A_DRIC mini-conference held on 30/01/2019 – Appropriate Architecture for Africa [Aᵌ]

Department of Architecture, Building 2, Room 2-220 

The Architecture Research and Innovation Committee (A_DRIC) organised its first mini-conference in 2019. The work of the Appropriate Architecture for Africa [Aᵌ] Niche Area at the TUT Department of Architecture aims to promote the idea that the architectural profession has the potential to offer both technical and social expertise towards the achievement of sustainable, human(e), equitable, beautiful and functional buildings, neighbourhoods and cities. The niche area includes several projects and research focus areas led by a number of people at the Department of Architecture. This event aims to be an introduction to our diverse research interests and networks.


GP Motswai

In the 1930s, land owned by blacks in South Africa was mere “black spots on a white man’s land”, although 70% of the population was black. Recent conversations in my grandmother’s yard led to reflections on the land our people currently had and how it came about that they owned the land.

Residing in Jerico, on the edge of the Bakwena land, my grandmother originated from the Royal Bafokeng Nation which is considered to be the richest tribe in Africa. The Royal Bafokeng Nation exists on the Rustenburg Belt famous for its platinum wealth.

The most important leader of the nation of the Bakwene suffered great disposition of land. But he was able to negotiate and reclaim back the land. As laws restricted black land ownership, missionaries helped buy the land back on behalf of the Bakwena who raised money through working in the mines. This was a difficult and long process and every year the extended family and tribe celebrate those who worked in the diamond/platinum? mines to buy back the land.

The book “Mountains of spirits” tells the story of the Royal Bakwenaba Mogopa of the North West province in South Africa (Khunou, 2016). Most of the land recovered was bought back from one man: Paul Kruger. Kruger was entitled to land free of charge as compensation for services in the Transvaal. This history has meant that the descendants are left trying to grapple with what land they do have in terms of:

  1. The middle man – the missionaries
  2. Integration of the monarch
  3. Keeping the legacy
  4. Spatial configuration
  5. Land use and regulations
  6. Organic versus defined space
  7. Forms of ownership and title deeds

With regards to the latter points, which have led to zoning and sub-divisions, some have argued that “the cattle don’t know the difference”.  How can the Bakwena people move into the future by reconciling the historical and present-day realities with belief systems around ownership and land?


Amira Osman

South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution emphasised the right of everyone to adequate housing. This has been reaffirmed in subsequent Constitutional Court judgements, such as the celebrated Grootboom Case of 2000. The housing programme is based on the Reconstruction and Development Programme of 1994. “RDP” houses became a colloquial term for free houses provided by the government under a subsidy programme. South Africa’s mass housing programme has been hugely successful in terms of the number of houses built: nearly four million “housing opportunities” – serviced stands, houses or social housing units – have been built since democracy in 1994. Yet the supply of houses has not been able to keep up with the increase in demand in urban areas.

The government’s approach has given rise to rows upon rows of “one-size-fits-all” houses located at the periphery of cities, far from work opportunities and services, reinforcing apartheid’s spatial patterns. While it’s acknowledged that the country must think beyond free houses and that sustainable human settlements must include socio-cultural amenities and jobs, not much has been done to make this a reality.

Models of delivery can’t continue to depend on the government. Instead, it should see its role as facilitating a diverse and multifaceted approach to ensure the involvement of many role players. This would result in different types of housing products and housing delivery methods that are less reliant on subsidies. There are potential solutions that the government could pursue. These include:

  • Rethinking government’s role as the sole funder. Diverse funding streams and the involvement of a range of stakeholders would allow for low cost and affordable housing to be an integral part of all city developments in well located, mixed income, mixed function, mixed community settings.
  • There should be a shift away from ownership and more focus on rental options. Private developers must be supported to operate in the field.
  • Delivery needs to be quick and efficient with minimal bureaucracy and delay and must acknowledge the social as well as the technical aspects of housing.
  • Policymakers must revisit the questions of who should be targeted, what housing products should be delivered and how they should be delivered. For example, there needs to be a shift away from individual subsidies and products to collective models of housing.

There has been surprisingly little innovation in the field of housing. In an attempt to address this issue, a ten-point vision for sustainable, human(e) settlements is presented. Two points in the ten-point vision are emphasised. The first is related to the concept of “just add housing”, looking at innovative ways to include affordable housing as an integral component of every urban development project. The second addresses the blank walls spanning for many kilometres in urban areas. These walls cause great divisions and separation and also lead to streets becoming unsafe through the lack of “eyes on the streets”. It is proposed that a “wall tax” be imposed and that these walls be activated by the insertion of multi-functional interventions with a large component of housing.


Stephen Steyn

A research field can be conceptualised as an area. An area can be described through the drawing of defined outlines, but it can also be defined without definite outlines. The second technique involves the identification of a number of key terms or examples which define the field with a diffuse boundary. A diffuse boundary is preferred here, because, while it identifies the topic of the research field clearly, it does not identify its limits clearly and is therefore subject to expansion and redirection as new information becomes available.

