Transforming Johannesburg: Kya Sands

In early Costanza La Mantia invited myself and several other researchers, lecturres and practitioners to assist in the running of  a 10 day workshop in Johannesburg’s Kya Sands Informal Setttlement through a project named ‘Transforming Kya Sands’

The organisation team worked as facilitators on the project and guided the participants, made up of a mix of professional, government and students from South Africa and abroad, through the the difficult challenge of how to develop and meet the needs of the kya sands residents.

My group was looking at public space and how it would be addressed in the larger project development. The project is still being published and will be shareable soon.

This project was linked to my ealrier teaching with Costanza at Wits in the Planning School:

Spatial Design Teaching Research

2015 has proven to be a very busy year with several teaching, learning and research projects lining up around the idea of pedagogy and design research.
A joint research and experiential exchange arranged between SDI International, the South Africa SDI Alliance and myself in regard to developing a similar network in South Africa.
London – Part 1
Through an agreement with the various supporters, I arranged to stop over in London en route to the later part of this trip in order to joing my colleagues from the University of Johannesburg who are busy initiating a paradigm shift in it’s post graduate programme of Architecture and arranged several visits to School’s of Architecture in London during the Summer Festival of Architecture to develop a further understanding of the Unit System.
House Boat visit with friends in London
Summer Exhibition through the street facade
University of Johannesburg colleagues touring London Met with staff members
Jeremy Till’s Unit

The AA

Boston, USA
In order to break the long trip up for medical reason’s I managed to arrange a short stay in Boston, where I visited several friends involved in Architecture and global urbanism
Diller Schofield
The Big Dig common space
The New England Holocaust Memorial by South African Stanley Saitowitz
Media Lab with Carsen Smuts

Harvard GSD

Too happy to see even Harvard still uses thumb tacks
New York
When your offered to see the sites by yacht captain….

Columbia University – GSAPP

Happy to see messy studios

The High Line

The KV Leuvan and the University of Guayaquil arranged an intensive summer school that I was fortunate enough to be selected for their scholarship programme and attend.
London – Part 2
To make and break the return trip home for the same medical reasons, a second visit to London was arranged, where I got to meet up with several key practitioners such as Julia King, who had just completed an exciting Design/Build with the Bartlett School of Architecture’s undergraduate department.
The Barbican, because
Nairobi – Unit 2 Field Trip
By chance the UJ Unit 2 field trip ended up fitting perfectly onto the tail end of this trip and I met the unit in Nairobi, and led the week-long experience with my colleagues Dr. Amira Osman

After Thought

Being positioned so isolated in the ‘global south’ we don’t get to see in person such a diversity of approaches, values and work – this trip exposed me to such a vast array of work and practices that I now understand has deepened my position and values in regard to design & practice.

Designing Inclusion Summer School: Guayaquil, Ecaudor

I was fortunate enough to be selected for the scholarship programme to attend the 2015 Designing Inclusion Summer School in Gauyaquil, Ecuador by KV Leuven in conjunction with the local University of Guayaquil.

The Summer School aimed to expose participants to the complexity of working within Guayaquil’s current development phase while attending public lectures and classes on ecological urbanism by several keynote speakers and panellists.
The workshop sought to use design as a tool to mitigate the difficulty of the government programmes to protect the ecological systems of Guayaquil while engaging with economically, environmentally and socially vulnerable groups of people who live in close proximity to such systems.

This summer school aims to provide professionals engaged in environmental planning and urban development with the critical tools to design and manage an integrated provision of both housing and ecological infrastructure. Its goals are premised on the lack of scalar integration and participatory planning in the implementation of large-scale and capital-intensive ecological mega-projects in the global South – and in Ecuador more particularly. Indeed, the emergence of ecological mega-projects in the global South is undeniable.

Their implementation in the context of rapid growth, consolidated self-building practices and increasing inequality holds innumerable threats to equitable urban development. Co-producing ecological urbanism for inclusive city transformation is therefore an essential skill for engendering meaningful social and physical change. With the ‘global city’ discourse strongly impacting on the governance of urban eco-restoration and residential developments in many cities, the delineation of alternative ecological management strategies and housing typologies remains largely neglected.

