Mr. Denver Hendricks (HOD, Architecture) hosted Dr Alona Martinez Perez (De Montfort University Leicester School of Architecture, UK) from Monday 24th July until Saturday 29th July 2017. The visit was coordinated by the Housing and Urban Environments (HUE_UJ) research field at the Architecture Department represented by Prof. Amira Osman and Ms. Afua Wilcox; Collaborators: DSD Desis Lab/UJ, Leago Madumo (Lecturer, Architecture, UJ), Ms. Valentina Magenta (independent architectural researcher/professional), Mr. Motebang Matsela (CORC, part-time Lecturer UJ), Mr. Jhono Bennett (1to1 Agency of Engagement)

The Department of Architecture, Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture (FADA), University of Johannesburg (UJ) has recently launched a new teaching experiment which sees the first semester run a number of exciting parallel electives in a vertical studio system. The Housing and Urban Environment (HUE) Research Field was launched as one of these options ( Amira Osman has been conducting a teaching experiment that has spanned 22 years using a particular approach to design that demands consideration of multiple design decision makers, the interface between people and the built environment and the technical implications thereof. While at the University of Pretoria (1998-2009), Amira established this research field through a number of courses and studios. In 2015, the experiment was taken further and in more depth in the UJ_UNIT2 studio at the University of Johannesburg ( In 2017, Amira has partnered with Afua Wilcox, a young architect with excellent housing experience and a passion for the field. Afua is now leading a process to establish HUE_UJ. We are embarking on establishing a long-term partnership with a community at Bertrams, Johannesburg. We are collaborating with a number of NGOs and agencies in this process. This partnership offers an opportunity for us to investigate the efficiency of our modes of practice and how to train our students to work in contexts of informality and uncertainty. This multi-year community engagement project allows us to test out innovative methods of data collection, documentation and collective design decision-making strategies. HUE’s areas of expertise are SLUM UPGRADING, PLANNING AND DESIGN, HOUSING. HUE’s thematic hubs of interest are INFORMAL URBANISM, URBAN REGENERATION, URBAN GOVERNANCE.

Dr Alona Martínez Pérez is a Spanish architect and Urban Designer. She currently works as a Lecturer in Architecture at Plymouth University and is in the process of moving to De Montfort University Leicester School of Architecture, UK. She has recently completed her PhD from the University of Sheffield which focused on arriving at a theory of the periphery of Madrid, using Aldo Rossi’s work. She has lectured and published extensively in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Italy, Colombia and Spain. She has been visiting Professor at the University of Trento, and lectures in Pescara, Barcelona School of Architecture, ESALA Edinburgh School of Architecture, Dundee University and before she was a lecturer in Urbanism at University of Ulster in Belfast where she published extensively in divided cities. In 2011 her work with the Project Belfast at Venice received the Urbanistica Prize by the INU (Italian National Urban Institute). Alongside her academic work, she has extensive practice experience in Scotland and England, and is a Fellow of the Geddes Institute (Dundee). Amongst her clients she has worked with Belfast City Council and also with the Naples Government and the National Institute of Research (CNR) in Naples. She interviewed for the first time Lord Richard Rogers for Domus, and has published in prestigious journals such Urbanistica, Journal of Urban Design, and presented her work at the Venice Biennale.

Summary of the Key Activities:

Tuesday 25th July morning (08.00-11.00): Site Visit to BERTRAMS, JOHANNESBURG + Workshopping the draft HUE research project document. (AFUA WILCOX)

Afua Wilcox presented the project she leads at 10 Berea Road Bertrams to the visitor and organised a tour of the building by one of the residents. A socio-economic survey of the building has been conducted by Motebang Matsela (CORC and part-time lecturer at UJ) with the student groups. This was presented to Alona in a meeting after the site visit.

This project aims to support the 48 residents who live in very poor conditions.The building is populated with a willing and cohesive community of residents that work together for the betterment of their environment. The building currently belongs to government and sits on a government priority block. The existing inhabitants have resided in this residence for a considerable number of years. The majority between 5 to 20 years. Over these years they have faced constant turmoil and threats of eviction. Due to organizations like plan act and ICRC that have educated the residents about their rights, the community has managed to remain in the building. Although they do not pay for renting out the building, the residents of the premises, have taken great steps in ensuring a better life for them and their children. The premises is communally cleaned, and they have worked together to provide for basic services and security to be met in the building. All maintenance is done by the residents themselves.

