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:

AT: studioATdenver 2014-2016

As part of 1to1, AT and my lecturing at UJ i\ve been involved in the formation and support of both AT and the studioATdenver programme.

* shared from *


studioATdenver was a multi-year teaching and learning programe in collaboration with residents, community leadership and multiple stakeholders involved with Denver Informal Settlement in Johannesburg.

This program was established to take course over a period of 3-5 years and supported a 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.

“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.”

Aformal Terrain (AT)

AT operated through this processes of engagement by partnering with local leadership, civil groups and residents living in Denver. Outcomes for colloboariton were carefully developed through immersive, collaborative and co-produced process of pre/post and active engagement and established an iterative trans-disciplinary platform for exchange and cross-capacitation.

The studioATdenver: 2014 -2016

The course aimed to engage students and staff of the Univerity of Johannesburg’s Department of Architecture in an active and careful social engagement, research and design process where the outcomes and project parameter would be identified and developed in collaboration with the various local actors (residents, local government, private sector e.t.c) with the underlying intention to ultimately assist residents in their current efforts to spatially develop their neighborhood.

The structure of the social engagement was built on methods, techniques and principles developed through earlier formative collaborative platforms; informalStudio: Ruimsig (2011) and informalStudio: Marlboro South (2012). The core underpinnings, purpose and relevance of AT stemmed from and was built on the development of, and involvement in, these preceding studios. 

The studios took place over a multi-week integrated studio format, that guided a focused engagement between students, the residents and leadership of Denver, Johannesburg.

The studio pursued both practical and theoretical methodologies (conceptual & pragmatic) and allowed for open ended, process driven, outcomes. The curriculum was under-pinned by community based planning methodologies and ethos that aimed at co-producing highly responsive ‘community-action plans’ based on the engagement outcomes and research. These action plans were structured to investigate and co-develop short, medium and long term planning scenarios.

The studioATdenver actively recognised the settlement residents and community groups/organisations as both clients and partners and it was the studio was structued to galvanise developing relationships with local active NGOs (CORC & uTshani) who were already underway with community focussed processes on site, as well as the interest of the the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP) and the informal Settlement Network) (ISN) with Denver as an identified category -B settlement for the Department of Human Settlements (DoHS) development list.

The program allowed for students, teachers and teaching practitioners to engage with a people-driven process of development. A core principle of this studio was that teaching & learning took place through the action-research and the physical doing of collaborative work between the field (the context) and the class room (the university) in support of developing linkages between theory, practice and research.

The studio thus aims to expose students to process oriented methods of participative planning, shifting the focus from product (delivery) to alternative approaches (responses). Despite the on-going backlog of South Africa’s formal housing delivery, the upgrading of informal settlements (as defined by the DoHS) and the residents living within these areas is seen as one of South Africa’s key National Delivery Targets.

Yet NUSP, tasked to assist National Government’s efforts “to improve basic infrastructure, services and land tenure for 400 000 households in well-located informal settlements by 2014” (National Development Plan: Outcome 8), is still facing a shortage of suitably qualified professionals and officials regarding:

  • Meaningful community engagement around collaboratively identifying needs, challenges and existing expertise and processes through collective efforts of immersive observation and exchange.
  • Analysis of Community Action Plans (CAPs) in direct response to their immediate condition, needs and means, then combining these CAPs with strategies employed by more formal processes of infrastructural and housing delivery.
  • Development of rigorous frameworks for adaptive settlements, self-made improvements and future change.
  • Co-designed strategies for small scale, allowing people to adapt ‘delivered’ responses more suited to specific needs, challenging current professional or state definitions of housing.
  • Production of architectural and urban strategies founded in rich collaborative efforts investigating; density, economy/ies, spatial scenarios, systems, adaptability and programmatic complexity.

In addition the program aimed to bring awareness to the broader housing crisis facing South Africa and the potential role that architects and spatial practitioners can play as responsive professionals toward this challenge:

“For the provision of basic shelter to lead to healthy, integrated neighbourhoods, the planning of new settlements and the re-blocking of existing ones need to be guided by robust urban frameworks which help structure the richly complex growth typical of the informal settlement.

studioATdenver Brief – 2014

“Architects working in collaborative constellations can offer real value through their ability to integrate both the intimate (domestic) scale as well as the overall (settlement) scale.

Yet in the absence of appropriate training and methodological approaches this potential remains largely unfulfilled and likely to remain so unless academia engages more directly and proactively with real world needs and demands. This course attempts to do just this.”

(excerpt from general course outline informalStudio: Marlboro South, June2012)


Denver is situated in a light industrial zone located along the eastern edge of a broader industrial belt spanning the southern extent of Johannesburg’s CBD. It sits adjacent to the historic east/west gold mining axis (known as the ‘main reef’). This industrial belt (buffer) is embedded into the surrounding urban fabric, simultaneously woven and disconnected by multiple forces: mine dumps, railways, arterials, freeways and storm water channels. Over the past 15 years residual industrial lots and open spaces have become appropriated as living environments affording well located shelter within the inner city.