In Ecuador, the Buen Vivir concept has bred many promises to promote alternative forms of development and spread well-being across the country’s human settlements. In line with this agenda, Ecuador’s largest city and port has been subject to significant transformations, out of which the most prominent is the Guayaquil Ecologico.

University of Guayaquil
The first few days were spent on several immersive site visits to explore the Guayaquil Ecologico.  projects and subsequent public spaces that emerged from such initiatives.
Heavily controlled ‘public space
Market Traders strictly controlled in such public spaces
The Malecon (waterfront) project near the historical sector of Guaqyuil
Guayquil Relocation settlements (RDP)
Public Spaces in Guaqyuil are seen more in Shopping Center’s (Similar to RSA)
Gated Communities are as common as in Johannesburg and prolific on the city edges.
Environmentally vulnerable residents of the river edges
Evicted residents, pressure put on by government and local developers
Some public spaces work better than others
Such as this heavily controlled ‘public park’
Fisherman’s livelihoods were most crucially affected by the issues of urbanisation, and predicted climate change
Local residents took us around their neighbourhoods
A ‘public space’project that sought to create better waterfront space
residents were encouraged to paint their houses to look ‘nicer’
The separation of waterfront from the neighbourhood was very clear.
Each day was spent either on field or in intense lectures and presentations, ending normally around 8pm. The organisers arranged special headsets for translation between English and Spanish.
Tramos 8
After the initial site visits and lectures, we were assigned various sites and into groups to begin working with the residents of facing immediate threats of eviction and climate change.
Our group working with the local community leader, an advocate and activist.
Various housing conditions
Various housing conditions
Public spaces in streets change daily
The proximity to the river was a health and security risk to some, but a livelihood to others
Construction typologies varied massively
Local residents took us around explaining in detail the various challenges faced

A local architect had been commissioned to design a vision of little Venice that the residents of  Tramos 8 were pushing local government for
The work
Our task was to take the immersive research done with residents and transform their needs and vision into a set of design strategies that took into account climate change, a relationship to ecological systems while addressing the complex social and economic factors of the people of Tramos 8.
The rest of the workshop focused on similar tasks in different areas across Gauyaquil.
Workshops were held at local houses
Residents took us into their homes to understand the space
The street facades were a crucial aspect of security and social capital
But mostly people turned their backs to the river
Our team sought to understand public space and design accordingly

This was done with several methods of data capturing


Our work was presented in a series of workshops held at the University and in the local neighbourhoods.

Strategy Image – Existing Condition
Strategy Image – Proposed Design Strategy

Our strategies were presented in this format, which did not work so well in the first iteration due to various miscommunication and translation errors.

But after this initial meeting, our team focused on smaller working groups and spent the remainder of the week working on site in more engaged workshops.

Here with more engaged residents we uncovered valuable information about the area, while developing a stronger communication tool set and focusing in on examples of upgrading such as the fisherman.

Interviews with the fisherman families

Final Workshop 

After a very intense 2 weeks of non-stop work we presented the co-developed scheme to the residents alongside the architect who commissioned the original ‘Little Venice’ scheme.

Tramos 8 final presentation posters depicting the development strategy
Image from final design strategy
The presentation was much better received in this 1to1 format, than in the large presentation arena
Our team returned to Tramos 8 to present the whole programmes findings to residents in their neighborhood.
Position & Values
As a non-Spanish speaker I was forced to take a backseat in this process and contribute where I could technically and with some workshop tools. This position forced me to reflect on the manner in which I approach such design challenges in the face of the summer school:
As a designers we are forced to enact our own values and understanding through design decision but with this, we are complicit in this action of forcing our own values on people who may not share such social, cultural or economic values.
Our position as architects trains us in a common language of speaking through design drawings which again, is not a language shared by non-designers, yet we struggle to see this and blame people for not understanding our vision because they cannot read such drawings.
I was surprised that such ideas were so hard to discuss with a group of 40 designers who I would assume would be more reflective on the position of privilege they unwittingly hold.
I was also taken back by the manner in which the summer school used design; in my experience design is used as a tool to understand and co-develop understanding and communication tools as well as a tool to strategise future development proposals, but here the design proposal was used as the communication tool, a different approach to my own – but one that I felt a bit strong for such a sensitive context.
That being said, I did see the value in bringing together a group of highly skilled technicians to address a very complex technical design issue, and what could be produced in such a short period of time.
The workshop exposed me much about the role of designers in such contexts, and only cemented my resolve to further develop the role of socio-technical spatial designers in South Africa.

