In the early 90’s a seven year old John Saaiman was told by his parents to collect what he could and follow the police officer standing in the doorway to his car. As John gathered his worldly possessions a growing crowd outside his home shouted and danced, attuned to this monumental moment of John’s early life as some amongst them attempted to set light to his family’s property grounds.
This was the scene of a massive service delivery riot on the boundary of the, then much smaller, Zandspruit informal settlement on Johannesburg’s western edge. Today Zandspruit is made up of more than 13 000 (local government figure) households and is a somewhat more established settlement with RDP and urban developments completed and underway throughout.
An understandable emotional response towards this experience would be negative, however John, Dirk and their friend Anton Bower have begun a small architectural practice that aims to make a difference in the lives of those more vulnerable sectors of Southern African society – Architecture for a Change.
Architecture for a Change has set up a small office where Dirk and John practice with established local Architect Heinrich Kammeyer and house a workshop where they manufacture and test their architectural ideas before implementing them on site. The pair has completed several projects already including a small solar powered community bakery made of recycled materials for a local NGO in Zandspruit.
During a site visit with Dr. Amira Osman to Zandspruit John explains the inclusive processes involved in the design and build of the bakery. It is evident from the moderately cool air temperature inside the building that their research regarding alternative wall construction technologies and their relative r-values has proven a worthwhile exercise.
They have also – with assistance from community members – been able to successfully fabricate bricks from up-cycled glass bottles. John explains that their inclusive approach has not only helped to decrease costs and add architectural values of light and transparency to the building, but has also assisted in transferring skills to locals who now utilize the technology for their personal initiatives within the community.
Initiatives such as this are, hopefully, the result of a generation of younger South Africans who are tired sitting on the fence while those around simply complain or add to the seen problems in the country’s extended journey of re-development. Tying social development programmes into the established practice system is one way in which many Architects could find useful expression for their skills and design ambitions.