According to the United Nations, 1 billion people currendy live in slums. Over the next TWO decades, this figure is expected (Q double. In recent years, slums (also known, more neutrally, as informal settlements) have increasingly attracted positive attention from academics and design professionals impressed by their efficient deployment of scarce resources, community-based orientation, and entrepreneurial vitality, Architect Rem Koolhaas celebrated the slums of Nigeria in his 2008 book Lagos: How It \f0yks, while Teddy Cruz has become well known for his work with shantytowns on the U.S,-Mexico border. And no less a traditionalist than design enthusiast Prince Charles, prone to harsh public attacks on contemporary architecture, has championed Dharavi, the Mumbai neighborhood portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire,. praising its "underlying, intuitive 'grammar of design" in a 2009 speech.

Detractors claim that these and similar attempts to examine the slums through the lens of design romanticize poverty and ignore the sociopolitical forces responsible for their creation and proliferation. However, although some projects involving informal design are doubtless better conceived than others, in general there can be no real question thar it is appropriate for architects and planners to concern themselves with a phenomenon fundamenrally tied EO design-related issues such as land use, infrastructure, and materials. And given the failure of so many cop-down modernist schemes for housing the poor over the past century, it is logical for the profession to turn its attention to a housing model which continues to mushroom organically around the globe: the shantytown.

An ongoing research project being carried out by 26'10 south Architects, a young South African firm headed by husband-and-wife architects Thorsten Deckler and Anne Graupner, provides an interesting look into this 'type .of work. The couple have spent the past year and a half studying the spacial dynamics of Diepsloor, a Johannesburg suburb created in 1994 co house the poor. Today, approximately three-quarters of Diepsloot's residents live in slums,

Graupner, a native South African, and Decider, a Namibian transplant, divide their time between work with informal communities and conventional design commissions for a middle-class clientele With the second-highest income distribution inequality in the world, South Africa provides sufficient opportunity for both .. Although (he nation does possess a strong, albeit small, middle class,


half of South Africans live below the poverty line. In joh nesburg, the nation's largest city, some estimates PUt number of families living in shantytowns at over 200,0

SOUIh Airica's housing troubles have deep historical roo The apanheid govenunen r enforced geogl'<I phic separar between ethnic groups, forcibly relocating nonwhites undesirable areas without basic infrastructure or service Grim tracts of dormitory-like dwellings were erected fo portion of the population, while me remainder was lefr ; fend for itself. \7hen Nelson Mandela came to power : the mid-90s,. the government pledged to provide adequa housing for all citizens. Through the Reconstruction an Development Programme, it provided subsidies to deve opers to build homes for the poor. Although the program has moved over a million families out of me slums im buildings known as RDP houses, its reputation is mixed There is an enormous backlog for housing, with waiting periods of over a decade not uncommon. And even fothose lucky enough w obtain a house, quality of life ma or may not improve substantially, Not unlike the governrnent housing that came before them, many RDP house, are tiny, barrack-like structures located far from transportation and employment centers and lacking in social amenities, Poor design and construction practices have been endemic throughout the program's history; a 2000 s[Ud~ found that only 30 percent of new dwellings complied with building regulations. And even with me subsidies, limited employment opportunities mean that many residents struggle co pay for utilities and maintenance.

For 26' 10 south, the failings of governmem housing are most productively examined from the perspective of South Africa's informal communities. Because their residents have built the shantytowns themselves, making their own decisions about how best to meet their needs using available resources, the communities provide valuable insight inro what actually works for Johannesburg's poor.

I spoke to Graupner and Deckler in January.


Can you give me a brief overview of your work with informal architecture?

TD: On many levels it's a thing you're just confronted with. I think any architect or urban planner anywhere in the world needs to deal with informality. What makes cities really exciting and amazing is mat they have people in them who are unpredictable and just do stuff. In a sense the city is a formal system, but the informal is an equal part of it. That makes the dynamic of a city.

