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.

Designing With People – CEPT

In late 2018, Dr. Jigna Desai of CEPT University offered me an opportunity to teach her semester course at the Faculty of Architecture in Ahmedabad. This came about as a spin off of the 3 year professional mobility hosted by Sheffield University, the University of Johannesburg and Nanjing University.

Jigna had been running a design module each year in Mandvi Ni Pol within the old city of Ahmedabad and allowed me to bring my own take  ‘Designing with People’.

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The opportunity allowed me to structure a module that was critical, reflective, speculative and grounded in both participatory research as well as design methods.

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I worked closely with Harshil Parekh, the studio assistant, and we designed the course (with the Mandvi Ni Pol leadership) to be as supportive and mutually beneficial as possible. The limits of such work was crucial to recognize and was done early on in the process. (see below)

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The course actively challenged the idea of participatory work as ‘consensus building’ and sought to build a platform for dialogue of dreaming and discussion with residents. The program equipped students with deep exposure to field work, critical self-reflection techniques and discussions on demographic positionality in such work.

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We used action learning, visual thinking and UserX methods of working between ourselves and the resident User Groups we engaged with. DWP_Studio Book13DWP_Studio Book14DWP_Studio Book15DWP_Studio Book16

We co-designed a series of Studio Tools and used them across the semester. This was critical in building a way of working while bridging the difficult gap of participatory research into participatory design(see below). DWP_Studio Book17DWP_Studio Book18DWP_Studio Book19DWP_Studio Book20

The students responded amazingly and put together a comprehensive and challenging body of work that was well received by critics and the residents.

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A full Gujarati ‘hand over’ booklet titled Dreaming with Mandvi Ni Pol was put together and given to the leadership in our final engagement with the Pol. The students additionally met with their individual usergroups and underwent a smaller level ‘handover’ DWP_Studio Book35DWP_Studio Book36

Dr Jigna Desai is still working in the Pol and continues this work (see the orange thread) within her larger offering to the old City of Ahmedabad.

GSA Unit 14: Rogue Economies

Unit 14 at the Graduate School of Architecture is headed up by Thiresh Govender of Urban Works. I have worked with Thiresh on this over a two year period of trials and tribulations and am proud to say that 2017 produced something highly innovative and unique to how we practice urban and architecture research in Johannesburg.

The Unit set out to uncover the Rogue Economies of Johannesburg and worked with a dedicated and hard working group of students in search these rogue forces that shape our City. We were joined by Sarah De Villiers of Counter Space and Valentina Mamente  and spent a difficult but ulmitately rewarding year developing a highly attuned and unique style of inquiry and representation with the students.

Easy Come, Easy Go: Cross-Border Hypertrade by @the_real_kennie_dee #rogueeconomy #architecturestudent #architecture #mapping #southafrica #zimbabwe #beitbridge @act.of.mapping A post shared by GSA Unit 14 (@gsa_unit14) on Sep 1, 2017 at 7:03am PDT

A post shared by GSA Unit 14 (@gsa_unit14) on Sep 18, 2017 at 11:11am PDT

Landscapes for Trust by Binayka Rama #gsaunit14 #rogueeconomy #produce #fordsburg #johannesburg #mapping #axonometric #architecture #architectureilike #imadethis #drawing #johannesburg @thebeez_ A post shared by GSA Unit 14 (@gsa_unit14) on Sep 18, 2017 at 11:11am PDT

 

LINK IN BIO: M2 from Unit 14, Israel Ogundare presents his project ‘The Exchange Consulate’ on the African Architecture Awards. Please take a look and vote! @ogundareisrael @happeningatthegsa @africanarchitectureaward @act.of.mapping #rogueeconomy #africanarchitectureawards A post shared by GSA Unit 14 (@gsa_unit14) on Jul 19, 2017 at 2:07pm PDT

 

The unit drew much inspiration from many local and international researchers such as the work of Eyel Weitzman’s Forensic Architecture and produced a body of work that can be seen here:

https://issuu.com/gsa_unit14/docs/rogue_economies_vol1_rev13__spread_

Backstory – Joburg

Backstory began as an explorative research investigation into the idea of Spatial Ineqaulity in Johannesburg. The initial project collective was led by Liz Ogbu, Counterspace Studio and 1to1 – Agency of Engagement under the title of ‘ the Unjust City’ .

The project took form between 2016 – 2018 as a collaboratively built installation in Johannesburg’s inner-city neighborhood of Braamfontein, where stories and city-data were unpacked through a series of workshops, discussions, and exhibitions. The installation aimed to bring together different city inhabitants and make this confluence of data and stories more accessible to those who use, manage and make the city.

