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The question how we can successfully execute low-cost housing project lies at the core of this chapter. The notion of Ubuntu and interdependence is presented as essential for creating meaningful projects by building mutually beneficial partnerships among various groups within the society. Ways of activating social capital are also discussed – it is argued that the best way to facilitate innovation potential is to let people contact each other freely, interact on various levels and in various social circumstances. Moreover, the relationship between the economic growth and agriculture is discussed in reference to possible hemp planting for the purpose of industrial use. In the last part, the evolution of design process is presented as a potential solution for the slum upgrade.


The idea of Ubuntu and the thinking behind the open source community is a core value for this project. Notion of Ubuntu is strongly connected with the African continent and referred to as classical African concept [Foster, 2006]. Desmond Tutu, Chairperson of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, defined Ubuntu in the following terms:

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are
tortured or oppressed
[Tutu, 1999].

This powerful philosophy rests on the assumption that we are all interconnected and what makes us who we are, is the way we relate to others. We cannot be fully human on our own – we need society to complement us and, vice versa, we are important
factor in defining others. Western philosophy, in a search for an answer – who we are, came with the response that we, humans, are first and for most “thinking creatures’’, homo sapiens. As Descartes defined it in XVII century in his most famous statement: Cogito ergo sum - I think, therefore I am. By contrast, notion of Ubuntu is emphasizing community and not individuality. Paraphrasing Descartes: I belong, therefore I am. I am because you are, because I participate, because I share and receive. The question arises how this inter-connectivity translates into architecture in African context.

With the principle of interconnectedness in mind, the only way to create meaningful projects is by building mutually beneficial partnerships among various groups within the society – public sector, private sector, civil society organization. The building is what it is because of the people inhabiting it, landscape surroundings it, materials available, vision and needs in the smaller or bigger community. If we assume that
world is, in Marshall McLuhan words, a global village, then we are all responsible for prosperity and wellbeing of others in our village. What makes us, us, is our relations with others.


- Key element to a successful low cost projects Many attempts have been made so far to contribute to solving a challenge of providing affordable, good quality housing for an ever growing human population – how to distribute in an effective way scarce
resources we posses? This question is also the fundamental concern of economics. During the industrial age competition between entrepreneurs was believed to be the best way of assuring growth. Social structures were also arranged in a certain way – big numbers of industrial workers, who, in a search for jobs, were migrating from rural areas to cities, and relatively small number of factories owners, living in disproportionally high standard to the rest of the society. For example cities’ structures in Europe or North America still have traces of workers districts – with cheaper, same-like looking apartments blocks – and factories’ owners districts – were villa houses were blooming one after the other surrounded by decorative gardens and within short distance from water fronts (lakes, rivers, sea) and parks.

However, transformation from industrial age to innovation-driven economy has led to change in paradigms. Information, knowledge and ability to introduce creative innovation on the market became a key to success. According to sociologist Gabriel Tarde [Tarde in Bendyk, 2010, p30] the best way to facilitate innovation potential is to let people contact each other freely, interact on various levels and in various social circumstances. These social relations are crucial for today’s political economy because due to them new products, services, whole new markets are being created. Economist Yochai Benkler [Benkler, 2006] goes further saying that societies are re-dis-covering social capital embedded in each community and using it to transform existing model of markets. He gives example of Linux operating system – created and constantly improved by group of software engineers who do not benefit financially from doing so. As expressed by Linus Torvalds, one of the project’s leaders ‘I do it just for fun’ [Bendyk, 2010].

This exemplifies that Adam Smith’s homo economicus, a person only concerned with material gains from their actions, is a drastic simplification of human nature. People are willing to take on creative challenges motivated by various reasons. The most important issue is to create infrastructure to enable people to meet and interact.
This is why in this project the idea of free public license is employed. One project is not able to make a difference within such a vast and complex issue as affordable houses for the world’s poorest but one project connected to the bigger network of professionals and enthusiasts working on these problems can be a useful addition to the existing knowledge. Moreover, the very process of constructing and building these houses should be done with the full participation and feeling of ownership from the point of view of people who will live there. The very fundamental vision behind this project was to give a spark to already existing but somehow dormant potential and expertise present in Africa. The method of building should absolutely not consist of external company coming to a destination place and building houses from the scratch and, at the end, handing them over to the people who will live there. This process should be inclusive, with the full use of local materials, local knowledge and building techniques. Effects should be sustainable and adding extra value to the community.


Economic theory provides models describing correlation between wealth of the country and most common sectors where this wealth is produced. Most lowincome countries are usually engaged in agriculture or related activities. The most developed and wealthy countries are driven by service sector. There are also exceptions, for example exporters of oil or other raw materials. However, the pattern where income levels increase with industrialisation of the country is not odd. When a country has limited resources it is obvious that first people should invest in food, later comes
the need for other basic items and at last service sector develops. This also explains why an agricultural revolution preceded the industrial revolution in most cases.

Agriculture is an important sector in South African economy contributing to about 8% of country’s total exports [Najma, 2000]. It is also an industry providing employment opportunities to formal workers and casual labourers. However, only around 14% of the land can be used for crop production and not more than 3% of this land is of a good quality [Najma, 2000]. This, and country’s vulnerability to climate change, have resulted in government’s support and promotion of sustainable development and the use of natural resources [South African Department of Agriculture].

Major parts of South Africa could be suitable for hemp production. As this plant does not require good quality soil or any extraordinary climate conditions it could be successfully planted virtually in all places.

The history of South Africa exemplifies very interesting phenomena - in 1960’s economic growth in Africa was compared to Japan’s development, one of the fastest growing economies at a time. Forty years later South Africa experienced major deterioration in economic and social development. Islands of wealth in the ocean of poverty are located around four metropolitan areas: Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Pretoria/Johannesburg. Beyond urban regions development is marginal and lack of employment is a dominant condition leading to mass poverty [Arora Ricci, 2006].

Besides wide-spread poverty, increasing inequality of incomes creates additional social tensions. Inequality in income redistribution in South Africa measured by Gini coefficient is one of the highest in the world [UNDP, 2007/08]. In years following collapse of apartheid system average difference in income between households instead og decreasing actually increased. In 1994 the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income was on the level of 59,3 measured by Gini coefficient, ten years later it increased to 65 [CIA, The World Factbook, 2005].

Subpages (2): Components Housing unit