Denver Hostels and other surrounding settlements emerged, accompanying the city’s development, to accommodate migrant workers arriving in the city, controlled by previous apartheid planning approaches. The numerous hostels in the broader township vary dynamically in terms of spatial and social conditions. Such differences are largely informed by management and leadership. Denver (township/informal settlement) contains minimal established residential areas within its confines – The closest larger established (‘formal’) residential suburb is Malvern East, to the North. Other nearby townships include; Benrose and Jeppestown to the east, City Deep and Heritodale to the south and Gables to the east.

The larger Denver neighborhood sits well connected to various mobility lines; the M2 motorway, Main Reef road, The railway line (closest station..?) and taxi routes. From this is can be considered an area with high levels of accessibility, mobility and visibility. Through these well developed transport networks and as an industrial node offering employment, many people transit the CBD and surrounds en route to jobs in Denver and surrounding industrial areas. Denver can be considered as both a regional destination and transit point taking the provision of employment and other services (manufacturing, motor repairs etc.) into account.

The fabric of Denver comprises of mainly older industrial stock, many of these large factories and warehouses are disused. The area developed rapidly from 1920-1940 and much of the disuse is due to the fact that most buildings are now either unsuitable or less competitive for contemporary industrial uses.

Further to these conditions, the proximity and relationship to the nearby hostels and surrounding social housing developments suggest noteworthy, both historical and emergent, living conditions as informants to perceptions and aspirations towards the provision of services and housing.

Pre-Engagement & MOU

An elongated period of pre-engagement with the various leadership structures was conducted before the studio began, to clearly determine the nature of the studio and the expected outcomes and processes. These meeting included the local ward councillors, regional leadership, housing officials and NGO’s such as uTshani, ISN and CORC.

Before the studio began a multi year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was co-developed that carefully outlined the aims, structure and outcomes of the studio between the Denver Izinduna (local leadership) and AT.

Value Based Approach

The following values governed the nature of all engagements conducted in throughout the multi-year program.

  • Do no harm
  • Work ethically and sensitively in precarious spatial environments and human settlements.
  • Respect and acknowledge the value of settlement residents in processes of research and design.
  • Encourage awareness
  • With a focus on generating useful knowledge to inform and capacitate self-made (grassroots) change, Involving students, lecturers,
  • residents, professionals and local governance.
  • Interrogate assumed roles and definitions of spatial practitioners in a South African context.
  • Generate responsive ways of working within spatially chaotic and unequal scenarios.
  • Work collaboratively
  • Work in partnership with organised community groups, thus building on local community knowledge and objectives.
  • Collectively identify necessary ‘outcomes’ (with residents, NGOs, Local Gov).
  • Initiate and support long-term relationships.
  • Tie into existing processes
  • Identify and assist on-the-ground initiatives already in motion (current upgrades, clean-ups etc).
  • Track, effect and inform governmental policies and/or initiatives in place. (NUSP, DoHS).
  • Assist local organisations with community focussed processes (SA SDI)
  • Investigate and develop emerging methodologies
  • Strategically employ and develop current and emerging methods of working in informal settlements:
    • Re-blocking
    • In-situ incremental upgrading (catalytic acupuncture)
    • Adaptive occupation/ appropriation/conversion (eg. converted warehouses)
    • Community action planning
Student Ethics Exercise

Studio Themes

The following themes were identified as key concepts for the studios. Each theme held a potential scale and time-frame for action planning considerations i.e. short-medium-long term strategies at dwelling scale, interface scale, system scale, settlement scale, regional scale etc.


  • Developing a grounded and critical understanding of ‘on the ground’ realities with, and for, the residents. This understanding is aimed at promoting spatial justice through social, economic, political and physical factors as influences in aformal scenarios.


  • Settlements that promote sustainable and equitable dwelling (living) through social, economic and communal opportunity through the planning for; improvement of systems, spaces and places that allow equitable co-existence. A focus on housing, services and healthcare


  • The co-production of visions, action plans and joint objectives towards short, medium and long-term potentials. Community action plans as mobilising elements for spatial justice and humane environments.
  • Within each of these key themes the following (more quantative and qualitative) considerations have been identified as sub-focuses: (Note: a diagram of this matrix will be included in the studio info pack)


  • Scenario typologies (open lot, walled stand, residual space, unused, abandoned, vacant)
  • Narratives (culture, heritage, history)
  • Community/ies (leadership and people groups)


  • Wellbeing/healthscapes (A rhizomatic healthscape is defined as non-fixed health provision which minimises obduracy (inflexibility) and follows open building theory (Habraken), and extending it to design scales around and above architecture.)
  • Lifestyle
  • Shared space (public, common, open e.t.c)


  • Mobility                                             
  • Opportunity
  • Ecological/ies
  • Services
  • Heirachies (tribal,cultural, personal e.t.c)


  • access, permeability, codes
  • opportunity


  • community knowledge
  • surrounding conditions


  • governmental objectives (city, national)
  • long-term engagement
  • community objectives   

UJ Unit 2: Architecture & Agency

Unit 2 Students on Site in Johannesburg CBD

2015 marks the year that the UJ Graduate Programme in Architecture (UJ GPA), driven and run by Dr. Lesley Lokko, launched the ground breaking Unit System Africa here in Johannesburg.

Through the Unit System Africa, the UJ GPA aims to set the scene for Africa’s most innovative, relevant and creative teaching laboratory by establishing the first three units of the new programme.


