While there is a lack of critical thought offered by city authorities regarding the state of actual urban development in South African cities, Vukuzakhe research project does provide some guidelines of pursuit with a research project that looks at developing systems for the delivery of an alternative building typology.

The project won The Afrisam-Saia Award for Sustainable Architecture in the research category last year.

The three member partnership to consolidate their research and their observations of de facto urban development in the Municipality of eThekweni, if implemented and acted upon, could contribute much to the sustainable evolution of not only Durban but other South African cities as well.


The document Vukuzakhe produced acknowledges the de facto state of rapid urbanisation in Durban, which is common to most cities in the developing world. The study understands the need for the harmonisation of a series of approaches as no single panacea will solve the challenges that are faced. These include social interaction with communities combined with infrastructure development by local authorities.

People upliftment

The authors extend their observations to the role of the architect as one that needs to evolve from our current understanding of an isolated professional to exploring architecture as sociology, to understand how structures exist within society. The role of the architect is likely to develop from designer of icon to designer of process and response. Building design will evolve from graphic to a result of a process and innovation through social inclusion.

Place making performance

Whilst the document is not exhaustive in its investigation, it does offer generous tactile observations of construction methods which extend into job creation. This is not only a poetic study but also an opportunity for pursuing a wide range of applicable or relevant solutions. The opportunity exists for the componentising of architecture, making access to materials and methods easier for residents.

Evolutionary paradigm

Acknowledging that climate has a large impact on architecture, many of the proposals made are suitable only for subtropical climates, but the issues raised could be pursued nationally. There is also a strong need for the document to be operationalised and tested.
The document is a brave attempt by the only one of the metros in the country that seeks to record, evaluate and propose systems for urban construction in South Africa. The litmus test remains for the document to be implemented and robustly challenged which, if successful, could offer realistic opportunities for urban development in South Africa.

Vukuzakhe is a research project that looks at a wide range of building methods, draw conclusions and make recommendations on implementable systems that could efficiently deliver public service buildings. Focus was placed on ease of uptake of systems by local builders with the intention of sustaining Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMME’s) . The outcome was the use of simple components and modules that could be prefabricated by other SMME’s for incorporation into multiple buildings.

A design solution for the Durban environment was the “umbrella and container” concept where over-sailing structures would provide shelter and independent containers could deliver specific functional spaces.
These containers would shape the space between them which would see more flexible environments sheltered by the umbrella.

The wheels of municipality turn slowly and our first opportunity to explore this concept came from a private client who wanted a large multifunctional hall designed as an ancillary space to their midlands hotel. We had already designed a small space that serves as a chapel for weddings – now a reception space was required.

The brief was to provide a structure that inspired, was magical and needed little decoration. The space was to seat 300 at tables, provide for conferencing as well as reception. It was to visually connect with the original chapel, provide protection from the cold midlands weather and draw in the landscape over which it views.

The umbrella concept was delivered using galvanized steel brackets, mass produced and repeated through the building and glulam saligna beams all bolted up on site. Its bigger than what we would expect for a community hall. The brackets and rigging was done by Rebcon, the glulam beams by Lamtim.

The component cutting to size and fitting was done by Matt Nee  – a local carpenter – and his team of three.  Other wet works were done by a local contractor GBK.

Structural Design by Andrew Scott of ARUP
Architecture by Richard Stretton of Koop

The building achieves a 16m span with a timber portal.

View original article here.