakeholder university engagements, or Service Learning, and the broader society that South African universities claims to serve has been deeply discussed by academia; the inherent problematics within the power structures, the challenges of achieving mutually beneficial project outcomes and the growing concern of vulnerable voices being overshadowed by institutions and individuals are key factors identified in this arena of critique.

Less nuanced in these debates remains a recognition of these dynamics within the emerging field of Design Research and Design-Led Research that have met a steadily commercialisation of ‘design’ in global markets. This is seen in the rise of acclaim by the commercial market for groups such as IDEO and Stanford who remain paragons of the ‘socially-driven’ or ‘economical’ potential of design approaches to address complex societal challenges.

Regarding design-led Service Learning, schools and institutions of Architecture and Design across the globe have a rich history of undertaking service learning design and/or build projects as a means of creating value and learning for both students and the stakeholders of such projects. These projects, too, have seen the critique of the above-mentioned academic discourse – but in South Africa are just starting to be unpacked through a ‘post-rainbow nation’ lens, as previously marginalised voices are starting to be recognised and find traction in learning and practices spaces across South Africa.

This paper will reflect on the author’s experience with emergent voices and reflexive concerns as a researcher, lecturer and spatial design practitioner in Johannesburg. The paper will set the context for this type of learning regarding city-making in Southern Africa and outline two case studies undertaken by the author and his collaborators. The reflection will conclude by a framing of the identified limits inherent in the promise of design as well as a speculation on the opportunities for growth and reflection for the author and those in similar positions of praxis.

The framing of the identified limits and opportunities has been used as a means of tempering critique with a constructive and proactive reflective framing of the issues – a praxis that is currently being developed by the author as a means of working responsibly through the intersectional complexity of post-rainbow nation South Africa.

Mandela Washington Fellowship

In 2016 I was selected as 1 of 63 South Africans to join the 1000 Young African Leaders of the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship. The fellowship is a flagship project of the American State Department and a personal project of former American president Barack Obama.

The fellowship itself is part of the broader Young AfricanLeadership Initiative (YALI) and the focal point centres around a 6-week placement in an American University alongside 25 other Young African Leaders from various countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
I was fortunate enough to be placed at the University of California – Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and spent a difficult but rewarding 6 weeks learning the principles and exposure of what African leadership entails.


I was blown away by the achievements and practices of my fellows in the programme and learnt more from the conversations over coffee and long bus trips across San Francisco about my own home country than the 6 weeks of lectures and workshops from Berkeley’s finest – something we were told would happen on day one by our host.
The placement culminated in a 4 day seminar in Washington DC where all 1000 fellows converged into a single hotel conference venue to attempt to meet each other and the promise of ‘ meeting’ then president Barack Obama in the Town Hall. I never the left the hotel, spending most of my time in the lobby meeting and laughing with the 1000 other fellows, sharing stories about the placements, our plans for our return and enjoying our last few days as fellows in the U.S.
On return the fellowship has supported me with mentors, business coaches, many opportunities to apply for funding and practicums, some of which I successfully qualified for (See BackStory and my practicum with the South African Cities Network) and most importantly the most valuable platform in understanding my country – a 500 message a day Whatsapp group governed by 63 other passionate South Africans who have become my guides in personal and professional development.


My fellowship ended this year at a very heart sore conference in Johannesburg this year, but as I was reminded at our goodbyes: once a YALI, always a YALI – or blood in, blood out.


Joburg Joburg

In 2014, after moving into Johannesburg’s inner city, I became involved with a group of artists who had started a very interesting project around engaging ‘positively’ with Johannesburg’s inner city, commonly known as the ‘Joburg CBD’.
They called their project Joburg Joburg,  reference to the South Africanism of repeating a word to add emphasis to its meaning:
Person 1: So Johan, where are you staying theses days?
Johan: I’m living in Joburg.
Person 2: Oh, I hear Sandton is very nice.
Johan: No, I’m living in Joburg
Person 2: So like Parktown?
Johan: No, like Joburg Joburg – downtown CBD.
This adage has a base in the other more popular South Africanism of Now Now: see here for more details.
This scenario holds a seminal message of why the Joburg Joburg was conceived – many people don’t see the inner city Joburg as Joburg, instead they see it as a dangerous no-go zone of unnaccessible spaces occupied by a crime syndicate bent on murdering everyone who crosses it’s threshold.
This stigma, which is endemic of many South African public spaces, is the very thing the Joburg Joburg team and myself were looking to understand and explore through our various projects under Joburg Joburg.
See more details on the website here:

Image: Johan Stegman

The Joburg Joburg story starts with Johan Stegman, and engineer/artist moving into an unoccupied rooftop space owned by a large down town Joburg developer at their flagship property of Corner House.

