Annelise Mathers and Phumelele Mkhize
Following the letter of demand to city officials, in which the Bovine Head Cooks outlined the imperative to be consulted on the architectural design drawings for the new proposed cooking facility for them, the process of securing an inclusive design plan commenced. This was initiated by a public consultation meeting, where the city presented their proposed design. However, with Asiye eTafuleni’s (AeT) presence – a new wave of energy was injected into the proceedings.
At this meeting AeT (requested on behalf of the Cooks to act as a liaison between city officials and the Bovine Head Cooks) helped to interpret the implications of the drawings presented by the consulting architect. Rather than using technical jargon and 2D images, AeT elected to take a more innovative method to communicate the drawings through a “real scale” space simulation exercise for the Cooks.
After the simulation exercise which modeled the cooking spaces presented by city’s architectural design plans, it became evident that the Cooks had not understood the full implications of the floor plan and other architectural drawings which were initially presented in a technical manner. The emergent shortcomings of the design showed a lack of understanding of the Bovine Cooks workflows; the exclusion of the other two sectors who share their current facility (i.e. plated food cooks and fruit and vegetable sellers) as well as the proposed new method of cooking with gas.
Through discussions with city officials and informal traders, AeT identified the two main challenges critical to design development which had been done inadequately. Firstly, was the level of engagement with the end user at the predesign stage and secondly, the method of presenting architectural design needed to be carried out in a more accessible way.
In response to the appointment by the Bovine cooks to give technical assistance, AeT initiated a number of consultations in order to establish the facts of what was happening at their facility with regards to challenges and opportunities, as well as to propose a more responsive design against which the City’s design could be critiqued.
The consultations constituted a number of meetings with the end users, including the plated food cooks and vegetable sellers. The meetings included site visits which dignified the interactive process and leveraged the agency of informal workers by digging deep into the environment in which the design was to take place, through observation, asking questions, as well as simulation exercises. These alternative and more ‘hands-on’ techniques aimed to achieve desirable solutions for the end user; in valuing the complexity of their livelihoods in the informal economy through the direct interactions.
The challenge of communicating relevant technical details to the end-users and ensuring their awareness of the implications was addressed by AeT by using a number of alternative and experimental ways of communicating the proposed conceptual designs to the cooks, enabling them to understand and participate in the design process. This included presentations using design simulation, models as well as life size scaled drawings. This approach enabled the informal workers to exercise their agency by being empowered with the knowledge to engage meaningfully with the technical tools of the design process.
All of the above cumulated in the transition from the “Letter of Demand” described in Part 1 of this article, to actually having the Cooks sign a dotted line in full agreement and understanding of their facility’s redevelopment. An interesting outcome of this process has been the interest on the part of the city commissioned architect to continue working in collaboration with AeT. The proceedings of the Bovine Head Cook facility could provide an exemplary framework to guide future development projects involving advocacy for informal workers and among city officials embarking on similar tasks.
Upon reflection on AeT’s learnings, one of its strategic outcomes is embedded in “urban intelligence”, meaning that it is critical to devote the time to fully understanding informal workers’ daily realities which they themselves may or may not be able to convey. AeT’s approach thus embodies the importance of tailoring direct, inclusive design processes with clear and transparent communication that is suited to the context of informal workers and their livelihoods.
Furthermore, as an iterative process, this engagement and practice must be repeated again and again to thresh out final logistics and details throughout the development process, and which must see decisions emerge as an outcome of democratic agreement among stakeholders. Ultimately, by employing participatory processes within development projects, it is hoped that built environment professionals will be able to add meaning and value to communities, particularly those in the informal economy.