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Although the fundamental idea behind this project is possibility of creating these sort of houses virtually anywhere in the world, however, the case of South Africa, and more precisely township of Mamelodi in the proximity of Pretoria, has been chosen for the purpose of more detailed analysis.


The city of Pretoria is one of the South Africa’s three capital cities, serving as the administrative national capital – the other two are Cape Town (legislative capital) and Bloemfontein (judicial capital). Being one of the major South African cities, Pretoria has vast suburbs areas stretching outside the city borders. One of them is Mamelodi, a township located about 20km east from the centre of Pretoria. Mamelodi which was established in 1953 as a black-only neighbourhood, when 16 houses were built to relocate Africans who were removed from other neighbourhoods around
Pretoria because of the Group Areas Act of 1950. The Act assigned racial groups to different urban areas, creating in practice urban apartheid [Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2011]

As a consequence, the law excluded non-whites from majority of city services and urban infrastructure and restricted the most developed areas to whites-only. Moreover, if a black person wanted to enter white-only districts, she or he would have to carry a special pass book resembling a modern day passport. With the fall of apartheid in 1994, Mamelodi became more open and people could freely move in or moved out but until today the township still has vast blacks community much bigger than any other group. Nowadays Mamelodi is a sprawling area of shacks where many squatters live without electricity or running water [Bertho, 2010 & Robertson, video recording, 2010]. Mamelodi’s population is of about one million [The Mamelodi Trust, 2010]

Many people live in small houses made of bricks but there are also huge and constantly growing informal settlements or squatter camps where people have built their own houses or more precisely shelters made out of corrugated iron, plastic sheets and other easily available waste materials. [The Mamelodi Trust, 2010]

Apartheid regime left the townships with a legacy of deficient education, wide-spread aids epidemic, extreme poverty, high unemployment and a whole range of socio-economic problems which will take many years to combat. Housing problem is one of the most urgent needs. Access to fresh water, electricity, resolved property issues are prerequisites to any further growth of the community. Shack dwellers who have endured almost two decades of democratic rule without decent housing are livid that their needs have been neglected by the government. This tension became especially visible during the months prior to 2010 Football World Cup hosted by South Africa. Mamelodi residents started protests and demonstrations against government’s lack of active housing policy and pointed to the fact that it is disgrace that people are still living in squatter camps while the government spends millions on World Cup preparations [Bertho, 2010]. Mamelodi is located around 70 kilometres from Soccer City, the World Cup flagship stadium in Johannesburg where the opening match and final were played. Nevertheless, Mamelodi residents did not really benefit from this proximity and could not even watch games on TV since there is no electricity in the neighbourhood. [Bertho, 2010]


Pretoria and Mamelodi belong to City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality. Most of the municipality lies at an altitude of about 1,350m above sea level, in a relatively warm and sheltered by the hills valley with fertile soils. The climate can be described as a moderately dry subtropical climate, with long lasting, hot and rainy summers and short, cool and dry winters. The average annual temperature is about 19-20°C [South African Weather Service, 2011].  This temperature is rather high considering relatively  high altitude and is due mainly to its sheltered valley position, which easily catches heat and cuts off cool air masses. Rainfalls occur mainly in the summer months, with drought conditions prevailing over the winter months. Snowfall is a very rare event – on average it might happen once or twice in a century [South African Weather Service, 2011].


One of the major obstacles in development in South Africa is extremely high rate of violence within the society. According to UN statistics in the years following the collapse of apartheid regime South Africa was ranked second in the world for number of murders per capita and first for assaults and rapes. Each day about 50 people are murdered in South Africa [Clayton, 2009], number of rapes is also very high – 55,000 are officially reported but it is estimated that the actual rate of rapes per year is as high as 500,000 [IRIN, 2009]. Rape is a shockingly common crime – in a survey from 2009 one in four men admitted to committing a rape [BBC News, 2009]. Even more dire data come from questioned women. In a study among 4 000 women one in three answered that she had been raped during the past year [BBC News 1999]. Scale of the problem is frightening, especially considering the fact that rapes do not concern only adults. Number of incidents of child rape and even baby rape in South Africa is one of the highest in the world [Perry, 2007].

