Posted on June 05, 2013

After designing models intended for the upgrade and improvement of the communities’ social networks, the students presented their designs to the section leaders of the community of Alaska informal settlement.

Government’s focus on the upgrading of informal settlements often results in the disruption of their internal social networks because the inhabitants often have to be relocated, giving way for the erection of RDP houses. This approach has proven to be ineffective because the social network settings are lost, to the detriment of livelihoods, local economies and participative local planning within the community.

To disrupt these social networks, especially in impoverished areas where communities rely on each other, is not always effective. That is why the students of Architecture at the University of Pretoria had to come up with ideas to upgrade the lives of the people where they live. The students met and interacted with section leaders of the informal settlement community. They identified places which strengthen social networks to be given an upgrade, like the gathering places for entertainment within the community.

The programme coordinator for the students, Carin Combrinck, said the students had to look at building on the existing social networks within the community. ‘If we destroy that, it would not benefit the community because they would have to start over building their networks. That approach, which is mostly used by government, does not necessarily break the cycle of poverty,’ said Combrinck.

Because of the informal settlement’s location at the foot of the mountain, the students had to consider a lot of factors like the services, the possibility of urban agriculture, and even the storm water system to be installed in the area. The students therefore proposed infrastructure which has a combination of architectural and landscape components.

The designs consider harvesting of water as well as the installation of bio-digester toilets for purposes of urban agriculture. ‘Every property could function as a fuel cell whereby the toilets and rain water are used positively for small-scale agricultural development in the community,’ said Combrinck.

Building houses for the impoverished informal settlement does little to break the cycle of poverty among the residents. ‘The idea of the provision of housing does not solve the housing problem, but rather the structures and infrastructure programmes that allow people to develop a livelihood in the informal settlements need to be developed. And from a livelihood, housing becomes personally improved upon, and this breaks the poverty cycle,’ added Combrinck.

There are small-scale projects which have already been identified and the construction of these will be done in July. The first small-scale project is to build a paving platform to be used as a gathering space for the community, the construction of which will take approximately a week to finish.

Further projects will be developed in due course.

Architecture Honours students presenting to members of Alaska informal settlement in Mamelodi.

Community members rejoice with the students following a successful presentation.

Reigning Tuks Rag Queen, and also a third year Architecture student, Dassie Persaud-van der Westhuizen, with a design model presented to members of the community.

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