Every year, the prestigious “Corobrik Architectural Student of the Year Competition” is held at a regional level at eight universities across South Africa in the run-up to the national finals. Asiye eTafuleni’s (AeT) intern, Dennis Stols’ entry which proposed a recycling facility for the informal cardboard recyclers in the Durban CBD was the 2012 KZN Regional winner.
In his proposal, Dennis investigated the social exclusion and survival strategies of informal recyclers within the construct of the post-apartheid city of Durban. In a candid interview about his work, he elaborates:
… The project identifies a local insurgent citizenship, the informal recyclers of the Durban CBD. Worldwide informal recyclers make up to 2% of the planet’s population, yet they are still marginalised, victimised and abused. Even though they face intense social struggles and spatial exclusions, these unique citizens actively redefine the city by creating lives and livelihoods between architecture”.
Working at AeT: A Different Way of Doing Things
Dennis interned with AeT for two months, specifically working on the Inner-City Cardboard Recycling Project. Amongst other activities, Dennis contributed to AeT’s research work and integrated these findings into his master’s thesis in Architecture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Built Environment and Development Studies, which ultimately won him the regional award. With regards to his experience he says:
I spent a lot of time with NPO Asiye eTafuleni, working with the informal recyclers, getting to know them personally, and literally following them around daily, taking notes and photographs to build a brief snapshot into their complex lives. The project from the start was always meant to be about them, it was a social project which sought a grass roots intervention, where the clients would dictate what I drew and provided, which proved quite challenging as they have created an existence in spite of architecture and not because of it!”
Dennis’ design provides a place for informal recyclers to work from that meets their occupational needs including high density transient housing and a roof garden to promote sustainable living. In addition, his design was intended as a learning tool for the general public. He elaborates:
…It is essentially what Dobson calls a “safe pavement” contained under a soaring “urban umbrella”. The idea was to create a space for the recyclers to perform the activities they do currently without changing their patterns or the way they work (read the full article here)…
Paradigm Shifts in Architecture
At a national radio interview and local design exhibition where he was invited to talk about his Project, he shared his concern for espousing an understanding of the importance of using architecture as a tool to combat poverty and exclusion, focusing on what is needed by the urban poor as opposed to what is desired by decision makers. As he says:
…I have experienced a profound paradigm shift that removes the architect from architecture, and places people first, understanding that architecture’s fundamental purpose is to SERVE people, beyond any aesthetic preconception. Therefore I’d like to think that my reasons for going into architecture have matured, and I am becoming a more relevant architect than merely an urban artist (read the full article here)…”
Although, Dennis did not win the National level award, the comments from the Corobrik managing director, Dirk Meyer, gives a sense of the paradigm shifts taking place amongst future professionals of the built-environment sector. As Meyer said,
“…it was particularly difficult to select a winner … the dominant issues that had emerged included environmental preservation, sustainability and cultural and social challenges which, together, indicated that the architects of tomorrow are rapidly moving towards embracing a whole new dynamic – responsible architecture (read the full article here)”
For AeT, Dennis’ winning entry was a rewarding culmination as it complemented AeT’s objective of promoting design provision and participatory processes as critical strategies to enhance and secure urban livelihoods. Through AeT’s prior work and relationships, Dennis was able to gain privileged access to the community which shaped a responsible design process and product.
Secondly, it has reinforced AeT’s objective of contributing to emerging thinking and influencing a broad spectrum of individuals within the built-environment, development and government sectors; which foregrounds informality in a constructive way. In particular, the new generation of designers who are the future contributors of shaping our cities and towns.
Images sourced from: 160 Bulwer