In South Africa, this form of informality is viewed with prejudice. There are many emerging cities, many new emerging realities, that have arisen parallel to the modernist city. We have all these incredible, vital living environments that are self-constructed to a large degree. They're not without problems, bur I think they just make South African cities, or African cities, more interesting. There's good weather people come outside and they trade, they talk, they eat, they play, they sing, they dance. It's got that kind of vibrancy that to me is part of informality.

The informal should really give city planners and architects strong clues about how people, within their limited field of choice, make the best decisions for themselves. People are incredibly resourceful in exploiting the lack of

Typica! RDP housing

formal control, making ends meet with often minimal means. I think there's quite a malaise thar we as professionals suffer if we believe we know what we're doing after a certain period of study or work. I've not physically built my own house, whereas some people have already reconstructed their own home several times over in the informal economy. There's incredible potential for more of an exchange without so much prejudice between formal and informal modes of operating. In a sense, the state just illegalizes the informal because they see it as backward, something that needs to be eradicared-s-that's me language they use. Meanwhile, people have, at hardly any cost to the state, constructed their own ciry and housed themselves, which is quite incredible when you think about it.

How did the research project in Diepsloot come about?

TD: The particular project that we're busy with grew out of previous projects. We got a reputation as architects who create cultural events, or cultural meaning. So we were approached by a German cultural institution, the Goethe Institut, in Johannesburg.' Two years ago they had the theme of urbanism for their cultural activities, and they heard about the stuff we were doing and said, [Laughs] we've got some money for you to do a project. We didn't really know what to do, so we eventually just said, okay,



we'll record a piece of an informal dey in minute detail, as architectural drawings, to represent it back to the professional fraterniry-a provocation of sorts.

And now it's evolved into quite a big research project with various other members and institutions-the University of the Witwatersrand and a social housing institution, SHiFT-that are collecting dara on formal housing approaches and analyzing it in terms of the dynamic of an informal ciry. lhe informal city has a certain density, a certain flexibility; and a certain economy, and the formal approaches that are currently being implemented struggle to deal with this. We're doing a study on how well they are dealing with it.

How well they're dealing with formal housing, you mean?

TD: Yes. A few years ago, in 2001, the backlog for government housing was 2.5 million houses. And almost ten years later, the backlog is sitting at slightly more than 2.5 million, but 2 million formal houses were constructed in that period. There's one picture that I sent you that shows a typical formal. approach (Q housing by the state-not much different than the housing projects that nonwhites were forced to live in under apartheid, and perpetuated now in a democratic dispensation! It's the easiest thing for the state and consultants to do, and it also ties into aspirations of people that have previously been marginalized-the El Dorado of success is a f~eestanding house on a piece of land, So that's kind of what we're stuck in at the moment: shrunken mansions.

And so you'l'e making recommendations for ways to improve the formal program-s-is that the ultimate goal?

TD: Yes, ulrimately what we'd like to do is to have a very public platform to raise public and professional debate. We're working on a Web site as well as an exhibition for September, when there's a major architecture festival after the 2010 World Cup. We'd just like [Q raise the level of debate with institutions that educate architects as well as the public and the government role-players. In [he process we are also educating ourselves.

A're you working directly with the city in your studies?

TD: Yes. Currently-you're going to laugh at this-the Deparrrnenr of Housing has two official housing types, and they're not very dissimilar to the picture I showed you. So we are working with the Johannesburg Development Agency, the implementing department of the local authority, on urban renewal projects.

The research that we launched came our of a frustration of working for the city on some projects in an informal settlement. The particular project which led to me research was a commission to Ex this road going through a squatter's settlement. It was eroded and people had settled in the road reserve. We realized that the washed-away road was JUSt a sympmm of all the things that were wrong with the place, so fixing the road was like putting a plaster on a festering wound.

This is where it began-just a st.ruggle to figure our what the hell you're doing and not trusting the client's brief because it felt really dubious. And so we stalled the project from our side and then got involved with the Goethe Institut In this parallel research.

