Architecture in South Africa

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Problem statement:

The problem with architectural design stemming from the status quo - that of planned out, compartmentalized and idealized form – is that it continues to fail within the organic fabric of the township. A constant cycle of implementation and failure occurs, because the township is entirely different from the typical modern city, it is born out of urgency and thus cannot be easily redefined by built fabric. “Architecture can easily reduce the complexity of life through tightly controlled designs, achieved at the expense of lost potential, thus giving the thing power over the process, and therefore over the community, such as le Corbusier’s creations of isolated monuments to his own genius at the expense of social context.”

Theoretical argument as based on Hamdi’s “Small Change”:

It’s about finding out what the community really needs. Design must realise the value of a community, despite and not because of the status quo. Grand designs are often mistrusted; rather a process of participation and communication should be implemented - with the goal of helping and participating within the community rather than enforcing rules and unnecessary structure - to form a community that greatly values a commitment toward self-management and cooperation. “Development facilitation as a professional discipline is an art rather than a science. ... because there is no real predictability...” – Kaplan. We should start viewing society as a foundation, that enables its members to rise to not only to a higher form of living but ultimately a higher form of existence. (Nietzsche, 1973)

It’s about creating a permanent structure to facilitate basic needs being met, but accepting that we cannot and should not control the rest. . Basic rights becomes a framework for future design, but "problem solving starts with problem finding" (Hamdi) and only after a strategic analysis of needs, risks and rights can place making for community with practical opportunities created. This is important because misdirected interventions can be destructive.

This is not a plug in city; architecture must nurture pre-existing networks, allowing them to remain informal and adaptive rather than defining them –which effectively renders them irrelevant. Community, accessibility and security should take precedent as well as awareness of time and the ‘soft city’ created. "How much structure do we design for before the structure itself interrupts the natural process of emergence"- (HAMDI, N 2004:73)

The physical manifestation of ‘step one’, is more important than planning the ten other steps. Within the context, the problems are always urgent, thus a solution will be found rapidly, be it by the community or practitioners. If, at this time, the intervention is still being planned it immediately becomes redundant. Planning cannot be isolated if it is ever to understand what is needed but more important is to get something started and let it evolve naturally. This is recognized by action planning and Praxis - a system of learning through theory and practice whereby pedagogic learning is not merely a simplistic Newtonian viewpoint but rather comprised from Process skills, job-related skills and disciplinary skills.

Practitioners and society should merge in identity. A convergence of the ‘I’ we call individual and the ‘we’ we call society and an understanding of ‘natural scales and limits’ to allow these polarities to exist. As long as planning is confused with design and lays down lines that people and organizations must follow, enterprise will be inhibited, resources will be lost, and only the rich will benefit’.Ebenezer Howard (1898) proposes societal rules should limit planning, rather than people. Ideally “dispense the minimum of organization that would secure the benefits of planning while leaving to individuals the greatest possible control over their own lives”. In order for change to occur, according to Capra, the community must be willing to allow practitioners to disturb their environments, policy and structure must be informed from the ground level work. A catalyst is required to invoke change, but not one which assumes preemptive answers. The entire concept of planning needs to shift to action planning, whereby we constantly adapt in order to link the relationship between structures we design and those which are enabled to emerge.

South African examples:

Informal studio realised by Thorsten Deckler and Alexander Opper:

This project is “Re-blocking Ruimsig” - restructuring Ruimsig’s future growth and integration, aiming to open up movement routes, undo slum lording and mitigate the threat of shack fires. The design is a series of minimal physical adjustments, mostly to be implemented by residents themselves - to improve immediate living conditions – easily implemented due to the impermanent nature of the settlements.

This intervention is similar to the bus stop mentioned in chapter 7, in that it is the first step in an evolutionary design process.The future of the programme is in the act of collaboration and then the resultant collective understanding of the human condition in South Africa – in other words it is the steps to follow which hold true possibility for change.

DBRS (Design-Built Research Studio) at CPUT

Various projects, such as an outdoor classroom, a library out of a shipping container and a re-blocking project, are all seed projects in which critical pedagogies and creative agency support individual and social transformation. The brief is determined by the previous interventions of the DBRS as well existing networks, a process of seed creation results and this informs reseeding. Whereby architecture has an uncertain outcome but because it is reached through communication and understanding the community’s needs it stays relevant.

Conclusion and normative position within theoretical construct:

Design needs to transform from being a theoretical construct into a more pragmatic approach. Planning should recognize existing networks to facilitate their basic needs for survival - by observing natural networks and processes and creating a structure for these you create opportunity for growth. A collective should be created from practitioners, government and the community, by working together mutual benefit ensure success. Small interventions creating conditions for functions informally structured so that natural processes can occur and then build in structure for that, so in the event of failure "very little investment is wasted and no one would suffer" (HAMDI, N 2004:74)