3rd Regional Community Architecture Network Meeting & Workshop: Manila, Phillipines

This story covers the 2015 exchange trip between South African delegates from the SDI Network and the CAN Network in the Philippines.

Manila City

The Exchange
In 2015, a small delegation from the South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance (SASDIA) was sent to the 3rd Regional Community Architecture (CAN) Meeting & Workshop to experience first-hand the CAN Network in action in order to understand the workings of the network, learn from the CAN experience.
SDI Delegation in Manila 
This delegation was made up of 3 professionals and three community members from the SASDIA and were chosen by the alliance for strategic leadership and capacity development to bring back home.
As a team, we were expected to try and understand how the CAN works, its practices and tools as well its members . This would be done during the working while the delegation would be exposed and learn from similar practitioners and community groups who are working on similar problems around the development of disadvantaged communities, such as in South Africa. Ideally we would learn valuable lessons from the CAN in regard to practices of community design and bring these home to South Africa.

Workshop Background:

The 3rd Regional CAN Regional Meeting & Workshop held was held this year in Manila, Philippines between June 16 – June 23 and conducted with the theme: “Together we CAN! People planning for future inclusive cities “

CAN Workshop Day 1
The workshop aimed to:
· Bring together local and international participants working in different countries in Asia and beyond to exchange and share experiences through community workshops.
· Provide concrete technical support to actual community initiatives through fieldwork in people centred heritage planning in Intramuros, Manila and city-wide development approach (CDA) in Muntinlupa City.
· Link with local universities
· Plan new collaborative future activities with multiple stakeholders to ensure long term change
Ultimately the workshop aimed to support the larger mission of the CAN Network which is to:
“..Create a platform to link architects, engineers, planners, universities and community artisans in Asia, who work with communities and believe that poor communities should play a central role in planning their communities, and in finding solutions to build better settlements and more inclusive cities. “

CAN Network Diagram

The Workshop:

The delegation arrived on the 15th, and was welcomed by the well organised and energetic CAN management team.

CAN Members from Bangladesh presenting
After an initial series of presentations on CAN and the various organisations that make up the network, individual organisations of the workshop were invited to present themselves and their work.

Site Visits – Intramuros

Site Visits – Intramuros Workshop

Intramuros Site Visit – Banana City

From here the next 2 days were spent taking the conference on site visits of where the workshop delegates would be working in Allabang and Intramuros.

Allabang Site Visit

Allabang Site Visit – Fisherman Houses

Allabang Site Visit – Saving group welcome

Allabang Site Visit – Saving group welcome

The participants were then broken into smaller groups of practitioners and community members and sent to stay in separate neighborhoods (or Barangays) where each group would focus on a specific set of issues faced by the various community groups supported by the local CAN organisation, Tampei.

Group Focus Work in Allabang – Enumeration & Mapping
Group Focus Work in Allabang – Enumeration & Mapping

Group Focus Work in Allabang – learning the CAN practices

 Group Focus Work in Allabang – Confirming the Mapping
Each group spent the week intensively working on enumeration, mapping, and design with and for local groups aiming to initiate development energy supporting community initiatives.

Group Focus Work in Allabang – GPS Mapping in dense settlements

Group Focus Work in Allabang – Story collection from residents

Group Focus Work in Allabang – Community Mapping with residents

Allabang in context

Group Focus Work in Allabang – Enumeration & Mapping with residents

This week was also spent sharing knowledge amongst all international participants in such work.