The installation sought to draw in a diverse group of voices to engage with the narratives of spatial justice at play in Johannesburg. The installation space was developed by the Back Story Collective and offered as a platform to selected (typically students, local actors and activists) researchers who were working on topics of spatial injustice.

www.backstoryjoburg.wordpress.com

Urban Conference Visual Summary: South African Cities Network

Through my fellowship as a Mandela Washington Fellow, I was able to secure a practicum appointment with the South African Cities Network. The Network is a non-profit entity that:

The South African Cities Network (SACN) is an established network of South African cities and partners that encourages the exchange of information, experience and best practices on urban development and city management. Since 2002 the SACN’s objectives are to:

  • Promote good governance and management in South African cities
  • Analyse strategic challenges facing South African cities
  • Collect, collate, analyse, assess, disseminate and apply the experience of large city government in a South African context
  • Encourage shared learning partnerships among spheres of government in order to enhance good governance of South African cities.
 

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I worked as a ‘tactical intern’ where I provided socio-spatial visual support to a current programme under the network’s portfolio.
The culmination of this practicum took place while I supported the development, initiation and execution of a brief put together by SACN. The brief was to develop a methodology that would summarise the conference proceedings from the 2017 Urban Conference in Durban.
http://www.sacities.net/events-and-conference/urban-conference-2017
The request was to summarise the proceedings in such a way that they could be played back the next day through a video format that told a visual narrative of a possible future for South African cities. While this may seem simple, the typical process to make a video, let alone visually summarise  a live conference can take anything from a week to a few months. In order to complete this mammoth task the SACN secured the services of Marius Oosthuzien, a registered futurist, who supported in the development of  a pre-fabricated story structure that follow the day-in-a-life of a young city dweller.
The idea behind the methodology being that a team of artists/visualisers would work through out the conference day to develop a series of visual imagery that would be created from the conference discussion and be used to fill in the dreaming of t his city dweller as she moved through her day.
This summary would then be converted into a short video story and narrated in the evening and made ready for presentation and discussion the next day.
The local artists made up of Durban’s Beset and Nikhil Tricam alongside Nindya Bucktowar performed amazingly with Marius Oosthuizen guiding the summary from the conference.
The video was completed under great stress, but on time and can be seen on Youtube here:

FOLIO Vol.1 PUPAE: Not a ‘No-Go’ Zone

FOLIO is a critical, creative and contemporary Journal of African Architetcure and a product of GSA Imprints, an initiative launched by the Graduate School of Architecture (GSA) at the University of Johanesburg.

Volume 1: PUPAE was launched in 2017 and comprises a collection of critical writing peices, photo essays and design research outputs.

View the first issue here: https://issuu.com/foliojournalofafricanarchitecture/docs/folio_issuu 

Myself and Sumayya Valley of Counterspace put together a short writing peice that was supplemented by a series of drawings created by Sumayya from a previous project we had completed in inner-city Johannesburg.

AT: Community Action Plan Hand Book

*shared from www.aformalterrainjoburg.wordpress.com*

One of the most important outputs for the engagement with the Denver leadership was the Spatial Layout for the Community Action Plan (CAP). The layout was co-developed with residents, leadership and driven by the data and social capital built during the studioATdenver programmes and additional work conducted by AT.

The layout responded to key issues of emergency vehicle access, shared space, social cohesion patterns and green space allocation identified during the studios and larger forum discussions.

The spatial layout, alongside a series of support materials was packaged into an accessible and shareable format. AT conceptualized this in the form of a Hand Book that could be easily distributed and used format as a ‘Toolbox’.

A day-planner format was conceptualsied as a possible structure for this handbook, as many local leaders already used this type of booklet in their work. The idea behind the small format, would allow for the books to be used together to forma a larger layout (A1 size) if brought together.

GSA Unit 14: Radical Negotiations

In 2016 I began teaching with Thireshan Govender and Tuliza Sindi in the newly launched Unit System Africa from the University of Johannesburg’s Graduate School of Architecture at UJ’s FADA.

Our unit was dubbed Unit 14 and began it’s inquiry through the search for emergent post-1994 spatialities in Johannesburg.

 

We did through the lens of Architecture’s of Enterprise and took our 14 students across Johannesburg to explore and search for these conditions.

The students had input from a host of outside actors in the field of urbanism, art, music and planning

 

The students surveyed Johannesburg using a urban cartogrpahic technique the unit developed. We called this a Landscraped Lexicon and was carefully documented and curated.
https://landscrapelexicon.wordpress.com/

 

Throughout the year the students produced a myriad of design research and explored the Unit’s concepts within their own specific focuses. See the Unit Journals below:

 

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List of student porfolio websites:


https://manqobadlungwane.wordpress.com

http://www.mynewdesigns.blogspot.co.za/

https://tovalubinskyarchitecture.wordpress.com/

https://urbanarkstreet.wordpress.com/

https://ilsaann.wordpress.com/

https://martinsvictor222.wordpress.com/

https://imgita.wordpress.com/

https://salomemonline.wordpress.com/

https://ogundareisrael.wordpress.com/

https://natacheiilonga.wordpress.com/

https://johannlerouxarchitecture.wordpress.com/

https://roelofthumb.wordpress.com/

https://carlagaum.wordpress.com/

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: https://joburgjoburg.wordpress.com/

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:  https://joburgjoburg.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/the-joburg-joburg-story-finding-the-center/

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.

