The Department of Architecture at the University of Pretoria is working in the South African housing context while gaining knowledge of such issues worldwide. Various innovations are being carried out in terms of housing design and delivery methods in South Africa. Through a methodical approach to design, it is believed that future architects will be able to answer to contextual needs without compromising the high standard of design expected by the Department. One of the aims is to develop methods whereby design alternatives can cater for a range of income levels and lifestyles through the use of different design aiding techniques. It is thus hoped that maximum freedom in spatial layout and installation of parts of the building can be achieved. This paper evaluates an exercise in open building principles, carried out in October to November 2003, with post-graduate architecture and interior architecture students at the University of Pretoria. The focus was the application of open building principles from the urban design level to that of the building and the residential units. It involved the design of social housing and the upgrading of existing workers’ hostels into family units as well as the provision of social amenities. Students were to design various types of housing, showing alternative ways of ‘living’ and study housing in the area. The project involved close interaction with community representatives, who participated in student presentations and provided feedback and criticism on the student projects. The area of study was located in Soshanguve, a township with predominantly black inhabitants, situated to the northwest of Pretoria. The previous political dispensation designated specific areas on the outskirts of the city as locations for black migrant workers, known as townships. Subsequently these townships have become cities in themselves, housing a large portion of the total population of Pretoria. It is here that there is a need for urban development and social housing. It was found that Soshanguve offered an excellent opportunity for learning and the dissemination of good design principles in housing design. A debate on the relevance of open building to South Africa has been initiated. It is concluded that open building systems are an effective tool to achieve diversity and can accommodate for wider sectors of the population.