Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Architecture for a Change, Mamelodi, Pretoria, South Africa

By Kristopher Teubel
Throughout undergraduate studies, as well as graduate studies thus far, my classmates and I have been taught about a great number of design parameters and techniques.  As important as these subjects are, one must understand the reason and motivation for their design.  Without a clear identity and purpose, any project is in danger of failure when implemented.  Architecture often has the ability to make great strides toward the betterment of humanity.
            One example of such altruistic design can be found in Pretoria, South Africa in an informal settlement known as Mamelodi.  According to, the architects in charge, Anton Bouwer, Dirk Coester, and John Saaiman, worked together to bridge the gap between the local informal and formal housing.  Many inhabitants of Mamelodi and similar settlements lack proper water supply, electrical connection, and storm water drainage.
            The housing units reference the local informal housing materiality with a zinc exterior sheathing.  This also acts as resilient coverage from the outside elements.  The unit's wall condition also includes thermal insulation.  This feature that many people from more affluent regions take for granted is not often found in the other preexisting units of the settlement.  Each edge and corner of the unit are sealed with rubber for air and water tightness.  The units are prefabricated in order to better meet the high housing demand of Mamelodi.  The unit is elevated off grade to aid in drainage below it.  This elevation also allows for a simple front stoop to also become seating for the local citizens.
                 Beyond the composition of the structure, the unit also addresses energy needs for its inhabitants by providing a photovoltaic panel on the roof.  The panel charges a battery that powers four internal lights, a 12V charger, and two exterior lights.  During the day, the unit can be lit by an included skylight that employs a double skin system to improve its thermal qualities.  Due in part to local water scarcity, the unit also employs a one-thousand liter water tank to collect water run-off.  This supplemental water storage could alleviate a large amount of daily work for the settlement's inhabitants.  It is intended to be used for general washing and even small-scale farming.  The unit has already been erected in the settlement.  With only a team of three, the units could be erected within a day.

            With very little effort, one can find various similar examples of how architecture can be the means for great improvement in the world.  Just as the citizens of Mamelodi have been aided by architecture, many other regions of the world still have a great need for such help.  To begin the job, one must be cognizant of the needs of others and what they can do about it. Most importantly, it also requires the understanding of the purpose and potential architecture has for the world.


"Mamelodi POD / Architecture for a Change" 22 Aug 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 12 Nov 2013. <>


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