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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
 
 

Braamfontein

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.

PublicActs/Joburg ACT # 5 & # 6 Socio Spatial Action Research within Mai Mai Market

This project was initiated by the PublicActs/Johannesburg (www.publicacts.org) programme, conceived and curated by Katharina Rohde & Thireshen Govender, under interventions (Act #5 and Act #6) of the greater PublicActs/Johannesburg Project:

Mai Mai Market in the morning (ImageJhono Bennett)


“Focusing on new and emerging public spaces PublicActs/Johannesburg aims to investigate and showcase its many different manifestations and potentials.

Producing a catalogue of urban public conditions based on criteria that respond to the contemporary reality of our city and represent its diverse geographies, six sites are identified for their critical value. These meander between the New Imaginaries, the Everyday, the Grand and Spectacular, the Ephemeral and Politics, Power and Protest.

Acknowledging different interpretations of publicness, six creative collaborators alongside local actors are invited to produce a series of actions, site-specific interactions or performances in defined sites, to provoke discussion and the imagination around future public spaces in Johannesburg.

The project culminates into 24hour choreographed Public Acts which invites spectators to playfully engage and interact with the creative interpretations on site. Additionally to the artistic outputs, the festival program will engage local stakeholders and a greater public to critically reflect and comment on the projects findings, speculations and provocations. This will allow for thought about the conditions and production of public space in Johannesburg

With the research and experiences generated we aim to challenge urban actors and decision-makers to engage and construct public spaces in Johannesburg in innovative and democratic ways. Our findings and creative outputs shall function as a guide on how to approach, use, misuse, appropriate and imagine public space in African cities”. (text taken from www.publicacts.org)

The Kwa-Mai Mai socio-spatial action research intervention was the 6 week culmination of a critical process of engagement with the Kwa-Mai Mai Committee and the Mai Mai users. This article explains the process undertaken by those involved and summarises the experience highlighting the key findings and discoveries along the way.
 
 
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Through a series of discussions, informal workshops and mapping exercises fellow PublicActs provacateurs, Liliania Transplantor and WayWord Sun of AMBush Gardening Collective and myself began investigating the complex and layered qualities of the socio-spatial dynamic of the Kwa-Mai Mai Bazaar (referred to locally as the Mai Mai Market and the entire area as Mai Mai) in Johannesburg’s Central Business District. 
What was amazing was not in the fact that they were taken, but that as the day progressed the chairs were slowly returned to the site as the extended leadership from within the Mai Mai Market exercised its control over the entire Mai Mai site, and through co-ordinated movements all chairs were returned back to their original placement.
Mai Mai Food Court before the Act began – with chairs re-appropriated (ImageJhono Bennett)
Mai Mai Food Court before the Act began – as the chairs began returning (ImageJhono Bennett)
Mai Mai Food Court before the Act began – as the chairs began returning (ImageJhono Bennett)
Mai Mai Food Court before the Act began – all chairs returned (ImageJhono Bennett)
This finding eluded to a much more complex and organised form of leadership and governance that exists in Mai Mai. Simultaneously, more intricate territories amongst the food court users were revealed as the chairs became a symbol of territorial control as users claimed ownership over various arrangements.

Findings

While the experiment did not meet the original aim of constructively provoking forms of seating and gathering it revealed many of the intangible connections and controls that allow the Mai Mai Food Court to work as a highly successful and productive democratic public space in appearance, but a deeply territorialised and governed space in the public realm.
(ImageJhono Bennett)

Looking Forward – and Back

Working Draft of Process of Engagement – see completed version at www.whatdoesmaimaimean.blogspot.com
(ImageJhono Bennett)
This initial engagement was the first step in a much longer envisioned engagement from both 1to1 – Agency of Engagement and AMbush Gardening Collective with the Kwa-Mai Mai Committee and its users in their own goals of developing Mai Mai into their collective vision.
What the process revealed to us, and our project partners, was how crucial the delicate and negotiated process of trust building that is required through critical engagement to even begin to uncover important social and spatial relationships areas such as the Mai Mai Market.
More so, how important it is for city planners and spatial practitioners to understand that not all systems reveal themselves at face value and often in such complex and rich public spaces, one needs to more engaged and critical when interrogating public space towards an understanding or an intervention.