Unit 2: Architecture & Agency

Dr Amira Osman with Tariq Toffa and myself have developed Unit 2: Architecture & Agency to explore and co-develop the ideas of Open Building & Socio-Technical Spatial Design alongside the students through the 2 year masters programme:

Unit 2 is based on the understanding that the Built Environment comes into existence and transforms as a social/physical ecosystem in which neighbourhoods and buildings are never finished, but rather transform part by part. This unit links strongly with current international trends in thinking and also resonates strongly with present-day South African concerns. Unit 2 offers an exceptional opportunity to engage with an international network of thinkers/practitioners in the field of Open Building, Urbanism and Human Settlements.” Unit 2 Website

Image – Simon Ngubeni: Unit 2 Student

We have only reached the half way point of the first year, but already have begun developing interesting and grounded readings of the the sites we have exposed the students too as well as the mechanisms in which to critical engage with the complexity of South Africa’s Built Environment.

Image: Crucial Input from invited friends and supporters of UJ Unit 2


Image – Omphile Msindo: Unit 2 Student
Unit 2 Students on Site in JeppesTown

Image – Diana Wolny:Unit 2 Student
Image – Diana Wolny: Unit 2 Students during street lecture
Image – Luke Venter: Unit 2 Student

Under the leadership of Dr. Lesley Lokko and support of the UJ GPA staff the next 2 years are set to be an exciting and ground breaking experience for all involved.

Teaching: University of Pretoria Housing & Urban Environment Module

2014 UP HUE Student Work

In April 2012 Carin Combrinck invited me to assist her in teaching the Housing and Urban Module in the postgraduate school at the University of Pretoria’s Architecture Department, known as Boukunde,
Carin invited me to take the students through the same process I had undergone in 2010 in Slovo Park, but this time with more focus on what we now call Socio-Technical Design. This period of teaching proved to be an critical reflective space for me to work through what tertiary architectural education is missing and identify teaching and design methods to bridge the gaps.
Yolandi Viljoen, UP Student on Site at Slovo Park
This became my entrance into teaching, and ultimately paved the way for the 1to1 – Student League.
Tuliza Sindi, presenting work at UP
Tialise Taljaard on site in Slovo Park

Analysis Video that became the documentary Waterborne by Ingmar Buchner
Project Proposal by Abbey Walsh

The students excelled in this module, and developed interesting, relevant and integrated designs from the immersive process that  gave the Slovo Park Community Development Forum a clear graphic plan to take to government.

UP Students engaging with Slovo Park Community Development Foruim
Carla Taljaard presenting at Slovo Park
During my time at Boukunde I also took students to visit other projects across Johannesburg, such as Marlboro South

The 2012 group took their module work and inspired by the process worked with the SPCDF to develop a design build that they completed in their July holiday break.

Tuliza Sindi presneting the developed idea to the 2012 design/build team
University of Pretoria – HUE Module 2013
Focussing on catalysts and deep immersion, students spent a rainy weekend living in Slovo Park and were tasked to identify catalytic elements that would tie into the work from previous years.
Alex Becker and Naledi Nkoana planning the mapping day
Mohau Melani, of the SPCDF, Nick Randal, & Naeem Adam presenting in Slovo park
Student Design Work: Nick Randall

They too, took on a design build challenge and identified a scrapped truck as a key place to create a playground for the children of Slovo Park.

Muhammaed Dawjee on the early stages of the 2013 design/build

The 2013 UP group then handed this project over to the University of Johannesburg’s 2nd year Diploma students under Denver Hendricks with support from myself.

University of Pretoria – HUE Module 2014
Carin was quite deep into her PHD process by 2014, and requested that I assist in both the HUE module as well as the technical iteration of the design and had through the University of Pretoria’s Community Engagement department had been introduced to the Rehoboth Church, who were looking for support in a community development programme.
Ursula Kotze & Dominque Peel workshoping the Rehoboth design in studio with the church leaders
For logistical and practical reasons, the 2014 studio was conducted in Mamelodi, with the Rehboth Church Group, with the focus on processes of engagement and the development of frameworks and methods to engage.

The 2014 students documented their process on a detailed blog,

Students worked closely with the church group to respond to the specific needs of the church’s involvement in their neighbourhood and how to develop ways of designing with and for people.

University of Pretoria – 2015 

I have made a decision to not teach at the University of Pretoria for 2015, as I am focusing my energies on the University of Johannesburg’s Unit 2 and the development of what we now call Socio-Technical Spatial Design.

I am still involved with the University of Pretoria, and have been invited for process crits as well as other school related activities.

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.

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) 

Marlboro South, the University of Johannesburg & the (in)formal Studio

The MWCC working with CORC technical member
This story covers my involvment in Marlboro South with the Marbloro South Warehouse Crisis Committee (MWCC) in 2012/2013 while working at the South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance (SASDI)

This is essentially a photo essay of the events from my perspective, with supplemented referenced links from on-line sources, that depicts my involvement in the MWCC’s processes during this period.

Socio-Technical Support – May 2012

Marlboro settlement profile from South African SDI Alliance on Vimeo.

I began working in Marlboro South after taking the position of socio-technical support at the SASDI. Operating through the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) my task was to support the MWCC in their technical needs while they worked through the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) in lobbying local and national governments in the face of eviction threats around their rights to occupy the abandoned (some) warehouses in Marlboro South‘s industrial belt. 

