Improving SA’s informal settlements through clever architecture

by Darren
Improving SAs informal settlements

Ingenious prefabricated housing structures address the housing challenges in informal settlements.

South Africa has for a very long time been a country of extreme opposites that coexist in very close proximity to each other, the practically neighbouring suburbs of the posh Houghton and the notorious Hillbrow being just one example.

To address the lack of electricity, running water, sewer systems and other basic infrastructure in the nearly 2 700 informal settlements on the peripheries of our cities, and to tackle the challenge to erect formal housing for the big mass, Architecture for a Change, established by Anton Bouwer, Dirk Coetser and John Saaiman, has developed prefabricated housing structures, known as PODs.

Using the same building materials normally found in informal settlements, such as corrugated steel, zinc sheets and plywood, the architects furnish these structures with solar panels, insulation and rainwater collection systems for cooking and cleaning.

“Aesthetically, it still presents itself as a zinc building, but its thermal and environmental performance is that of formal housing,” says Dirk Coetser. “It is prefabricated and erected in a minimal time. Also, since it is completely off the grid, the unit can be placed even where infrastructure is non-existent.”

In the Mamelodi township in Pretoria, Architecture for a Change has erected a prefabricated POD in less than a day.

The 10,8m² POD is suspended from the ground to prevent flooding and waterproofing issues. It is equipped with a photovoltaic solar panel that powers four lights on the inside, two LED strip lights on the outside and a 12V charger, while a skylight helps to save energy on lighting.

The composite four-layer wall consists of an exterior zinc sheet, Sisalation reflective foil and Isotherm insulation layers, and an internal plywood cover. All edges and corners are sealed with rubber strips, and double Thermoclear skin on the window and skylight ensures optimal insulation.

In addition, a gutter and 1 000l water tank collect rainwater intended for subsistence farming and washing.

In another Pretoria township, the Kameeldrift informal settlement, Architecture for a Change partnered with Youth Zones on an initiative to provide a transition unit to people waiting for government subsidised housing.

Similar to the Mamelodi POD, the prefabricated Kameeldrift unit was transported to site on a trailer and assembly did not even take a full day.

The unit has the same four-layer composite wall and zinc exterior, with a top hung door that can also function to provide outside shade. Angled to be self-shading in summer, together with cross-ventilation, the unit is kept cool in hot temperatures, while during winter the northern facade builds up heat gain from the sun. A solar panel supplies the unit with lighting and a cellphone charging facility, and it is also fitted with a rainwater catchment tank.

Taking it a step further than basic housing, the firm, with the support of Youth Zones and funding from the Gauteng Department of Education, created another POD in the Tarlton area west of Johannesburg that provides a space where the community could unite through sport and education.

This 11,5m² double-storey structure includes a communal space on the ground floor that serves as an Internet café and team room for the local soccer club, with an apartment space above. Solar panels provide electricity to the unit and a rainwater harvesting tank secures potable water.

The galvanised steel walls enclose a thermal wool layer that provides insulation. A second skin of iron wire will eventually be covered by an evergreen climbing ivy plant that will allow evaporative cooling and minimise heat gain by the building’s outer layer.

All these POD units are inexpensive and very simple to construct, requiring a team of only three people.

“Our passion for architecture grew from experimental projects which we did as students,” states Coetser. “From our lived experiences in the City of Johannesburg, a challenging environment presenting numerous opportunities, we have developed a desire to create change in the built environment. We therefore regard every project as a challenge through which we can experiment and set new boundaries in the world of design.”

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to architizer.com and Architecture for a Change for the information given to write this article.

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