Can you tell me more about the road?

TD: The road is one of the busiest movement routes through what is known as Reception Area, a dense informal settlement. A lot of businesses have sprung up along its edges {map below}. People have been quite resourceful at making a living, and they've happened to locate themselves within the road reserve. That's illegal according to our client, the city. We explained co them that if they would fix this road in the name of economic development they would disrupt this quite delicate economy that has grown over several years, possibly a decade. And once they fixed this road it would not last very long because the storm water and sewage that Bows through this area collects on it, and that's why it has become eroded. So we essentially said we don't want [0 do a politically expedient project that's nor going to last.

1he solurion-all the things the city actually has to address: [he question of housing, the question of services, the question of storm water really basic infrastructure questionswill take much longer to coordinate. So that's the reason the project has stalled. But this has led us to be appointed ro now do a framework for the entire Diepsloot area, which comprises about 150,000 people. So by being a tittle bit, how should we say, principled, or a bit hardcore--or naive-we ended up with a much bigger project that we're trying [Q .6gure out how to do. This could quire possibly be one of me most difficult projects in South Africa.

What was your methodology for the researcbi

TD: We ort of just made it up as we went along. In order CO do me drawings, we established a contact person and he accompanied LlS everywhere we went. We worked with some young students from the local university. They went in and spoke to people, interviewed people, asked them if

they could take photographs and draw their houses. That was the first phase. 1he next phase was a studio-rype environment where we worked with various senior planners and architects, as well as a development consultant for the World Bank and other young, interested architects. We came up with three new housing typologies which incorporared lessons learned from the dynamics of Diepsloor,

AG: The initial goal for the project was ro explain to the diem why we felt we couldn't just do a surface treatment, because it would have an impact on [he economy and individuals and families and people's livelihood. By showing them how a seemingly chaotic fabric actually works, and mat it's actually highly organized, we could convince them that there is a different strategy to be taken,

TD: And that different strategy is what's up in the air right nOW. We're busy writing a set of recommendations that have ro be finished in March [his year. We're fornmate in mat a development forum has been set up upon our recornrnenclarion, meaning all me relevant city departments are sitting around one table to try and coordinate their efforts in addressing [he problems of Diepsloot.

Were the Diepsloot residents you approached /01' the study enthusiastic about participating?

TD: 1hey were a little bit apprehensive because a lor of them have an illegal status in terms of citizenship, a they're-v-I wouldn't say persecuted, but they're not really welcome in South Africa from an official point of view. So we had [Q try to explain what we were doing quite carefully and put '[hem at ease. The people were amazing, just incredibly open and generous. That is a key thing 1 find in living in Johannesburg, which is a fairly harsh

environment: the people always surprise you with disarming openness in sharing things.

And you stayed primarily on one street?

TD: Yeah, it was a one-hectare area around that street that we were supposed (Q fix {N dirnarsheloni Street}.

Can you explain the image with the toilet?

TD: There's that image, and chen one that shows the whole area that is affected by these types of communal toilets {below}. Those lines are actually streams of daylight sewage-if you add them all up they come to about seven kilometers. And there are about 25,000 people living in this area.

This project is something we just did on the side. We heard about this competition called (he First Fix Competition, and we entered to try to generate some adler approaches for this project that's been a little bit frozen because of the complexity of it. We were aware that johannesburg Water, which is a city department, was going to rectify [he situation of the daylight sewage by replacing the broken toilets with new ones-essentially perpetuating a failing system.

We found that people who take care of the toilets in their street would sometimes charge a fee to people nor from their street. So we carne up with the idea of looking at infrastructure as more than just infrastructure. as a business offering additional services such as light (by burning bio gas), hot water, social space, retail, etc.