Image: Johan Stegman & Allen Laing

Through a set of chance circumstance and a burning desire to engage with the city, Johan with Allen Laing, a sculptor working in the inner city, set up an extensive and highly successful multi-artist exhibition exhibition to engage with this question of ‘responding to the centre’.

Image: Johan Stegman 

See the full Joburg Joburg origin story here:

At this point I was living in the building across from Corner House and assisted the Joburg Joburg team with some minor installation work. This relationship developed as I began assisting the team with some spatial design support towards what they called the Kingdom Hideaway Partnership Rooftop Vision. A strategic design initiative to bring together the various actors at the Corner House building around a common vision of ‘productive’ inner city use.

As part of the arrangement was that I was allowed stay on the roof at corner house for a nominal fee where I took up residence in the Apartheid planned ‘domestic quarters’.

These spaces were the logistic outcome of the Group Areas Act that did not allow black people to live in the same structure as white people which in the suburban areas manifested into what we see today as the ‘maid’s room’ a separate room on the boundary of suburban properties.

But in the city these spaces were placed on the roof’s of building and carefully designed with shared (under serviced) ablutions, lockable areas (to keep people in, not out) and windows that are too high to see out of, but provide the minimal amount of ventilation to pas regulation.

My quarters

These spaces are still in use all over Johannesburg, and hold amazing potential to allow mixed income housing as well as developing a more integrated urban culture – but continue to be used to house a a portion of the labour sector in quite unfair conditions.

Rooftop Socio-Spatial Planning 

This initial task was to design and strategies a way to maximise the use of the rooftop space, which is currently underutilised and create a shared environment that only brings the various stakeholders on the roof together, but creates a space for others to access city from.

A phased, multi use strategy was proposed that included light scale rooftop gardening, venue spaces and a potential creative residence that would link with existing functions and support the vision held by the developers for the building.

Rooftop Garden Proposal

This strategy wasn’t met with a completely negative response, but due to the various factors involved with a development in the city certain stakeholders were not willing to make the initial investment of time or commitment, but instead chose to pursue ‘safer’ development investments and options.

Beyond Corner House I also provided spatial strategies, alongside colleagues from Johannesburg, for other buildings which were met with a similar response.
Cross-CBD Engagement
View from the Roof Roof Roof
Although the my time with Joburg Joburg was not productive in shifting the perspective of those I worked with I managed to conduct many interesting projects with the city spaces I worked on and used on daily basis.


Rooftop & Basement Measuring Mission
Documentation of measuring and rooftop exploration of downtown buildings
City Storms
Capturing the iconic summer storms that makes define a high veld summer
Minimal Mass
Small scale social cycling trips headed by Blanca Calvo


Unfortunately my time with Joburg Joburg has come to an end, and I am know residing on the edge of the inner city in the vibrant and interconnected Braamfontein District.

Vie from Civic Towers to Inner City

I am still conducting other research into the city of Joburg through my work with the University of Johannesburg’s Architecture Department as well as other initiatives that I am involved in.

BYM Summit 2014 – Impact by Design

In 2014 while working and living with the Joburg Joburg Creative Collective  I was invited to attend the 2014 BYM Summit held in Johanensburg with the theme of Impact by Design.
“Every year we identify 100 new young leaders to join our network. The new recruits first connect at our 5-day summit. Here they teach and inspire each other and, most importantly, act together.
After being inspired by established leaders, which have included Ahmed Kathrada, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Michael Jordaan, Ketso Gordhan and more, the delegates participate in leadership development and lean start-up methodology up-skilling. Beyond the summit, delegates can use these skills to improve their efforts to change the world.
The culmination of the summit is a team challenge, in which the delegates apply their new skills as they work in teams to design practical solutions to social challenges in the form of sustainable initiatives or businesses with a social impact. It is our aim that all viable solutions come to life by entering into an exclusive BYM incubation fund.
After the summit, delegates officially become part of the BYM network and have access to things like intra-network mentorship, leadership development, networking and further access to funding and business support.
Summit applications are open to 20-32 year olds that are African or living in an African country. We select based on the applicant’s demonstration of their commitment to action and social impact. Even though the summit focuses on very practical up-skilling, we pride ourselves on selecting a rich diversity of delegates, including artists, engineers, scientists, consultants, public servants, civil leaders and more!
All summit costs, including lodging, food and transportation once at the summit are covered. However, those invited to the summit will be asked to cover their travel to and from the 5-day event.”