The technique selected to explore this was to describe a collection of terms through a film. The film went through phases where it had different names: Politics and Poetics, Movement, Occupy, Wall, Street. It is now called “Architecture as political technology”.

The terminology used is defined as follows:

  • Polis – the city
  • Techne – making
  • Logos – the knowledge

The project, therefore, aims to generate knowledge through understanding the “making” of the way in which we live. Other important terms in the field include the word ‘space’, which, through etymological tracing can be related to architecture through the German word Raum, which means both space and room. A thesis is essentially a very long and involved definition of architecture. It is an instance of architecture and therefore adds an example to the field, which is diffusely defined as architecture.

There are many instinctive definitions of architecture:

  • A way of life
  • Expression of oneself
  • Art of creating spaces
  • Unconscious perception of space
  • A response to habitable needs

Architecture can also be defined by the laws which determine “who is an architect” or who has the right to use the title, but this defines architecture as a profession, not as a discipline – the discipline is much older than the profession. The copyright act no.98 of 1978 has the following definition of architecture: artistic work – irrespective of the artistic quality thereof – and includes building or models of buildings. This is a good definition as it also includes unbuilt work, yet limiting because it doesn’t include drawings.

In order to link the political dimension of architecture to the personal dimension, commonly used metaphors of organization and organism are unpacked in this research field. To better illustrate this topic, a case study is conducted analysing the work of Massimo Scolari and specifically his experiments with the arc. At his installation for the 1986 Milan Triennale, he equated architecture to an extension or surrogate for consciousness. He implied that we have architecture because we sleep; Architecture is a substitute for consciousness because when you are asleep, you cannot defend yourself.

This value of paper architecture or conceptual architecture in political thinking is explored through reference to (especially) the Italian radicals of the 1960s and 1970s. There have been different interpretations of architecture over time. The 60s led to expansions the machine aesthetic popularised during high modernism – the machines of the 60s and 70s were not associated anymore with efficiency and elegance. The outcomes of these experiments were often not buildings and not objects; they were also often not placed in a landscape but were isolated – floating in the ether – in a vacuum.

But, radical architecture has been most compelling when it engages with real space and form and does not avoid reality. This is folded into the current research project which considers definitions for architecture at the scale of an organisation. It is modernism in the sense that it suggests that the form of an organisation is closely related to what it does– this is based on the ultimate interpretation of form and function as being inseparable. In experimenting with ways of representing organisations, concepts such as “walking through your study guide rather than reading it” emerge. These new ways of looking at organisations, their content and the spaces they inhabit will result in different ways of representation in architecture.


Mel Stander

Some years ago, I started questioning our world view and our profession. The students loved this process; yet, my colleagues were unhappy. I touched a nerve. By simplifying things, simplifying complex issues, we are guilty of making architecture into something inaccessible for the large majority of people who are not architects. What is wrong with architecture? We have valued form over function, and buildings have become devoid of meaning. Archi-speak has led to the misunderstanding of terms and using terms in odd ways. Yet, many of us worship and emulate architects that do this and admire architecture which produces objects devoid of context. The human being as the centre is lost (contrast the work of Rembrandt and Tracy Evans?) In making the sacred profane and the profane sacred, buildings became more and more “silly”.

Wakanda represents a potential Africa, an Africa of the imagination and the city of imagination. The work of Dominque Malaquais is used as inspiration for this project. Her writing focuses on intersections between emergent urban cultures, global, late capitalist market forces and political and economic violence in African cities. My own research focuses on the African diaspora, African mobility and the Africa that could be.

Why has Wakanda not come into being? How can it be made to come into being?

The current state of the profession means that architecture has lost its way. There is disarray within the profession. The modernists divorced architecture from its historic roots. What did modernism really produce? Soviet-inspired housing was repetitive, monotonous and ugly. The official moment of the death of modernism was the blowing up of Pruitt-Igoe. But what have we been doing for the last 100 years? “Architecture has suffered from abstracting, deconstructing and nihilist thinking” (Roger Scruton)

If pure and truthful African architecture is to be found it must partly be found in the past – a past devoid of Eurocentric and modernist ideals. The modernists were wreaking destruction as Africa was emerging as a place in its own right. Africa can today help the world – help the west – regarding the meaning embedded in art and architecture. We need a new language/vocabulary to develop African buildings and space.


Leon Pienaar

Where do we fit in the 4thindustrial revolution? What are we intending to do in the next 2,3, 10, 100 years?

The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE) at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) MakerSpace now own a CNC machine and fibre-laser cutter as well as a 3D-printer, electric tools. This Architecture MakerSpace is only the start. There are plans to have MakerSpaces for the following departments: Industrial, Mechanical, Electrical etc.

This will present great opportunities to collaborate – and some challenges. This collaboration will be based on Open Source systems. This is embedded in an understanding of the concepts of Ubuntu and Creativity. The approach is strongly related to global platforms such as Opendesk and Wikihouse.