We developed a hierarchy of three scales of intervention. Communal toilet, Diepsloot Map a/sewage runoff streams


TI1e small one went around the eXlstmg toilet pods, which, with two solar collectors, would be able to sell hot water, which would cost marginally less than it would cost to heat using coal or paraffin. And then the next one was essentially two bathrooms with a shop, and again hot water, And men the bigger one was really like a little city which has a gym and a nursing point and shops and proper bathrooms where you can soak in a bathtub. So what we're trying to do is create an economy around that service point that would also provide jobs for people in that area-and ensure the maintenance of the facility, which is actually the root cause of the problem.

This project was very much informed by how the neighborhood works spatially and programmatically. I can show you a few examples. If you look at this image {opposite page; Public Space diagram} carefully you'll see a little plan, a tide door. It' almost JUSt one meter by one meter so four feee by four feet-that is the shop, and the rest, about five times thar, is sheltered public space. If you go there, YOLl can meet with your friends, YOLl can sit in the shade, there's furniture, there's conversation=-you know, there's wit and jokes. But you have to buy something from the shop. So in the absence of a defined, functioning public realm, people have created it. Maybe like an extreme form of capitalism ar the end of the day, but they've taken on ownership of it. So we've tried to see it that way, with people taking 00 ownership of the service facility.

And then another one, Eunice's snack stall {Retail Space diagram}. It's really small, but this lady's putting her kids through school. She's built this herself; she's created a minimal shelter. I'm not saying it's great-she's complaining about nor having a secure storage space and having [Q take her ware home after business hours-but the ripple effect that it has for a family is of a mother actually being able to provide for her children's education.

The next one {Defensible Space diagram} is what we call Sydney's yard, which is the actual building block of me area-they're called yards, and people have settled sort of around the perimeter of the yards in a communal setup. In a quite viol em and desperate society this comrnunal yard is a fairly effective way of living because of the defensible space you're creating. So we also looked at that in terms of creating the bigger bathhouse. It has a mixed function of a small shop, bur also once you're inside you're in a fairly safe, controlled environment.


• a range of semi-private communal spaces and thresholds which increase security> intormal surveillance, and a sense of place and ownership

• housing fabric containing a multitude of functions and services

• opportunities for growthadditions to houses and rental rooms

• higher densities achieved through low-rise structures

• flexible ren ral scenarios


a-.r.·.·--~-.T.P .. -" •. b ... liC] ..

i .-1


sweet shop


bwil.ership of public space.

Smalll;lusinesses need small but wl:ll~jocated spaces, keeping 'oVerheads Jow,


Small col:1Jmunal spaces wJth discernible edges are better managed and maintained.


Services are- ad verlJsed directly on facades lacing b ~sy routesa nd points of confluence.


Threshold mediafillg prlVacy.

Conlainers have, a real estate c urr'ency In the inform"lc\ty as' they are secure, robust. and can be reloC!;ltlid.


And from what you toere saying I'm assuming that the government plan with the one-house, one-plot approach, doesn't have that sort of protected space?

TD: No, not really. It does evencually happen, over time, when people construct rental rooms in their yard. But this isn't very usable space because the formal house is situated in the middle of the plot, actually specifically in order to prevent accruement of informal rooms {opposite page}.

In the 60s in Zimbabwe, outside Harare, by some strange fluke of British town planning they built the usual little houses as semi-detached cottages, so they shared a boundary and a wall, leaving a large space around three sides of the house. And that enabled people to construct the most amazing communal spaces for their extended family or for tenants. If people made enough money and stabilized their income through the rents, they would demolish SOme of the shacks and extend their houses. The interesting ching is that Robert Mugabe has had this crusade, Operation Murarnbatsvina, in which he destroyed this suburb because-well, it was like a slum in his eyes. Bur I went there before, and it was absolutely fantastic.

Had you w01,ked with other government bodies 01' policy organizations in previous jobs?

TD: We work with a range ofgovernment departments. There's the Provincial Department of Housing, the city's Housing Department, and of course the JDA, Johannesburg's implementing agency, a departrnen t which develops and constructs mainly urban renewal and critical infrastructure projects. On smaller projects we work directly with community organizations.