The MWCC in action
Marlboro South Industrial Belt
The MWCC had been established after a fall out with various civil and local authority groups who had negotiated for the residents on their behalf to their right to occupy the warehouses.
The MWCC working with CORC technical member
As Socio-Technical support a large part of our our job consists of being in leadership meetings.

In total the MWCC represented 53 occupied warehouse who spatially had re-furbished factories ‘abandoned’ during the violent periods in Marlboro South during the early 1990’s.

Some warehouse were occupied with minimal changes
Other warehouse were completely adapted internally

While other had their internal delivery yards converted into housing.
At the time, I had just taken over from a former colleague, Jacqueline Cuyler, who had recently completed a temporary housing solution for residents under the MWCC while working for CORC in response to an earlier illegal eviction with the MWCC weeks before.
These temporary houses were part of the SASDI’s Community Upgrade Finance Facility (CUFF) project process, and were intended to house MWCC members while the leadership engaged the powers that be.
The idea of what is considered temporary emerged many times during my work in Marlboro South. These structures were erected in less than 3 days and were later dissembled in a shorter time, but are considered permanent by most institutional bodies for very obscure reasons.
What is interesting is which elements of the houses are considered crucial such as the stoep’s – an important social space – that doubles as structural stabilisation and a weather foot. As well as numbers and entrance features when built at this speed and for this purpose.
Retail and other business opportunities are quickly seized upon.
My first project was to help in a savings group that was looking to install a new toilet through the CUFF process. This involved assisting with the design, costing and facilitation through the various social processes that the SASDI work through.
Intern on site in Marlboro South
During this time I held a dual position between the University of Johannesburg (UJ) as a part time lecturer and researcher while working at the SASDI, and as part of my interest in developing and sharing socio-technical spatial design skills (1:1 Student League) I would bring interested students to various meetings to expose them to these complex spaces.
Students from the 1:1 Student League visiting an occupied warehouse
The University of Johannesburg’s (in)formal Studio – July 2012
Alex Opper, co-ordinator of the Masters in Architectural Technology programme at UJ has been collaborating with various professionals (26.10′ South Architects), NGO’s (the SASDI) and cultural institutions (Goethe Institute) to develop  interesting and relevant student brief’s through what they have now collectively referred to as the (in)formal Studio which include UJ staff Eric Wright and Claudia Morgado who practice as BOOM Architects.
1:1 – Co-FounderJacqueline Cuyler, with MWCC member waking the various sites in Marlboro South
The (in)formal studio undertook their first project in 2011 in Ruimsig, working with SASDI members, and sought to continue the project in 2012 in Marlboro South with the MWCC, and I was charged by the NGO with facilitating the relationship.
UJ lecturer Alex Opper and Architect Thorsten Deckler walk through Marlboro South with ISN memeber Albert Masibigiri

The challenge in developing the brief, was to satisfy the academic nature of a Architectural investigation into a complex socio-political environment with the crucial needs of such residents in their potentially un-spatial requirements.
My dual position between  UJ and the SASDI allowed me to play an important role in facilitating the needs of the MWCC while assisting in the development of the brief for UJ’s Architecture Department.
Working at the 26.10′ South Architect’s with Anne Graupner, Alex Opper, Claudia Morgado, Eric Wright and Thorsten Deckler to develop the brief
What emerged was an incrementally structured brief that broke down the site of investigation and design into 3 scales of research and intervention that eventually culminate into a potential architectural product that was the sum of an intense process of engagement with and for residents and the MWCC members.
The studio was then broken into sections of engagement on a weekly basis from large scale land use analysis to participative mapping site scale mapping all the way down to life-world analysis of individual residents of Marlboro South warehouses. This was done in mixed teams of post graduate and undergraduate students and Marlboro residents under the guidance of the SASDI Alliance.
Extract from UJ brief (University of Johannesburg, 2012 Brief Hand Out)
The studio was arranged with weekly meetings in both the settlement site and the University studio on campus, this was done in order to share the spatial realities of both participating groups.
Members of ISN and MWCC arriving at UJ
UJ Students arriving in Marlboro South
Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students

Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring exercises at UJ with ISN, MWCC and students
Mapping and measuring research in Marlboro South with ISN, MWCC and students
Students were then divided into smaller groups and asked to determine site specific design intervention solutions at a framework level and present this back to the MWCC and the residents for feedback in the scheduled workshop meetings. The groups would then begin to propose possible solutions within this framework from a small scale level of intervention to possible larger ones.
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
UJ Student presentation at UJ Architecture Department
Student presentations in Marlboro South  car wash facility outdoors
UJ Student presentation at UJ Architecture Department
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
UJ Student presentation at UJ Architecture Department
UJ Student presentation at UJ Architecture Department
Student presentations in Marlboro South occupied Warehouses
UJ Student presentation at UJ Architecture Department
Student presentations in Marlboro South  car wash facility in Marlboro South streets
Student presentations in Marlboro South  car wash facility outdoors
Student presentations in Marlboro South  car wash facility outdoors
Unfortunately an impromptu later deemed illegal eviction of several sites occupied by residents and the MWCC by the City of Johannesburg made the issues of capacity and focus very difficult, as well putting the students at potential risk.
UJ students at one of the sites of the eviction
The studio was altered and majority of participatory work happened on the University campus and other adjacent venues.
Local restaurant in Marlboro South chosen due to evictions
From an academic standpoint the studio was highly successful in opening up student perspectives on the various forms of tangible and intangible support designers can offer, as well as exposing some of the student body to contexts and cultures not critically experienced before.