Group Focus Work in Allabang – Consolidating Mapping work for presentation

Sharing valuable skills from participants

This was done while strategically developing a body of work that would be shown to local government stakeholders at a final seminar in both Allabang and Intramuros.

Consolidated Group work for strategic presentation with government stakeholders

Allabang – Strategic presentation with invited stakeholders

Intramuros – Strategic Presentation

The workshop culminated in a social event on the 24th, celebrating the workshop’s success.

Key Observations:

The workshop was highly successful in bringing together community architects from across the world to share experience and knowledge through the mixture of workshop tasks, social events and working activities.

 CAN Practice: intensive workshops

The strategic use of these professionals to hyper-activate local community processes was exemplary in not have the visited communities as passive beneficiaries, while using the work developed in the short time to engage local governance bodies to support local community processes was a highly impactful strategy employed by the workshop organisers.

CAN Practice Capacitation through training

In particular it was impressive to see how ingrained the practices were conducted by both local community support and technical support. There seems to be something in the way the Philippines alliance work that goes beyond technical support and enters into new cultural and social dimensions of such work.

CAN Practice – Strategic grass roots work

Personally, it was amazing to be in the presence of so many like-minded professionals who shared the values of community driven processes and were skilled in facilitative design processes.

CAN Practices in action

This experience further cemented my personal motivation in developing critical co-productive design skills for me and other South African socio-technical spatial designers through community driven development projects.

ASF Change by Design: Cape Town 2015

Change by Design 2015 – Cape Town

Architecture Sans Frontiers – United Kingdom (ASF-UK) has been conducting their Change by Design workshops since 2009 in various counties; Brazil, Kenya, England and Ecuador.
These workshops explore participatory design as a tool for advocacy and socio-spatial transformation in informal settlements, in collaboration with grass roots organizations, local NGOs and governmental agencies involved in slum upgrading and housing rights.

This year they arranged the workshop in Cape Town, alongside the Development Action Group (DAG)‘s Re-Imagining the City campaign and invited myself amongst many other practitioners to facilitate the workshop:

“The focus of our upcoming workshop is the neighbourhood of Woodstock, in Cape Town, South Africa. Here, ASF-UK is teaming up with the NGO Development Action Group (DAG) and diverse groups of local stakeholders to explore how inner-city urban regeneration can be re-imagined as a process that brings about more equitable and democratic city development in Cape Town”

The workshop employs a holistic approach at 4 different scales: Dwelling, Community, City and Policy & Planning that works with existing initiatives (DAG) to support work being conducted on the ground.

The entire workshop was documented here:

Cape Town Workshop

We worked from DAG’s newly opened DAG Cafe, a space planned to be a platform for future discussion around DAG’s Re-Imagining Settlement’s Programme.

I was assigned to the the Dwelling group where we developed a tool to capture the Life World Mapping of the various sites we set to engage with.

And began the process of participatively mapping with residents of the various sites DAG ia involved with.

Gympie Street Mapping
Bromwell Mapping

Pine Road Mapping

Participative Workshops

These findings were then works- hopped through a series of exercises conducted at the DAG Cafe,

This exercise was carefully designed and facilitated by the ASF Team in two parts, one that asked residents to ‘build’ their dream home, then asked residents to discuss together aspects of neighbourhood and possible links to future threats.

Individual Exercise

Group Exercise

The findings from all the exercises were carefully collected and collated into the final day workshop that brought together all the various scales of the workshop as well as various stakeholders in DAG’s projects.

Final Day Exercise

These final workshops were crucial in determining the collective elements of those involved in the different aspects of DAG’s work.

Workshop End

The workshop concluded with a facilitated discussion between the participants and the CBO’s. The next step from the facilitation team is to complete the report for DAG as well as package and share the data gathered during the workshop .

Reports from previous CBD Workshops:

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.