The work Anne does on frameworks engages the relevant city departments and local community organizations in a consultative process. Anne, do you want to explain what those are?

AG: A lot of the Johannesburg Development Agency's projects involve deciding what needs [Q be done in certain areas. So normally one starts out with urban development frameworks, and within that one has to give guidance [Q the JDA as to what projects could be catalytic in the area to spark local economies and uplift the communities. So you almost define a brief for all the departments that


would potentially get involved as to what has to be done. You create a holistic vision for a certain parr of the city, and that goes through the mayoral committee. They then decide how much expenditure will be done in the next financial year and link it out for new tenders, resulting in some of the projects being implemented.

TD: On your question of if we work with policymakers, we are starting to. The irony is that the housing policy is acrually not that bad. Ir has recognized that this one size fits all or one house per plot approach is not working. But the scale, and the role of the industry in collusion with politicians, has resulted in a certain type of housing approach. It's very difficult to sway die boat. They're on a course we call the size race. A government official in one province would say, hey, I'm now building a subsidized unit of forty-five square meters, and a guy in another province will go well, I can actually built this at fifty.

AG: The one-house one-plot approach is so entrenched that a lor of education has to be done with regards to higher-density living in order to deal with urban sprawl. Johannesburg is very much based on the one-house, one-plot fabric. Not the inner city, but all the suburbs, Especially if YOLl go (Q the north of the city, we have a very big problem with traffic-one house, five cars or one house four cars. So we're really dealing with these problems as well,

Inthe inner city ofJoburg, now a 10[ of old buildings that used to be office buildings are being converted to new housing. To have new housing developments in the inner city is very new for Johannesburg.

Who's living in the new downtown developments? W'nat's the overall demographic ana geographic spread of things in Johannesbu1'g?Are the slum areas all in the suburbs?

'TD: We gOt this amazing map {page 96} from a book called The Aslas of Apartheid. It's a diagram made of Johannesburg during apartheid. This whole book is images of how ciry planners visualized the segregated ciry. [oburg in a sense is still living through that history New upwardly mobile African people are moving into previously white areas, bur largely the demographics of apartheid are still in place. But me inner city's really the melting POt, and that's where the kind of wholesale hand over or exchange took place. 1he city was previously white-inhabited. by white businesses



' . ....

- ....


Drawing the Informa] City

Research project by 26']0 south Architects

in collaboration with the Goesbe-Instisut; Johammburg

Team: Anne Graupner, Thorsten Deckler, Guy Trangos, Shameema Davids, Sue Croenewald, Nadine Naidoo Supported by: Goerhe-Insnrur, johannesburg

. \



lnformal Architecture Master Class

(part ofGauteng Institute for Architect! Masterdass Series 2009) Open researd: and design workshop by 26'10 so 11th Architects

in collaboration with the Goetbe-Institut, Johannesburg

Participants: Diane Arvanitakis, Eduardo Cachuche, Thorsten Deckler, Thiresh Govender, Sue Groenewald, Mslzi Khulane, Lone Poulsen, Cara Snyman, Steve Topham, Tahira Taffa, Tariq Toffa, Guy Trangos, Jennifer van den Bussche Supported by: Coerhe-Insrirur, Johannesburg;

Johannesburg Development Agency


Reproduced by permission from R .. j. Davies, "The Spatial Formation o/the South African City, "Ceojournal Supp/. no. 2 (1981): 59-72, reprinted in A. j. Christopher, The Atlas of Aparrheid (London;' Routledge, 1994), 107, fig. 4.2.


.'Whlte cae Dlnd'en ceo .ceo I'rame ~1;ndU"1r!al RESIDENTIAL AREAS

rwl .. Whll.e, ,D.···· 'B18C~ Area r::::::::]lnd,I'lIn O"C, cloured

~Q,rou;pAr&a .'. ~ ~,Group Area

I !ndlan

C Colc~fed

T Tow"shl,p p "rl,vllte'ly
.A1 MunlclplIl
M Middle L LQw • Hi>alal

Soc:: IO-'Be Q,nD1mlc

H Hig~

(While Group A<alls)

Spatial demographics of johannesburg under apartheid

and white apamnents, but is now almost exclusively black.

