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INFORMAL STUDIO: RUIMSIG 2011

SUMMARY
by Thorsten Deckler & Alexander Opper (2012.02.08)

The INFORMAL STUDIO: R U I M S I G forms part of a necessary shift in the education of built environment professionals in the field of informal settlement upgrading in South Africa. Developed in 2011 by 26’10 south Architects in partnership with the Goethe-Institut, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and NGO Ikhayalami, the first course was run with sixteen UJ architecture masters students over a seven week period. The students worked together with eight ‘community architects’ from Ruimsig, an informal settlement on the western periphery of Johannesburg, on strategies for the immediate and long-term improvement of the settlement. The course was held at both the university and in the settlement and resulted in a detailed mapping of the existing fabric as well as a proposed re-blocking plan. The process was guided by NGOs experienced in in-situ upgrading (Ikhayalami & CORC) and the Informal Settlement Network (ISN), representing the interests of residents.

Re-blocking is concerned with making minimal physical adjustments, most of which can be implemented by residents themselves, in order to improve immediate living conditions. The main objectives of re-blocking in Ruimsig are the equitable distribution of land, addressing overcrowding and the activities of slumlords, the adjustment of movement routes to legal road widths (for improved circulation and passage of emergency vehicles) and the creation of improved public and semi-public spaces. The changes, informed by an urban framework, would facilitate the eventual formalisation of the settlement.

A guiding principle of the course is that development is not ‘delivered’ by professionals (in this case teachers and students) but takes place through a process of engagement, collaborating with residents as legitimate experts of their own living situation. Detailed ‘Life-World’ and ‘Procurement’ analyses, undertaken by the students with guidance from the community architects, served to highlight the realities of life in the settlement and the capacity of residents to build their own houses. This material, together with hours of filmed footage was distilled into a public exhibition and film screening attended by residents and other stakeholders including city officials involved throughout the process. With assistance from Ikhayalami and CORC, Ruimsig residents have now begun the physical re-blocking process.

As part of addressing the 2.5 million backlog in formal houses in South Africa, the new National Delivery Agreement targets include the upgrading of 400 000 units in well-located informal settlements by 2014. For the provision of basic shelter to lead to healthy, integrated neighbourhoods, the planning of new settlements and the re-blocking of existing ones need to be guided by robust urban frameworks which help structure the richly complex growth typical of the informal settlement. To this effect the INFORMAL STUDIO aims to educate professionals in a design approach which is guided by a strong engagement with people and their context in order to arrive at pragmatic and implementable strategies for sustainable urban growth.

Click here to download the presentation (pdf)


Info: Thorsten Deckler thorsten@2610south.co.za, Alexander Opper alexo@uj.ac.za

Teaching staff: Thorsten Deckler (principal at 26’10 south Architects), Alexander Opper (director of architecture master’s programme, UJ), Lone Poulsen (architect and urban planner at ACG Architects), Melinda Silverman (urban design theory, UJ). \

Ruimsig Community: The community of the Ruimsig informal settlement, including Dan Moletsane, Dingaan Matia, the community leadership and the eight ‘community architects’: Irene Mohale, Rosalina Mphuti, Julia Mashaba, Mildred Thapeni, Albert Masibigiri, Jemina Mokoena, Watson Sibara, and Alfred Mthunzi.

UJ Students: Dewald Badenhorst, Dean Boniface, Dirk Coetser, Dana Gordon, Zakeeya Kalla, Daniel Lyonga, Julian Manshon, Matthew Millar, Karabo Mokaba, Jarryd Murray, Trisha Parbhoo, Sean Pillan, Taswald Pillay, Miguel Pinto, John Saaiman, Salome Snyman.

Support: Goethe-Institut South Africa has financially and logistically supported the project from its inception; Steve Topham (NUSP); Andy Bolnick (Ikhayalami); Connie Molefe (of the Roodepoort Athletics Stadium management); Max Rambau & André Mengi (CORC); Tolo Phule and Lungelo Mntambo (Delite Visual Archives Studios); Pheagane “Jakes” Maponya, Pumla Bafo & Thabo Molaba (City of Johannesburg); Lisa Ngagledla, Nomahlubi Ncoyini & Pricilla Mario (for sharing the expertise of the Sheffield Road community in Cape Town); Mzwanele Zulu (ISN, Cape Town); Thembile Majoe, Sihle Mbatha, Phiwe Makubu, Mfundisi Masithe (ISN, Gauteng); & Andisa Bidla (CoJ Informal Settlement Formalisation & Regularisation).