Juta Street Socio+Spatial Mapping

Through 1to1, I was commissioned by Local Studio alongside Urbanists for Equity (U4E) to complete a quick, robust and detailed survey of Juta Street in Braamfontein by Local Studio.

Local Studio required a detailed study of the area to support a proposal for an urban park in
Braamfontein and wanted a detailed analysis of the user groups, activities and socio-spatial nature of the area.

1to1 and U4E employed the services of UJ students and completed the entire study in a single

This work underpinned a later project with the University of Sheffield’s Masters in Urban Design

Used for work with Sheffield University

University of Sheffield – Masters in Urban Design 2016/2017

  I was again invited by Dr. Beatrice De Carli to teach in the Urban Design Masters at Sheffield for the 2016/2017 teaching period. This was done as part of a larger network project that has been set up with University of Sheffield (Sheffield, UK), Nanjing University (Nanjing, China), CEPT (Ahmedabad, India) and the University of Johannesburg […]

University of Sheffield – Masters in Urban Design 2015/2016

In 2016 I was invited by Dr Beatrice De Carli to assist in the teaching of the Masters in Urban Design at the University of Sheffield’s School of Architecture for the ‘Design from Afar Module”. We set the brief in Johannesburg’s Braamfontein and aimed to create a teaching/research model that would allow students in Sheffield […]

Sheffield Mobility: Spatial Design Research

2018 marks the final year of a 3 year mobility exchange between the University of Johannesburg’s DSD Desis Lab and the Sheffield School of Architecture. RAUM #2 Day 1. Rathul sharing the debate on Public Space as a teaching method for CEPT A post shared by Jhono Bennett (@jhonobennett) on May 8, 2017 at 7:12am […]

Informal Studio Travelling Exhibition – Nairobi

The final set of events for the Informal Studio project culminated in the travelling exhibition of the project that exhibited in JOHANNESBURG, NEW YORKMUNICHLONDONDOUALABERLIN, DURBAN, CAPE TOWN & NAIROBI
As part of the team I was asked to take the exhibition to Nairobi, and present the work at the opening with the University of Nairobi:

The Goethe-Institut Kenya and the University of Nairobi organised the exhibition Informal Studio: Marlboro South to be shown at the UoN’s Department of Architecture & Building Science.

Jhono Bennett (University of Johannesburg) facilitated a workshop discussing Johannesburg as a city, the larger movements of national government in the face of the national housing challenge and how spatial designers are working within these larger issues. The workshop was supported by a Q & A panel discussion with Baraka Mwea from UN Habitat, Eric Wright and Claudia Morgado (UJ), UoN planners, architects and student representatives including: Adnan Mwakulomba Abdi (chairman), Ms. Hellen Nzainga, Dr. Joseph Kamenju, Prof. Anyamba Tom Tebesi and Dr. Kákumu Owiti Abiero.

University of Nairobi – Architecture Department
A travelling exhibition on the INFORMAL STUDIO: MARLBORO SOUTH documents the outcomes of the studio and its post-course engagement. It seeks to demonstrate the value of participative design practice in education and practice towards developing contextually founded and achievable approaches to city-making. At the same time, it portays the complexity of engagement across cultural, social and economic divides and makes a case for the redefinition of the role of the professional from top-down expert to grass-roots agent. 
This process is captured in multiple narratives which take the form of drawing, maps, diagrams, models, comic and film. The exhibition was curated by Anne Graupner of 26’10 south Architects and its content has been shown in various local and international fora, including the South African Presidency.
University of Nairobi – Architecture Department
University of Nairobi – Architecture Department Studios
Setting Up
I arrived 1 week before the opening to lead the exhibition set up which with the support of the Goethe and the staff at the University of Nairobi’s Architecture Department went very smoothly.
Having the exhibition in the entrance hall of the Architecture Department was a crucial decision, as this gave maximum exposure to the students as it stood here for 1 month after the opening,


Opening Night
The exhibition was opened to a busy night, which included a short presentation by the Goethe, the head of school and myself on behalf of the Informal Studio team.