And is it middle class, the city center?

TD: It ranges. You have a block that some creative developer's now marketing for really wealthy individuals, and two blocks down you have a squatted office block with fifteen people living in what was. a modernist bachelor Bat. 50 ir's very much in the sway, in this sort of crazy period where there are incredibly jarring contrasts.

AG: Yeah, there are parts of Joburg where you'll JUSt hear French. It's people coming from central Africa; the whole


of Afdca's represented in Johannesburg. And it's blockwise and street-wise, so you can go to a Congolese area, you can go to a Nigerian area. That's really what's happening downtown. And then there are also partS where-the johannesburg Development Agency, for example, has created something called a cultural precinct, and there are cheaters and jazz venues and a big space where we have cultural festivals .. And then everybody, people from the white suburbs or previously Indian areas or African people, all come together to enjoy music. That's really where the SOrt of democratic city happens.

TD: And also in the northern suburbs, where the white enclaves were-you know, leafy, low-density, Americantype suburbs. There's an area we particularly don't like to go to because there's heavy traffic and it's built in sort of a strange pasrlche of Tuscany. But it's really also where the new generation ofSouth Africans, irrespective of rheir background or race, are settling. So it's actually quite diverse. It's very interesting. We still believe very much in the inner city, but if you look at these kind of non-placessuburb, office park, shopping mall-this is where me new middle class is emerging,

There is a recent shopping mall that was developed in that area, It's modeled on an Italian square, but it's got a roof over it, so it's gOt this kind of fake sunset, a fake sky with painted douds all bathed in a dusky rwilighr, Very, very artificial environment, I think they used a set building company from Los Angeles to do the final styling of (he whole thing. So it's a very weird way in which public space is being simulated there, but it's also a place where the middle class is mingling, networking, and socializing.

AG: To go back co the diagram, I don't know if you noticed, but there are SOrt of buffer zones and political harriers .. Basically, with frameworks, a lot of the work we do is [Q reconnect roads and get rid of buffer zones, which are actually like servitudes, industrial zones, railway Iines.erc. These elements were exploited to keep different cultural groups apart. And these buffer zones are areas of opportunity-> that's where we can connect areas together again It's land, and land is an opportunity. We've gO[ a huge housing backlog, so if the piece of land belongs to u.. province or to [he governmem, it can be used to fill a b· of me backlog.

TO: What's also interesting is that those buffer zones in a sense are interstitial spaces that provide a lor of freedom for, let's say, entrepreneurs in the informal economy. So this picture {below}-weU, it's a particularly beautiful example of somebody having a temporary business. There's a lot of this. You can't romanticize it, but it's people making a living, fixing exhaust pipes or cars or selling stuff, and they populate a lot of this kind of weird no man's land.

You said that there were about 2 million people that needed housing ten year's ago and that number is about the same today, Is that because of population growth, 01" because the housing that's been built hasn't worked out?

TO: It's a combination of both: the continuation of an ineffectual housing model developed during apartheid and the tremendous population growth. There's population growth as well as influx, particularly from southern African stares-Zimbabwe in particular, because of the political situation. South Africa is perceived as a first-world place within Africa, with a first-world economy and opportunities, and as a springboard to Europe or the Stares. So there's tremendous opportunity. Since apartheid ended, all the trade embargoes have also ended, so business has reestablished itself inside South Africa, including illegal businesses like crime. Joburg and Capetown have become focal points of the global drug trade.

And it's my understanding that the gove'rnment is obligated to provide housing /01' everyone-« is that the

case? Even immigrants?

