This paper explores the possibility of increasing adaptability in low- and medium- cost residential buildings in South Africa. The suitability of the concept to this particular context will be tackled in
terms of existing industries, the need for sustainable and labour intensive technologies, participation and changing ideas regarding professionalism.
The urban design principles of phasing, privacy, variety and integration in the creation of dynamic urban contexts are emphasised. It is also attempted to challenge the perception that limited funds mean poor quality or that low cost means that a flexible, enabling, inclusive, accessible environment catering for the needs of all sectors of the target population cannot be addressed through creative design.
At the core of this argument is the understanding that housing is not just the individual living unit but encompasses all aspects in the macro- and micro- environment. Within these urban structures, the house is seen as a flexible/adaptable product rather than a fixed final product. The idea of urban design as an inseparable component of housing is reinforced as well as the acknowledgment of the various
levels of the environment differing in the degree of permanence and changeability thus allowing for more involvement and affordability. This allows for an understanding of informal economies,
settlements and structures and our role as professionals in interacting with these alternative systems and “ways of doing/living”.
Modular coordination may facilitate quicker construction and save costs. A rudimentary form of modularisation is already being used in the townships of South Africa and in this paper collaboration between academics and these simple construction industries is proposed, using local technologies to adapt open building to the South African context. Partnering with existing industries could possibly
increase the chances of acceptance and affordability.
Some examples of local industry from the area of Mamelodi, a historically-designated black township near Pretoria, are investigated. A plan for meaningful partnerships and intervention is proposed. The value of this approach is that local technology and “what exists on the ground” is taken as a point of departure for research and intervention, and not some obscure and possibly irrelevant theory far
removed from reality.
The Housing Research Field at the Department of Architecture has had good relationships with community members and representatives in Soshanguve, Nelmapius, Mamelodi and Ivory Park in Tembisa. The contacts that we have built up in these townships have added much value to our teaching and have assisted us in bringing an aspect of realism to our student projects.
It has proved to be a process of mutual learning. Community members have contributed in project criticisms and our students have made presentations to government subsidy beneficiaries, local
councilors and various government officials where we hope we have managed to portray a more enlightened approach to housing issues and design.
Our partners in the townships have assisted us in identifying student projects; they have been our guides and have helped us gain more insight and understanding into a context that we ourselves and many of our students are far removed from. One student researched a builder’s yard in Mamelodi
township and proceeded to offer a proposal on how to develop shacks (or zozos). This a paper acknowledges that contribution as well as the contribution of our Italian research partner with whom we are investigating implementation of projects in the township.
A workshop approach will be followed “knowing by doing”, through using the builder’s yards and the building sites as locations for technological and cultural exchange. This will potentially create more
understanding between academic institutes and emergent township enterprises. Appropriate solutions to housing systems may be identified from the everyday realities of a specific context. Taking locally available skills as a starting point for a design process needs to be tested, in a sense reinforcing the
idea that technological innovation has to adapt to local capacities and not vice-versa.
This is a three year project funded by a research programme of the University of Pretoria, with the ultimate aim of achieving long-term collaboration between the university, local industries and
communties in the region. This would provide for excellent learning opportunities for ourselves and our students.