As an antidote to the current situation, the following suggestions are made:

  • To share globally the ideas and manufacture the product locally.
  • Build on past technologies and standards to accelerate the design & construction processes.
  • Design to decrease time, cost skill level, energy and resources.
  • By collaborating and sharing ideas – creative commons.
  • Design with materials that are abundant, standard, sustainable that can be used in additive and subtractive methods using CNC machines.
  • Think of the user’s requirements of the space looking at safety, security, health (physical and metal).
  • Design for the new “normal” by not designing for the rich or poor but design desirable and affordable solutions for the general population to use.
  • Assembly of such a structure should be mistake proof enabling the construction process to be easily assembled with tools freely available.
  • Look at the lifecycle and use-change of the product, can certain parts be sold or upgraded as time passes as the occupation of structure increases or decreases.
  • Give the owner of the structure full control over how the structure was built, how it works and how could it change over time – a living structure.
  • Maintenance to this structure forms an essential part to enable the end user to fix, print or re-cut and install the damaged part(s) easily in a safe manner.


Sushma Patel

“As long as I could find a Starbucks, I could also find a toilet.”

Lefebvre advocates viewing the world through humble everyday things. Through exploring the “everydayness”, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. By embracing the humble and the profane, one rejects the heroic and the iconic. Life is cyclical, repetitive, routine and monotonous, broken by festivities and celebrations and joyous occasions. Some have encouraged difference, focused on experiences and rejected the bourgeoisie.

The origin of the toilet is traced across different geographical regions, throughout history. While the history of the toilet starts with the Romans, there must have been an earlier start to this most private, and highly political, of all spaces. The present-day flushing toilet is water-dependent, untenable and unaffordable. Yet, there is a stigma created against alternatives. Technology is never neutral; it has political connotations.

The discourse around toilets has revolved around ergonomics, surveillance and gender (universal access toilets are often not gender specific). Toilets are generally related to service space, tucked away at the back, in a core and can be mass produced. Yet, toilets have also been explored as art (Kira, 1966 and Greenaways, 1985), addressing the taboo aspects and “cleansed discourse” in architecture. The work of the Gates Foundation is presented.


Jacques Laubscher

What is a thesis? What is a dissertation? At the master’s level, the production of a thesis/dissertation is evidence that you can do independent research. A thesis is a short version of a hypothesis, tested through scientific or academic work, legitimizing what has previously been established. A thesis is also partly original, as it reexamines research already done, corrects weakness in existing research etc.

A dissertation is “wordy” architecture made of words. A mini-dissertation is a part of other course work. You will be offered the opportunity to demonstrate to peers that you can become a professional architect. However, some are in a state of analysis paralysis. Some end up with a nervous breakdown. You must find your voice and the capacity to make decisions.


Sieg Schmidt

“It’s not what you look at, it is what you see” (Henri David Thoreau)

There are many different ways of “seeing”. Rene Magritte was a surrealist-inspired by real people and real events. The work of this artist helps us look with different eyes. Norburg-Shultz helps us understand the landscape. This project aims to explore: What is behind that curtain? It is visually-based and presents building details and zoomed out images. This exercise makes one realise how little one knows the details of well-known buildings in Pretoria.


Victor Mokaba

At the end of the SACAP visit in 2017, the Architecture Department, Tshwane University of Technology was advised to further develop its theory and history courses. As the coordinator of the programme, this is how we set out to achieve this, through the break down of the programme into the following elements:

  • geometry
  • elemental
  • sequential
  • political
  • organizational

We also based the programme on the following themes:

  • ritualistic
  • procedural
  • ceremony
  • traditions

The multiple relationships between space and meaning are explored through several project briefs:

  • liminal-ity and thresholds
  • mobility framework
  • gateway and entry into the city
  • learning in the city
  • community-based project
  • a competition project
  • living in the city

The students’ responses to these elements, themes and briefs were varied. One project explored the Church Street corridor, a space that transforms according to the time of day, as a form of nomadic patterns. Another project investigated the Union Buildings and the pyramids as places of refuge. This was a theory-intensive process which aimed to give access to the homeless, allowing them to use these structures. Another project drew inspiration from the sunflower, developing a building that followed the sun; the interactive façade operated like a mechanical turntable and the function was an accessible auditorium at the Pretoria Station. By using sequential techniques and breaking the project into parts, design became a metaphor and the movement of the sunflowers was translated into a building.

The approach to the design studio is premised on an understanding that buildings are not stagnant; buildings evolve and change with time. Thorsten Dekkler speaks of building as Process rather than Product. In the Dekkler home, concepts of Infill, Expansion and Densification of existing urban fabric drive the process. In Taxi Rank no 2 in Diepsloot, Dekkler explains that there is always a story behind a project (photovoltaics get stolen, the power goes off, etc.). Yet, the project keeps functioning.

However, present-day communication tools such as social media and online platforms do not show this evolutionary process and tend to focus on the finished product. This has led to imitation without understanding the process. Millennials behave and perceive differently because of these new tools. This must be acknowledged and accommodated for in the design studio.