Exploring Nairobi

I purposefully extended my trip to allow time to explore Nairobi and meet with other design practitioners working in Nairobi.
Nairobi Sky-Line
Dreaded Nairobi Traffic
Nairobi Train Station
Nairobi Public Space

Infamous Boda Bodas

Nairobi felt like a mix of my home town of Durban with the energy of Johannesburg. From alter discussion I discovered Nairobi was actually planned by a South African planner in the 1940’s and bares many of the same socio-spatial ills of South Africa cities.
Exploring Kibera
The team from the Goethe Nairobi were invaluable in the exhibition set up, and invited me to visit some of their art programmes in Kibera’s Soweto.
French Artist JR’s work in Kibera
See more on JR’s work here
Kenyan Gated Communities

Privately built (questinabbly legal) multi-storey walk ups providing better density than other forms of delivery.
Muungano Trust
This part of my trip was planned to strategically meet with Jack  Makau and Jane Weru of the Kenya SDI Alliance; Muungano Trust & Akiba Mashinini in order to build links between South African Socio-Technical Spatial Designers and those working in Kenya.
The organisations took me around to see their various projects and facilitated an exchange workshop between myself and their technical staff members.
Railway Relocation Project
Churches were not moved for this project
Roads in Kibera being built as we drove along them by the Kenyan National Youth Service
Double Up Houses  – rental
Governmental re-housing project high rise overlooking Kibera
Visiting Muungano Trust Saving groups outside Nairobi
Muungano Trust Savings Group
Nakuru Housing Projects

Nairobi Future

On top of completing my involvement with the Informal Studio, this trip allowed me to see many of the difficulty of the work we conduct in South Africa in a similar but very different context.
This experience was invaluable, and set the relationship for not only future collaborations between the Kenyan SDI Alliance’s Muungano Trust & Akiba Mashinini but also for a potential exchange trip between University of Johannesburg students to Kenya.

DOM Architectural Guide: South Africa – Contributing Photographer

In early 2014 I was approach by my former lecturer, Nicholas Clarke, to assist with photographic contribution to the DOM Architectural Guide: South Africa.
 Fortuitously my car was in for repairs and I was forced to document and visit all the required building on foot and by bicyle, making for a very interesting assignment.

Unused sample Shot from collection 

Unused sample Shot from collection
Unused sample Shot from collection

Unused sample Shot from collection

Unused sample Shot from collection
The book was launched at the UIA 2014 event and the majority of the Johannesburg photos are my own.

University of the Witwatersrand – Planning School: Kya Sands Informal Settlement Planning Studio

In 2014 I assisted Costanza La Mantia at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Planning School in teaching the design module for the 2nd year planning students under the ARPL 2015 module.
The module was taught through research and participatory engagement with various community based organisations that work within Kya Sands.

Kya Sands sits in an uncomfortable tension with it’s suburban neighbour of North Riding.
The studio was conducted at the University, but a several site visits were arranged to understand the context of Kya Sands.
A scaled model was developed and used in a critical exercise to determine the collective aspirations and values held by the various community based organisations.

The exercise was held at a local creche and students worked closely under the guidance of Costanza and myself.
Residents surrounding the the creche were encouraged to attend by the students.

The planning students conducted the participatory engagement and crossed many langauge and social barriers through the exercise.

Through the process, the values and findings were carefully collected, and shared with the participants and added to the ongoing research and engagement being conducted through Wits.

Aformal Terrain (AT)

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:

* shared from *

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.

Real Projects 

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: [2014] 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

[2015] 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

[2016] Simon Ngubeni (UJ Student), Yoana Hristova (UJ Student), Kobus Marais (UJ Student), Tiisetso Mokgopo (UJ Student), , Tresor Mbayahe(UJ Student)

AT Organisations
AT Project Supporters
AT Funders & Supporters
Open Societies Foundation: Higher Education Support Programme

This trajectory of critical engagement builds on methods and intentions developed through earlier formative collaborative platforms;

informalStudio: Ruimsig (2011) [i]

informalStudio: Marlboro South (2012) [ii]

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 ( 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 (
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)