This studio process revealed how important it is for these processes to be managed by larger social groups, as universities do not have the capacity or scope to support such large social movements or deal with evictions and the repercussions of such an act. At first the large team sizes were difficult to manage, but put together large amounts accurate socially sensitive of data very quickly – this proved invaluable in the ensuing lawsuit against the city, while creating a large volume of work from which further exercises can be held.
Land Use Diagram that was instrumental in proving the illegality of the eviction by JMPD

Beyond the design studio – October 2012

While the design studio exists as one of the most flexible and adaptable spaces to navigate the intricate and dynamic world of socio-technical design processes, it needs to be considered in the larger picture of what design pre-professionals are required in the ‘real world’. If the processes employed in these spaces are not done so with an understanding of the expected role of the students then result can be defined by a product and process that only benefits an academic inquiry into development work, but not a pragmatic one.

These ‘living laboratories’ require sustainable systems of development through socially inclusive and open processes. These systems need to be clearly documented and the set up in a manner that does not rely on the individuals gains of singular entities, but speak to a larger drive of all parties involved; that of socially conscious open minded people within groups that are up front in their intentions around engagement.

The relationships that the design studio establishes and nature of the enthusiasm open minded pre-professionals carry through into the real world should be guided by a strong acceptance of these process by not only the tertiary bodies that facilitate, but by the profession that needs to look at its role in this and support those pushing through the current limitations.
The underlying ethos of these studios should not be one of design professionals entering an informal context and superimposing the values of formality in their support, but of seeking to understand and ‘un-learn’ in order to respond in such a way that works with the energies and capacities of the informal context. This approach distances the designer from control of the final ‘product’ of support, but allows for long term sustainability of support facilitating the most key aspect of design support – ownership
Eviction – August 2012
On August 17, 2012 I received a call from the a member of the MWCC. He was speaking fast and all I could hear over the background roar was that JMPD were evicting people from the warehouses and that a bulldozer had killed someone. Not sure what to do, I phoned the  lawyers (SERI) we were working with who told me all we could do was try and get the physical court order document and gain an interdict as soon as possible.
Armed with this knowledge and my camera I rushed to Marlboro South, but was denied access to the area by JMPD. After parking my car deep in Alexandra I ran the 2km gauntlet around the police blockade to the MWCC office, here I found out that no one was dead – but someone had fainted after a police bulldozer had knocked down her home.
Marlboro South was overrun with JMPD, a later estimated 500 plus members of orange and blue were demolishing selected sites over the industrial belt.
With the MWCC behind me I approached several official looking members of the police to try and find the court order, when I had eventually reached the top of the hierarchy I was joined by a journalist friend I called en route and the lawyers from SERI. Here we were shown the ‘official’ document for the eviction –  a handwritten note.

More pictures from Greg Nicolsan’s work in Marlboro South  
–  The Daily Maverick

There was very little the lawyers, the NPO or the MWCC could do but watch as the police demolished their homes, as the process to block the order was delayed and most of the residents were at work at the time.

some residents chose to burn their homes rather than have the material confiscated (formerly mentioned CUFF project)
Other residents attempted to salvage what they could (CUFF project seen above)
As most of the inhabitants were at work, they returned that evening to find their homes destroyed and the material confiscated along with their personal belongings and valuables.

