By Yolande Hendler & Andiswa Meke (on behalf of CORC)
In April 2015, the community of Lwazi Park embarked on a four-week design studio that investigated affordable solutions for incrementally improving dwelling structures in the settlement. Through its affiliation to the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), the community partnered with fourth year students of Architectural Technology from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) as well as a visiting group of students from the Reunion Island arm of the Ecolé National Superier d’Architecture Montpellier (ENSAM).
Lwazi Park Informal Settlement
Lwazi Park is situated in Gugulethu, near the N2 freeway in Cape Town. The settlement is now home to thirty-eight households and a primary school adjacent to the area. Its first inhabitants are alleged to have occupied the space in the mid- 1990s, when they built informal dwellings near the Lotus River. In 2001 the informal settlement stretched from Klipfontein Road up to the Eastern edge of Gugulethu. Lwazi Park is characterized by canals that were built fifty years ago, with the purpose of draining the flood plains for communities who were forcibly removed from the city centre during the apartheid era. Today, these canals are polluted and flood every rainy season.
Past Studios Paving the Way for Lwazi Park
The relationship between Lwazi Park community and the SA SDI Alliance dates to 2011, when the community, Alliance and City of Cape Town began to address a pending relocation of the informal settlement. Click here for more background. CPUT’s architectural technology students first participated in joint design studios with ISN & CORC in 2011 working on subsequent collaborative design in Vygieskraal and Manenberg.
The 2015 Lwazi Park studio was convened as a response to the community’s desire to explore options for further in situ upgrading after re-blocking in 2011. This is one of the first Alliance studios focused on incremental housing typologies for a settlement that has already undergone re-blocking. The studio thus reflects the incremental and cumulative nature of informal settlement upgrading. Perhaps even more significantly it speaks to a context-specific and community-centred approach.
Within the Alliance, studios play a significant role. On the one hand they support community negotiations with local authorities: through a collaborative approach studios bring about community-informed design typologies. On the other, they challenge and extend existing disciplinary norms in architectural thought and practice. CPUT Lecturer, Rudolf Perold, explains that such approaches are anomalies in
“the field of architecture, which often does not make provision for design in informal areas let alone consider the community’s lived context as informing appropriate and relevant design solutions*.”
In this sense collaborative design studios generate ideas and debate on alternative housing design and delivery options that address residential environments within existing and challenging urban conditions.
Lwazi Park Studio Content: incremental housing typologies
In practice, the studio comprised a site visit to Lwazi Park and two collaborative design instances between community representatives, students and Alliance representatives (ISN & CORC) who provided social support and facilitation. The students were tasked to develop a spatial development/master plan for the settlement’s in-situ upgrading to two to three story residential buildings as well as housing typologies that would respond to the social needs and spatial context of Lwazi Park community.
During the site visit community members introduced students to the physical layout and context of their settlement, lived realities, daily challenges and needs. These include the lack of a multipurpose / community hall or a nearby school. A central concern was the lack of funding provided by the city to help improve the standard of living. The community also expressed a desire for a safe place for their children to play in. A further concern related to drug abuse by the youth and the unsettling rate of crime.
Once the site visit had been completed and some preliminary insight gathered from community members, the design process began. CPUT lecturer Rudolf Perold explains,
“Their [the students’] point of departure was the community representatives’ assertion that they were set on obtaining tenure security and upgrading their settlement. Having had to adjust their approach based on the input received (albeit not representative of the entire community’s wishes) the complexity of balancing the community’s needs with your own design intent became clear”.
Challenges and Learning Points
In reflecting on the studio, CPUT lecturer Rudolf Perold highlights learning points for the students
- The relationship between designer and occupant was crucial to the design process and triggered an empathy which contributed to the success of the design outcomes
- The situated knowledge of community representatives and the Alliance proved integral to the development of the site layout and housing typologies
- Students were sensitized to lived realities in informal settlements
- “These experiences show that designers require a broadened skill set if they are to prove themselves useful in a context of mediation between poor urban communities and local government…- acting, as Stephen Lamb of Design-Change says, as interpreter of community needs rather than the holder of professional knowledge”
CPUT-based studio with input by community representatives, ISN & CORC.
In addition a CPUT student added,
“Realising how people adapted to their living conditions in Lwazi Park and how these conditions push people to learn to survive, was a learning curve for me.”
For both the students and the Alliance a core challenge was experienced by the lacking attendance of enough community representatives in campus-based contact sessions. The students gained some community input during the site visit, which helped to contextualize and ground their work. The lack of community representation, however, speaks to a need for more social facilitation between the different actors involved so that the jointly designed plans can indeed be presented to the municipality.
- CPUT quotations taken from “Perold.R., Devish, O., Verbeeck, G. 2015. Informal Capacities: Broadening Design Practice to Support Community –Driven Transitions to Sustainable Urbanism. Working Paper.