Urban Conference Visual Summary: South African Cities Network

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

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

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

CityFuture_Method Summary_draft 12

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

The Unjust City

Through 1to1, a alongside Counterspace and Liz Ogbu we set out to co-develop a method of collecting stories from the City of Joburg that ‘ gave soul’ to the heavy and often inaccessible data that city officials and planners use to make decisions on how Johannesburg is run and grows.

The project sought interview a series of different city stakeholders and build a live map from the perceptions gathered – which would be overlayed with hard data. The process additionally used a method tool that collected video interviews from different city stakeholders around the terms they used and understood. The initial engagement with Liz Ogbu was supported by the Mandela Washington Fellowship’s travel grant for the YALI fellows.

The project is ongoing and has a small installation in Johannesburg’s Braamfontein where various tools and methods are being tested in this endeavour through the Backstory – Joburg Project  The current established tool is a visual projection of city data onto a small constructed model of Page View.

AT: Positive Numbers

*shared from www.aformalterrainjoburg.wordpress.com*

The Positive Numbers project was developed as one of the tangible outputs for the MOU through the 3 year engagement with the Denver leadership, residents and local NGO’s. The concept evolved from the challenges based in social enumeration and spatial planning in informal settlement upgrading processes.

The project involved linking the co-developed spatial development plan to the numbering process that typically involved spray-painting numbers on the sides of existing homes.

AT, working with Tyler B Murphy and local residents developed a system of sign making that , using colour coding, linked the spatial development to the social enumeration to allow for incremental neighborhood development to take place while waiting for governmental support.

This short film documents the process of the Positive Numbers Project which formed a part of a larger research initiative in Denver Settlement, Johannesburg in 2017.

The project was developed in partnership with active NGOs, signage and way-finding for residents in the settlement and links to the larger short-to-long term upgrading strategy of the Community Action Plan (CAP).

The Positive Numbers Project was a collaboration between the Aformal Terrain research collective and artist Tyler B. Murphy, supported by Open Societies Foundation: Higher Education Support Programme.

Co-Designing the Driver’s Seat: A call for an ‘Open’ Approach to Drawing Production in Spatial Design Practice: SOTL 2017

My first singular produced conference proceeding was for the 2017 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in the South Conference held at the University of Johannesburg. I wrote a peice about the need for an opening up of how we make and ‘draw’ in regards to spatial design – with a focus on the artefacts we value in drawing production.

The full proceedings are avaliable here: http://www.sotlinthesouth.co.za/images/SOTL_2017_Proceedings.pdf


“The question of what the architect is actually doing … raises questions about authorship. Is the architect a creative author with the will to produce a specific work, or do the conditions imposed on him inevitably result in something interchangeable, something that could as easily have been produced by someone one else?” (Reidijk, 2010, p20) This inherent contravention of authorship, summarised in the prologue of Reidijk’s collection of writings in Architecture as Craft, brings to light a crucial aspect of the built environment’s process of production; rarely is a building or a space solely brought together through an individual’s vision and efforts. As a rule, the built spaces occupied by society are the result of multiple forms of agency and ownership working together at different levels. While this co-productive nature of built space is well established through Open Building discourse, the nature of the design communication artefacts to which are trusted to carry the idea to be understood through remain largely ‘closed’ within the disciplinary boundaries of the designer and select group of building professionals. Nowhere is this closure more evidently seen than in technical output produced and commoditised by large scale design practices, such as urban and city design in South Africa. The author firmly stands by the belief that in order to allow for the true co-production of the South Africa built environment to take place equitably and efficiently, spatial design practitioners need to develop more ‘open’ approaches to the practice in the built environment – in particular to allow the design communication artefacts of their discipline to be co-owned and co-produced in the face of a rapidly urbanising world. In 2015 the author of this paper assisted in the running of UJ_UNIT2; a design-led architectural research unit housed in the master’s programme at the University Of Johannesburg (UJ). The research unit embarked on an exploration of new forms of design and building exposing the nature of agency through the levels that make up the South African built environment. This experience, combined with the author’s personal work in providing socio-technical support to the grass-roots international organisation Slum/Shack Dwellers International, provide the experiential reference to support the above stated belief. This paper will examine two projects conducted through the author’s own teaching and design practice that attempted to change the manner in which designer’s see and control design communication artefacts. A summary of these experiences will then be outlined through a call for design practitioners to develop their own means of sharing control not only in the spatial drawing artefact, but in the design itself. This is done with the hope of supporting a growing national movement that seeks to responsibly relinquish power through design in the aim of achieving social and spatial justice in South Africa


Bennett, J. (2017) ‘Co-Designing the Driver’s Seat: A call for an “Open” Approach to Drawing Production in Spatial Design Practice’, in The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the South (SOTL) Conference Proceedings. Johannesburg, South Africa, ZA: Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in the South, 2017, p. 121. Available at: http://www.sotlinthesouth.co.za.

ASF Change by Design: Cape Town 2017

The 2017 Architecture Sans Frontiere’s Change by Design Programme took place in Cape Town in support of the Development Action Group (DAG)’s work with their Active Citizens Programme on 3 specific sites: Kensington, Khayalitsha and Oude Moulen.

The workshops’s goals were to support grassroots movements with strategic tools in action-research, spatial enumeration and strategy building across the grassroots members stakeholder and beneficiary groups.


The workshop ran for 2 weeks and employed an iterative action research methodology to support the unique needs of each site with the workshop particpants and DAG.


The result of the two week process was a set of grounded spatial research that was intended to support the grassroots leadership’s future engagement with the City of Cape Town. Each group developed a small visual summary of the research in a shared graphic language that was presented back to a large stakeholder group at the district 6 Museum in Cape Town.

At this feedback session each local leadership group shared their findings from the workshop and hosted  a small game that was designed by the ASF workshop team as a means to not only share the feedback from each site, but build a dialogue between local leaders and the workshop participants which included City of Cape Town Officals, other NGO’s and other grassroots organisations.

FOLIO Vol.1 PUPAE: Not a ‘No-Go’ Zone

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

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

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

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

AT: Community Action Plan Hand Book

*shared from www.aformalterrainjoburg.wordpress.com*

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

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

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

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

NUSP Incremental Building: Teaching Module

In 2013, through 1to1, I worked with BOOM Architects under Shisaka Development Management Services to write the incremental infrastructure module for the NUSP Socio-Technical Support Manuel for City Officials in Informal Settlement Upgrading for South Africa.

The Section 9 module visually unpacked the variables to consider when allowing for incremental upgrading in informal settlement development as well as requirements for technical allocation.

The full toolkit should be available online at: http://www.upgradingsupport.org

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 to work with students from Johannesburg in a digital participative pedagogical system.


The main interface for this was a blog website, https://walkbraamfontein.wordpress.com/,  that housed the students work and created an international platform of engagement. 


Click to enlarge

The artefacts the students designed were carefully considered in order to allow them to be easily transferred to a digital movie format, but also function as workshop tools back in South Africa for the local practices and students.

Local Studio provided the research material and the framework of making a central park in Braamfontein’s Juta street – a project implemented and driven by Tom Chapman. 

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:

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 […]

PEACE Module

Through 1to1 I was commissioned by the PEACE Foundation to design a multi-purpose rural centre that will be deployed to tactical areas across northern South Africa. These PEACE Centres will be used to support various NGO’s and institutional operations that work with and for the PEACE Foundation.

The prototype centre has been designed to support an existing waste management facility in
Senwabarwana (Bochum), Limpopo. This centre’s main activity is through educational training
around computer literacy and environmental awareness.