Post Eviction
The evictions continued for several days intermittently, the MWCC attempted to protest by blocking JMD access into Marlboro by placing obstacles in the roadways. Which resulted in JMPD employing crowd control methods including rubber bullets.
Residents were shot with rubber bullets during an attempted protest and block of further police evictions.
After the initial eviction, the Gauteng ISN and FEDUP, the Community Based Organisation (CBO) under the CBO’s within the SASDI, assembled in Marlboro to support the MWCC.
Asihambe (We won’t go: IsiZulu ) Solidarity March
While the Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) worked to obtain the official interdict, the CBO’s under the SDI prepared a formalised march to address the City of Johannesburg around the eviction.
Other technical members of the SDI, specifically a planner from the U.S working at the alliance worked tirelessly to examine housing and policy law to assist the lawyers in the case, while the my most valuable skills at this stage I could offer were that of  photo-documentation and poster design to support the march.
Evictions in Marlboro, Johannesburg
After weeks of court dates and legal jargon, the eviction was deemed illegal and the City of Johannesburg was under an official judgement ordered to:
  • Provide the 141 families with sites in Marlboro.
  • Provide material for the construction of temporary shelters.
  • In 4 months more land needs to be acquired if needed to accommodate the 141 families.
  • Start a meaningful engagement regarding the balance of families evicted later during the month of August.
  • Pay all legal costs.
The full story of the Asihambe Solidarity March is available here: 
The ‘Temporary’ Solution – October 2012
Several single mothers sheltered in the MWCC office during the eviction
During the process of gaining a temporary interdict for 65 families that could not be sheltered anywhere, the City of Johannesburg’s lawyers offered the residents ‘temporary’ occupation of the site on condition that they would not erect structures more than 1m high, that could not be made of ‘iron metal’ and that had no structural support – as seen here in the documentary “Landless”:
Using the South African Housing code’s stature on temporary housing as being a minimum of 24 sqm, and 2.4m high made of material that offered occupants safety and privacy. The city then replied that the structures could be 2.4m high, not ‘permanent’ and have ‘poles’ that could not be longer than 2m.
The SASDI offered support in providing temporary shelter for these families, but had very little money to support this. This put forward an interesting design brief for us providing the socio-technical support, as what the city had stated in writing was a clear omission of spatial and material elements and heigh restrictions.
As practitioners we offered an interpretation of that order to possibly build it out polycarbonate panels, and what if the houses were all put together in 1 large ‘tent-like’ structure maybe made of hydra form (non permanent bricks) – essentially working around the legal requirements through design.
We were advised by the lawyers to respect the spirit of the order and not be to clever in such a delicate situation.
A piece of government owned land was chosen by the MWCC and several army tents were donated by donors to the NGO.
These tents were an emergency solution to the temporary housing of the 65 most vulnerable families in the eviction. The names of each person was registered in the court order and were awarded temporary occupation by the court  on site until the City of Johannesburg responded. This was crucial as 1 week later Johannesburg experienced a rare snow storm that plunged temperatures to freezing overnight.
Permanently Temporary Solutions & The (in)formal Studio – November 2012 – February 2013
In the background to the eviction and court battles, the professionals and academics who had been involved in the studio were working on developing a more permanent housing solution to show the City of Johannesburg alternatives to addressing some of the major issues in Marlboro South.
The architect’s discussing a possible government owned site with the MWCC

This solution was to be part of a larger body of work, including the student’s design work, that would make up a travelling exhibition  to showcase these types of engagements and projects to a larger audience.
Graphic by the (in)formal Studio –
One of the major outputs was a participatively developed housing scheme that would re-house residents of the MWCC in a safer, more incremental pattern that worked with current spatial typologies and land use.
These possible layouts were work-shopped with various MWCC members and residents and developed into a larger development plan.
Layout plan by the (in)formal Studio –
The tools used for this larger development design, were used to attempt to negotiate a temporary solution for the tent dwellers who were occupying a different parcel land.
The 65 families were engaged on several occasions to develop an accepted layout for the City of Johannesburg to adopt in accordance with the court order.
This smaller temporary plan was put together through CORC and submitted to the City of Johannesburg as part of the deliverable from the residents side.
As the weeks went by, and the City of Johannesburg missed its court ordered dates of engagement, and the tent dweller residents began making temporary adjustments to their tent home, including a cooking area and other social spaces.
The walls get higher…
To date the tents are still up and residents are still waiting for the City to keep up its ordained mandate as local factory owners build higher walls and grow more angry at the situation.
The (in)formal Studio Exhibition – April 2013
“An exhibition covering the entire project was opened in the Goethe gallery in February 2012. 
Rather than delivering defined solutions this exhibition delivered on portraying and celebrating human engagement across a divide of one of the most unequal cities in the world. It recorded the contradictions and discomforts but also the tremendous potential which exists in seeing, and acknowledging each other as part of the solution.”

Anne Graupner, 26.10′ South Architects

This exhibition had two openings, one held at in Marlboro South where the members of the MWCC and residents were screened the movies that were made by local film makers Lungelo Mntambo & Tolo Pule from DeLiTe and edited by Nadine Hutton and the other at the official opening at the Goethe Institutes’ Parkview location.
Marlboro South Opening for the Informal Studio Exhibition
Directed by  Lungelo Mntambo & Tolo Pule of DeLite and edited by Nadine Hutton of 2point8
Directed by  Lungelo Mntambo & Tolo Pule of DeLite and edited by Nadine Hutton of 2point8


Directed by Tolo & Lungelo of DeLite and edited by Nadine Hutton of 2point8


Directed by  Lungelo Mntambo & Tolo Pule of DeLite and edited by Nadine Hutton of 2point8

MWCC members recieving their public recognition at the screening in Marlboro South
MWCC member presenting the introduction at the official Exhibition Opening
Post Exhibition Work – May 2013
I have recently left my position at CORC to pursue a  focused socio-technical role alongside the NGO, looking more at developing role for spatial design students and pre-professionals.
Quite soon after my departure the SASDI the NGO, by a chance meeting with a non-profit social group in Cape Town, was offered the opportunity by another non-profit group of being a solution to potentially house the 65 families living in the tents nearby in Marlboro South
The conditions were that the those effected should benefit from this donation and the project should not just house, but also socially develop the inhabitants. The SASDI, the MWCC and the newly formed (in)formal Studio collective are currently working on this.
Academics, professionals, NGO and CBO discussing the oppurtunity