Bearing this in mind one can say that architecture should also respond to these challenges in a meaningful way. Violence and physical abuse are of course not limited to people with lower financial means. However, deprived inner city areas are in many cases prone to violence and crimes. This is why, while designing houses for the mass population it is crucial to think about possible solutions to combating violent behaviour but in the same time avoiding a trap of creating gated communities. At present many middle-class South Africans seek security in the houses located ‘behind the gates’ – in communities containing strictly controlled entrances for inhabitants and visitors and often characterized by a closed perimeter of walls and fences.


Understanding of the housing market problems in South Africa can be perceived from two classical in economy vantage points, namely supply and demand. Referring to the housing demand Rust [Rust, 2006, p12] notes that only between the year 1996 and 2001 number of the houses classified as an “inadequate” has increased by 20% and an estimated shortage of the low-cost affordable dwellings amounts to about 661 000 units. In general terms affordability of the settlements is very low; meaning that 90% of the population is not able to buy a dwelling costing more than 190 000 R (about 110 000 DKK) [Rust, 2006, p14]. According to the study made by Garner [Garner, 2004 in Rust, 2006] 12,3% of the South African households occupy squats in the informal dwellings. Needless to say is the fact that conditions in these accommodations are very poor.

Housing crises in South Africa is evident. Even without sophisticated statistical data one can observe growing suburbs of the major cities with their sprawling informal dwellings, dense and overcrowded cities and never ending hunger for shelters as a result of growing population and city migrations.

The demand for housing is significant and still growing, however effective demand, which refers to demand plus ability and willingness to pay, is declining. In a wake of global financial crisis real income of many families decreased as well as availability of the subsidies and loans. As Rust [Rust, 2006, p20] points out, low cost housing market in South Africa experiences “affordability crises”.

Supply of the houses/dwellers was mostly provided by two major players: private sector and public sector. Figure. presents dwellings’ delivery rate by public sector, which has significantly peaked in 1997/1998 and ever since has been mostly declining. Taljaard [Taljaard, 2005] reports that private sector in the time period between 2000 and 2004 delivered approximately 200 000 housing units. Around 17 000 dwellings each year were delivered in the so called affordable segment. Worth adding is the fact that, however significant this number is, as an overall proportion of delivered houses, it has declined from 63% in 2000 to 30% in 2004 [Rust, 2006, p21].

Regarding present housing market in South Africa one can notice the following trends which were explicitly presented in the Comprehensive Plan for the Development of the Sustainable Human Settlements [Housing Development Agency, 2004], a document approved by the South African government in 2004. These objectives comprise of:

• Sustainable human settlements: meaning settlements combining principles of sustainability; where economic growth goes hand in hand with social development and respect for natural ecosystems resulting in reduction of poverty, creation of wealth and social equality.

• Integration: Emphasis on sustainable settlements as mentioned above rather than housing unit approach so popular in low cost housing programmes. Changes in spatial structures are also mentioned and settlements are seen as supporting this process as “... utilising housing as an instrument for the development of sustainable human settlements, in support of spatial restructuring” [Housing Development Agency, 2004, p10].

• Housing assets: perceiving houses or in broader sense properties as an asset available to all, therefore reducing injustice and inequalities.

• Upgraded informal settlements: incorporating informal settlement into the urban system thus
overcoming “spatial, social and economic exclusion” [Housing Development Agency, 2004, p10].

“Although affordable housing has been pursued as the most critical agenda for sustainable construction in Africa, one can conclude that most of the interventions have not been carried out in a sustainable way from both socioeconomic and bio-physical considerations. It is therefore clear that the delivery of sustainable and affordable housing/settlements (in both socio-economic and bio-physical considerations) still remains one of the most critical agenda for sustainable construction in Africa” [Irurah, no date, p12].