Winner of Future African Cities Competition

Winner of Future African Cities Competition

Winners Announced
On behalf of Daniel Van Der Merwe:
A jury of eminent architects:  Sarah Calburn, Hugh Fraser, Clara Cruz Almeida and Elena Rocchi ( Spain) evaluated the work and commented on the diversity and high standard of the projects.
The following  finalists were awarded:

1.       Taswald Pillay & Daniel Lyonga, UJ: Urban Campus- which looked at re-interpreting learning through creating an urban campus utilising  recycling buildings & their context in the inner city of Johannesburg.

2.       Jhono Bennett, UP: Community Intervention- which looked holistically at a series of interventions in an existing informal settlement.

3.       Honourable mentions: Brent Clark, UFS for his vertical ‘plug-in’ housing project and Wynand Viljoen, UFS for his urban  cultural  walkway.

My Winning Entry




Unfortuneatly the prize winnings are going straight into the black hole known as my student loan, but the credit for this award goes far beyond just a simple design nod, this helps validate the work myself and my collegues have committed to with 1:1 – Agency of Engagement.

An exciting future for this type of Architecture awaits…



The film is essentially a passive service delivery protest, the tea behind its conceptiton did not want to play into the typical depiction of poverty and despair, but rather capture the cohesion and hope that many informal settlements and other vulnerable communities share.

*NOTE: Waterborne is currently a finalist in an undisclosable film competition, and cannot be embedded. 
To view please follow this link – WATERBORNE
Waterborne Synopsis

If you want to understand a community, ask them about their aspirations.

Slovo Park is situated in a politically and socially sensitive stretch of land south of Soweto. The community has been known by national government as Nancefield, by local council as Olifantsvlei and in the last five years as Slovo Park – named in honour of South Africa’s first minister of housing and former Umkhonto we Sizwe General, Joe Slovo. This forced changing of identity reflects an on-going struggle faced by the leadership of Slovo Park to gain recognition as a legitimate settlement to access governmental support. This battle has been fought through constant shifts in governmental policy, power and promises for the community of Slovo Park. Amidst the struggle, stories of sinister land dealings have emerged, outlining a possible truth that the ground beneath Slovo Park could have been sold from under the community’s feet. These allegations surface as the leadership of Slovo Park prepares itself to take action.

Waterborne captures the moment of hope, held in anticipation, before the first truly concrete step towards a dignified future.


In 2011, Alexander Melck of the Pretoria Picture Company, then an Information Design student at the University of Pretoria, began working with the founders of 1:1 on a student film competition. Although the first submission was not successful, the lessons gathered and the understanding required proved to be successful in 2012 when The Pretoria Picture Company and 1:1 partnered to work on Waterborne.

The submission to the CCI in Zero Film Competition was highly successful, and shooting began in July during Johannesburg’s freak snow storm, this gave the film a unique time stamp and brought home some of the most salient points of the production.

Crew list:
Director: Alexander Melck
Producers: Alexander Melck, Jhono Bennett, Ingmar Buchner
Cinematography: Alexander Melck & Ingmar Buchner
Grips: Jhono Bennett, Stefan Wagner, Michael Smith
Editor: Alexander Melck
Sound Design: MJ van der Westhuizen
Translations: Farai Machingambi
After effects assistant: Wouter Jacobs
Production interns: Christopher Ramm, Stefan Wagner
Sponsors & Organisers:
The Cement & Concrete Institute
Tin Rage
South African Institute for Architecture (SAIA) 

Autodesk Open Think Box Competition – Fist Place: BIM

During my first job (2007-2009) at a professional architecture practice I became very adept at Revit and the accompanying Autodesk software including Ecotect.

At the time Autodesk hosted an annual national competition to showcase the software, the Open Think Box Competition. My submission of the BIM application to a project that the company was conducting received first place.

This prize came with a few merits and secured me a later job working for the local Autodesk supplier, evaluating offices across Johannesburg on their usability of Revit and consulting on how to support these offices.