Reflection – July 2013

This summary has taken me almost a year to complete. Looking back at the role I played in the social development process has been quite difficult as the notable differences in the situation of those I worked with has not changed much on the ground – although larger scale shifts in approach and thinking have happened higher up in the governance structures.
The role of anyone in an NGO supportive role, let alone someone with an architectural background, is extremely difficult. Having to work across many cultural, economic and social backgrounds while supporting other people’s processes to capacitate without falling into the temptation of short cutting important and tiresome methodologies and just doing it for people is a taxing mental challenge.
I had many sleepless nights (in my own comfortable bed, that looked over Marlboro South in the distance) during the eviction feeling utterly useless in the face of such a huge destructive force. These concerns stayed with me during my time at the NGO as the issues facing these initiatives are so complex and overwhelming that is often drains you of your resolve.
What eventually led me to step out of my position at the SASDI was the realisation that the role spatial designers (architects, planners, some engineers) can play in these processes is niche – but crucial. While it’s difficult to make changes to the large picture, I felt my role could be much more effective in my own ‘community’ of spatial design students and pre-professionals. By being involved from this position I could make the difference I wanted by first bringing these practitioners into these spaces they would not normally work in, and by developing additional ways of acting, thinking and intervening in such situations.
I am still involved with the South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance in Johannesburg, working with the organisation on various projects and assisting in the support of their new socio-technical staff. I now sit part time at the University of Johannesburg and Pretoria while focussing on the role that the 1:1 Student League and recently developed 1:1 – Agency of Engagementt in socio-technical spatial design in South Africa.
Other Links:
The (in)formal Studio 
26.10 South Architects
BOOM Architects
The University of Johannesburg – Architecture Department
The South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance
Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI)
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR)
Marlboro South Industrial Organisation
NGO – Non Governmental Organisation
NPO – Non Profit Organisation
CBO – Community Based Organisation
SDI – Shack Dwellers Intenational
SASDI – Shack Dwellers International Alliance
ISN – Informal Settlement Network
FEDUP – Federation of the Urban/Rural Poor
CORC – Comunity Organisation Resource Centre
MWCC – Marlboro Warehouse Crisis Committee
UJ – University of Johannesburg
JMPD – Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department

UJ Creativity Week/ Vertical Studios: 2013 – 2015

My first teaching role at the Faculty of Art Design & Architecture was dropped into my lap by Suzette Grace. By throwing me into the deep end of arranging a week long introductory week for the entire department of Architecture, she effectively kick started my teaching career. Thank you Suzette 😉

Creativity Week/Vertical Studios

The Creativity Weeks/Vertical Studios were meant to be a week-long participative event kicking off the year with a series of interactive and challenging exercises that bring together the current and new students of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg – across all years of study. The assignments are intended to take students into exciting parts of the city and explore/re-discover spaces in the City of Johannesburg.

They were meant to be a fun ‘orientation week’ for the start of the new year that allowed students to do something creative, fun and together for the start of the year. I used the oppurtunity as a way to explore some of my own interests in inner-city Jozi.

Creativity Week 2013

This first year I worked within an existing partnership between Dr. Barbara HoltmannEmma Holtmann and UJ, as well as employing the precedented work of the Creativity Week 2012 by Eric Wright . The week long programme was intended to facilitate the introduction and further development of Architectural thinking, doing and problem solving in Johannesburg’s dynamic inner city spaces – while bringing together the students from the various years. This facilitation the exposed the students to the larger strategies of the stakeholders involved in this area.

Students were asked to take part in the week long exposure to the inner city and the project partners that was facilitated by Dr. Barbara HoltmannJoburg Child Welfare and Joburg Region F who brought together government, business and NGOs in the inner city. This collaboration aimed at bringing about a systemic transformation of the neighbourhood surrounding and including the Old Drill Hall, which is the site of Joburg Child Welfare’s Thembalethu project.

By focusing on “what-it-looks-like-when-it’s-fixed” and co-creating a shared vision for the future of the inner city based on integrated approaches and partnerships, the process promotes change in three primary and inter-connected areas: health and wellness, access and mobility in the city and in supporting the city’s programmes.

Day 1 & 2:

The week began with the FADA Auditorium introduction, followed by group division and the first bus trips to the site. On site we were met by JMPD and the Best Life project co-ordinators.

DAY 3:

With the previous day’s elective’s workshop’s guiding them, the students then focussed in on their specific areas of interest and gathered on site data to begin their intervention proposals.

The purpose of the exposure and facilitation now being focussed around the question of how the students can use their skills as designers to improve the spaces they were tasked to engage with – and present their ideas to the group of stakeholders made up of city officials and academics.

DAY 4 & 5:

The students now were allocated time to work in their multi-year groups and produce the necessary documentation and presentation products to express their ideas.

Each group was led by a pair of BTech students who had been guided by Dr. Holtmann’s workshop to lead their younger members towards the outcomes and observations discussed on Day 2.

Final Presentation

The MTech 1 students were asked to critique the groups (A-I) and each group presented for 10 minutes to the student panel. Of these 9 groups, 6 were chosen to present to the stakeholder panel scheduled for the afternoon session and 3 prizes were chosen by the MTech panel:

The stakeholder panel; made up of City of Johannesburg officials, academics and welfare staff, were very impressed with the enthusiasm and quality of the student work and their presentation. They called for the work to be taken further and discussed finding a way to present this to the mayor.

Staff members pledged to try and facilitate future engagement with stakeholder panel by aligning their academic programmes to support the work. The students expressed their interest in taking the work further, possibly in their own capacity, and seemed to enjoy the week’s programme. A working relationship is being established with the stakeholder at the moment.

