Richard Dobson Architect, in partnership with AeT, received a Special Mention for Work of Social Importance. Recognising the significance of urban design that impacts positively on some of the poorest and most vulnerable workers.
Despite the City providing basic infrastructure for the Mealie Cooks, a major challenge lies in the current cooking method of using makeshift cookstoves (mild steel drums) to boil mealies (corn-on-the-cob). This cooking practice, also used throughout the metro, presents a number of challenges; large open fires that consume a large volume of fuel, which generates a large quantity of waste effluent, produces smoke and other volatiles due to varied fuel sources, and creates extreme levels of heat. This negatively impacts on the environment as well as health and safety conditions of the Mealie Cooks working in close proximity to an open fire and boiling water; leading to severe burns and (according to health assessments conducted) has caused serious health issues.
In 2018, Richard Dobson Architect was commissioned to develop an innovative and sustainable mealie cooking stove that would alleviate the health and safety risks suffered by Mealie Cooks in Warwick Junction, reduce carbon emissions and waste, and contribute towards a more efficient cooking method and dignified workplace.
This project was in partnership with Asiye eTafuleni (AeT), who had an intern from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) D-Lab at the time. MIT D-Lab work with people around the world to develop and advance collaborative approaches and practical solutions to global poverty challenges. The partnerships and shared learning was instrumental in the development of the stove.
The process led to the concept, design and testing of a horizontal stove, a bio-efficient solution constructed from local and scrap materials using achievable and accessible techniques. It makes use of the familiar ‘Imbawula’ the informal drum brazier used by many in informal urban and rural settings for space heating.
At the close of the onsite testing the Mealie Cooks had determined that the name of the new stove should be “qeda usizi” which is isiZulu for ‘end [our] suffering’. This reinforces the desperate need for a safer and more sustainable method of cooking that would directly impact on the health, safety and livelihoods of 165 Mealie Cooks and assistants.
Through participatory action research and a design iteration process, the project successfully piloted an appropriate cook stove solution; revealing the value of prototypes, testing and engagement with the end-user during the process.
The 2019 SAIA-KZN awards jury visited the Mealie Cooks facility to gain context of the Mealie Cooks working environment and current practice, and had the opportunity to review this bio-efficient cook stove. Following this visit, we are pleased to announce that this design has been recognised and given a Special Mention for Work of Social Importance. This was an opportunity to showcase an alternative approach to solving urban challenges.
“Freshly boiled mealies are endemic to the local street culture and are– SAIA-KZN Journal
of significant social importance. The production and sale thereof is
evident in the urban fabric. Sustainable and environmentally-friendly
cooking processes are essential for the greater good. To this effect,
the frugal recycling and upcycling of mild steel drum ‘cook-stoves’
is a smart initiative and a formal, sustainable and functional cooking
structure, the sanction and support of which from the city is warranted.
This project has managed to debunk the myth that architecture is an
exclusive vocation in its approach of responding very intimately and
proactively to the age old preoccupation of the profession
as a change agent of social justice.”
This project is currently in progress and AeT plan to roll-out the new cook stove with the Mealie Cooks later this year before their high season, when up to 28 tonnes of Mealie’s will be cooked and sold daily within the city.
[Refer to the Mealie Distribution and Vending diagram below to see the value chain and volumes of this street food staple- that provides a healthy, affordable snack to local commuters, supports the livelihoods of informal workers and contributes to the inner-city economy.]
Feature image: Horizontal Stove testing at the Mealie Cooks Facility. Photo: Emily Alter.Tweet