TO: That's a very good question, and it's one that we're currently banging our heads against the wall with, because the state subsidy system only applies to South African citizens. That is a big problem. For instance, in this area where we were supposed to repair this road, the majority of the people there are actually from allover Africa, and also Asia. And if you've heard in the news about a year and a half ago about: the xenophobic violence, a lot of it happened in thar area.

So there was a recent tender that the government wrote which was modeled on the big slum in Bombay Dharavi. I met with the government official at the tender briefing and they were saying, "This is really an innovative new model and we're going [0 give you the land and you need to eradicate the shacks." That was the sum total of the briefing, actually. The government perceives that they own this land, although families have been living there for fifteen years. It's all very, very heavy-handed. Even the kind of mentality or attitude is a continuation of what we had in the past-very authoritarian, very top-down. This approach comes from not really knowing what to do realizing that there are too many foreign non-qualifiers.

Although in terms of policy, the intentions are reaUyamazing. I mean, if you read project briefs you think you're living in the most wonderful place on earth, because they're so ambitious and open-minded. Bur on the irnplernenra-

mformal entrcpreneur

tion level, the people that have to deal with me everyday reality of their city tend to do so in a very authoritarian manner. There's a huge lack of capacity across all sectors of society and industry through so many skilled people having emigrated. In addition, the apartheid state had a separate education policy for African people to intentionally keep them in a vast labor pool for white-dominated industry. TI1e effects of this do not change overnight, even with affirmative action and black economic empowerrnent policies in place.

Is the situation in Johanneshurg similar to other areas in the country?

TD: I would say it's most acute in [oburg because it's the biggest city.

Have you found a lot of SUpp0 rt fm' what you>re doing with this project?

TD: Wive found some interest. We haven't been pushing it too much into the public life, bur I guess this will happen now. We would really be quite happy to connect with anyone looking at similar problems in their own countries. The toilet project, for instance, was inspired by a communal toilet block in Kibera, Nairobi. There are local universities here doing interesting work. And the work of the Elemental group in Chile has obviously been an inspiration-{Elememal Principal} Aravena might be giving a symposium at the Architecture ZA festival being organized in September in Johannesburg. At this event we will be responsible for a small pan of a bigger project called Habitat which deals with the question of housing. We've come up with an exhibition concept that we will be developing and trying to find more money for. That's me next challenge. We acrually found our initial funding from the Goethe Institut under the guise of doing an art project, because we're not necessarily perceived as people who need funding in our COntext. Architects generally service a rich sector of the population and make enough money off that.

Does your work on the slum areas have relevance to similar spaces in neighhoring countries? Is there a connection betureen. the situation in South Africa and other Afrt'can countries?

TD: There's certainly a big similarity in challenges across

the global south, actually, and into Africa. And the Web site we're working on we're hoping to link to a Wikipediatype platform that the World Bank is developing. It's a platform where a panel of experts drawn from across the globe addresses issues of housing and urbanism and urban renewal, specifically targeted at people having to manage African cities because Africa's one of the most rapidly developing urban scenarios in the world, obviously

We have just started and we're running this normal practice on the side, having to do houses for diems and shop interiors, The things that we're passionate abour are not all that rewarding in terms of money, at least for now. So we need to run this other animal on the side. But I think [he most beautiful realization that I have made, personally-after studying architecture very much in the Western idiom, where you're constantly referred to a library of great architects to whom you always feel inferior-is that none of the architecture that we're busy with in this research study are award-winning buildings that would ever make it onto ArchDaily. Yet the environments created, spatially and programmatically, often SUJpass what the formal sector, aided by professionals with degrees, has managed to create.

Where our office is, Fietas, used to be one of the most vibrant areas of Johannesburg and one of the most tolerant communities. If you don't go into its history to figure it om, it's a big mystery why it worked. But once you look at it and speak CO people about it, your point of view as an architect changes quite drastically. Ir's quite liberating. Fietas was essentially bulldozed during apartheid. bur we've had a lot of public events in our office, with me assistance of a local university, to figure out what made the area such an incredibly tight community. You realize that Fietas was special not JUSt because of irs diversity of cultures but that the relationship between people was influenced, positively, by the actual built fabric. The buildings were not remarkable, but they had positive scale, a direct relationship with the street with mediating thresholds. The area was dense and hence the street became public space. All me things New Urbanism talks about people already instinctively knew and constructed. We have forgotten, apartheid has swallowed this history.