At the closure of the presentations a small function was held in the FADA basement parking, where the prizes were awarded and the students completed the week’s event – arguably the most important part of the week’s activities.


Vertical Studio 2014

The Vertical Studio was the evolution of Creativity Week based on the new undergraduate framing structure of the department. This year students worked alongside Thiresh Govender and Katharina Rohde in line with their PublicActs initiative.


PublicActs is a practice-based investigation into urban matters with a focus on cities in the global south. PublicActs brings together various creative disciplines such as artists, architects, urban anthropologists or geographers to connect with communities and actors on site. In collaborative processes public spaces are creatively audited in order to implement sustainable strategies for an adequate architecture and urban design. For more information:

PublicActs employs various methodologies and tools to interrogate and explore public space:


These sites are characterised as being: large and dramatic in scale, highly specialised, singular ownership, dedicated used, exclusive (sometimes), grand, controlled accessibility (sometimes).

Examples include: Mary Fitzgerald Square, Bank City, Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, Monte Casino.


These sites are part of our everyday experiences and are characterised as being: accessible, open, transient, emergent, imagined, appropriated, contested, negotiated, intimate, multiple narrative, intensely used.

Examples include: a street, a taxi, markets,parks,squares…


These sites are new and unexpected which have emerged through innovative and/or survivalist responses to urban space. They are characterised as being: open, vague, abandoned, repurposed, inbetween, placeless, emergent, transgressive.

Examples include: under bridges, pathways, rooftops, open spaces, sidewalks.


These are not so much sites as moments where ‘public-ness’ is constructed. They come in to being for a short space of time due to some or other urban condition. They are characterised as being; spontaneous, creative, inter-active, social…

Examples include: sidewalk cafes, pop-up enterprises, trading moments…


These sites are closely associated with places of civic power and are characterised as having important public, social importance and gravitas. These are spaces where the voices of a democracy can be articulated and heard by those chosen to represent a society. They are characterised as being: harsh, concrete, exclusive, narrow…

Examples include: Constitutional Square, the Magistrates Court, Joburg Civic Centre Forecourt, The Supreme Court (Von Brandis Square), The Family


The 2014 UJ Vertical Studio adopted these methodologies and tools of PublicActs to explore the City of Johannesburg. Students will be exploring 7 identified zones in the city, using various forms of media to create a grounded and critical perspective on public space, identify spatial issues and propose a concept solution to address this.

Using the idea of selfies and space students were set the task of exploring the city on foot to take these ‘spacies’ while employing different forms of transport through a treasure hunt type event.

The students then were asked to explore the 7 themes through a set of ‘ironic’ post cards

Vertical Studio 2015

The fial year I ran this programme, we extended the brief into a more creative field, and worked with Eduardo Cachucho through his Derive App.

Student Instructions

Johannesburg’s inner city represents one of the most diverse cross-sections of contemporary South Africa in less than 5 square kilometres of concrete skyscrapers and bustling streetscapes.

From hipster’s to migrant workers, a vast array of characters unknowingly work together to make up a dynamic inner city ecosystem that represents the heart of the strongest metropolis in Africa.

As practitioners of space, we often  (sometimes intentionally) are distanced from the palimpsest of narratives that give meaning and value to the spaces we overlook daily – these stories that thrive within the interwoven networks and individuals that pulse through the CBD hold the potential to reveal new understandings of how a contemporary city in modern South Africa  flourishes.

Your task this week is to dive head deep into the complex spaces that make up the CBD and imagine what possibilities these stories hold for an ever changing city that still draws scores of hopeful urbanites to its lights. Using the Derive App ( you will explore the city and collect objects, experiences, stories, characters. Then as a group  you will transform these findings into a short story of your own –  projecting 50 years in the future.

The first 2 days will have you engaging in the city with the Derive App. Once you have collected your story elements, you will then spend the next 2 days working towards building these elements into a narrative – projecting your story 100 years into the future.
Your story must focus on a character/characters and their relationship to the space you are designated too. The intention behind this task is to explore how people define their spaces in the city.

You may choose any form of narrative device from the list, which you will present to a panel of judges on Friday, followed by prize giving/party in the FADA Building Basement.

Task Description:

As a group you will choose one person to use their smart phone, and log into the Derive App. Once you are in your designated zone, you will log into the Vertical Studio Week Group and use a deck of 50 cards to collect your story elements.

Each person in the group must choose their documentation tool, all tools must be used in the groups.

  • Instagrammer
  • Tweeter
  • Sketcher
  • Videographer

Each group must use their specific hashtag #ujvertstudio_8

You may use any media to tell your story:

  • Film
  • Storyboard/ Graphic Novel
  • Story (oral/written)
  • Performance/Song
  • Photo Essay
  • Other?
Prize Categories:
  • Best film
  • Best photo essay
  • Best graphic novel/Storyboard
  • Best Performance/Song
  • Best Other
Student Submissions


Running these programmes was extremely rewarding, challenging and just good fun. It gave me the necessary exposure to grow and develop as a young teacher and urbanist,.

My intention for 2016 was to return this opportunity to the next round of younger early staff members who has helped me run these this programme along the way (Joana Ferro, Blanca Calvo, Tuliza Sindi, Sanjay Jeevan, Sumayya Valley amongst many others), but due to the dynamics of the school – this was not allowed and the programme became something very different.