Can you tell me about the cinema project you worked on in Sosoeto?


TD: Yes. And that's the project we formed our working relationship approach around. It was really down IO budget-basically there was JUSt no money. What we were asked to do is reinvent or reimagine this building that was a cinema for many years in Sowero .. For forty-eight years it was really a cultural meeting point, and also the social life of the community It was burned down and the building was stolen, literally, in a couple of weeks. It was just ripped apart. Once it was set alight people just recycled the building into their own houses. TIle context that we had [Q work in was mind-boggling. You very much start to question your role as architect as you experience the fragility of the context.

We designed a scheme that was really additive that could be done over many years, in phases, and tied to more cultural events, And even for that there wasn't money. And we JUSt thought, well, the sessions we had in our office, we'll JUSt transfer some of them to Soweto in order to recreate the place of cultural happening. And so weirdly, the sire sort of regained its culrural significance. And then it gOt its own life again, and people started performing in it again.

A,oe they still using iti'

TO: Not really. We had been lobbying the city government to at least secure the ruin, which they haven't done, and the community itself has eventually decided to desuoy it because at nighr ir was a very dangerous place. So the front part of the ruin's now collapsed.

It's a spectacular failure in many regards, but it also taught us orne very valuable and hard lessons-you know, the Limits of architecture and how it can actually JUSt become a big liability sometimes. The building has to be staffed, programmed, managed, and this takes skill and money, which was exactly the lack. So we realized that in this context buildings and institutions need to grow around people's needs and capacity, they need to evolve and be more adaptable. 'This is a fundamenrally different insight into architecture which is taught, practiced, and mythologized as timeless, fixed, and finite.

It's not a problem unique to South Africa. We were at a conference in London where a bunch of artists complained about exactly thar, The government-sponsored Bilbao effect requires chis spectacular building and these grand institutions, but it swallows up so many resources that could actually be used to stimulate real cultural in-

venrion. And in the South African case we have some real new hybrid post-apartheid identities to be formed. It's not in the Tate Modern where new culture gets created, or the Guggenheim. That's where established culture is portrayed. But new culture is created in the very in-between spaces, the most unlikely spaces. And it's created by people, not by buildings.

AG: The main concept of that project was chat the architecture follows the program. It's nor like the white elephant where you first have the building and then you try and put the program in. The idea was basically starring with the artifacts mat were found on-sire, just securing [he ruin and leveling the Hoar. We worked on a dance and fiJm program over five years that would increase in density and that would also sort of emerge. But unfortunately we could not get anybody to sponsor the money ro secure the ruin. In fact, available city resources were all tied up in the construction of a symbolic square being built nearby to commemorate the signing of the Freedom Charter in 1956.

Therefore we ended up just painting a wall white and having a mobile film resource unit projecting movies.

And it was absolutely magical, and exactly what the COO1- rnunity asked for-it was bringing the cinema back ro the area. It didn't actually need a building, it just needed a projector and a film. If we had waited for the fundlng that never arrived there would never have been another film shown on this site.

That was a very important lesson for our practice. Architects are all trained to de ign these icon buildings all the time, but in fact one has to take a step back and think, what does the community need, and what can actually have the biggest impact with the minimal resources to be spent?

TD: 1 mean, we'd love to do slick buildings. Actually it's a great kick. Bur at the end of the day we wane to do something that-

AG: Is relevant.

TD: Yeah. And you find rhar if you're a professional, your obligation goes beyond putting something together on time and on budget. You need to make sure that YOll are really addressing the issue that led to you being appointed in the first instance. •