Currently there are some major structural and health hazards in the building, that the residents do not have the financial means or professional expertise to address these problems. What we propose as a group with our partners (ICRC and Plan Act) is to document the issues that the building currently has, compile this into a document, and workshop ideas with the residents as to how we can move forward to improving their homes. We will then attempt to lobby financing and professional expertise to improve the building and in doing so, also improve the safety and livelihoods of the residents. Thereafter an opportunity to perhaps partner with certain training skills centers or business schools to help create more sustainable livelihoods within the building, as well as designing around a potentially multi use building would take us through the duration of the project.

HUE_UJ has embarked on interviews with residents, building documentation, meetings/workshops, site visits and observation. It is also currently workshopping possible interventions and in what way the community may be assisted to improve their living conditions. HUE_UJ aims to assist towards the improvement of the structural integrity of the building as well as the safety and health of its residents through innovative design, service learning and collaborative design decision making systems.

This three-year project will be assessed by the condition of the building once the project is complete, resident feedback, success of fundraising and public awareness generated about the building and its residents. The intention is to develop a “funding barometer” which will aim to link possible interventions with funding generated through the various activities of the coordinators and students. The project will also involve training of students (approximately 150 students in 2 years), establishment of partnerships (approximately 4 partnerships with other outreach establishments) as well as conference presentations and articles published.


Tuesday 25th July afternoon (12.00-13.00): LECTURE: PERIPHERAL JOURNEYS– 12.00 CENTRAL CRIT SPACE. (LEAGO MADUMO)

Leago Madumo organised a school talk which was well attended by about 60 students from various levels of study. Alona presented an interesting talk on her PhD process and outcomes. Alona started by presenting here own research and teaching journey and made interesting parallels between the South African condition and contexts she was exposed to such as Belfast and Madrid. She also presented some of the challenges she faced as a practitioner. The work of the Italian photographer Gabriele Basilico influenced Alona’s research process greatly. She artcilauted her research journey in developing a philosophical and theoretical approach to study the city as she believes that traditional tools do not have the capability of interpreting current city dynamics.

Friday 28th July afternoon (14.00-16.00): DSD DESIS Lab Special Session. PANEL DEBATE: TEACHING FOR ALTERNATIVE PRACTICE – coordinators AMIRA OSMAN AND TERENCE FENN. Friday, 28th of July 2017. 2pm- 4pm; Venue: FL- 105, First floor, FADA Building, University of Johannesburg, Bunting Road Campus.

Architecture, as with many other fields of design, has over the last decade questioned the traditional role of the discipline and disciplinary practice in relation to social need and relevance. In this DSD Session, approaches to teaching alternative practices in architectural education were presented by ALONA PEREZ, AMIRA OSMAN, JHONO BENNET and responded to by VALENTINA MANENTE, MOTEBANG MATSELA AND DENVER HENDRICKS.

The full statements are presented here:


I have held full-time/permanent positions as a Lecturer in Architecture at Plymouth University since 2013 and as Lecturer in Urbanism at the University of Ulster from 2009-2013. My studio teaching is closely connected with my research in architecture and the city. My core responsibility in Plymouth, as March Year 1 Leader and in the past as Unit Leader in the BA, is the development of undergraduate and postgraduate design studios that challenges the students’ critical thinking and architectural/urban skills through working with communities and stakeholders. This allows them to develop their own thinking and professional skills within the context of the University agenda with live projects.

My approach to teaching is informed by my broader research interests that pursue the influence of critical theories on a range of architectural and peripheral urban situations. In practice this is reflected in my BA unit (2014-15) which explored a wider range of approaches to understanding the concept of the Strip both in Plymouth and Madrid and developed around the writings of Ignasi de Solà-Morales, Moneo, Boeri, Venturi & Scott-Brown etc. My recent MArch studios have similarly reflected this approach: Bilbao Studio (2015-16) explored issues of urbanism in peripheral sites alongside the river and questioned the critical/methodological approaches adopted which were informed by my current work.

As an architect coming from practice I wanted to develop further work on the themes of architecture and the city and I was granted funding by the University of Sheffield Scholarship in 2011 to pursue my own research  interest on PhD part time. This funding did not only cover the cost of the course but £24,000 for my own research agenda. The title of my PhD is The Architecture of the Periphery. The last chapter of Aldo Rossi’s book The Architecture of the City emphasizes the importance of investigating the peripheries of the European city, and offers a starting point for this thesis. Moreover, according to Rossi and the group he belonged to La Tendenza, there is a clear relationship between architectural theory and the project and my thesis explores this assertion in the context of the city of Madrid. No other European city has undergone a similar scale of development in recent years regarding peripheral and infrastructure development. Picking up from Rossi’s final chapter, this thesis asks whether it is possible to establish a theory of the architecture of the periphery of the European city. In addition to this understanding of the architecture of the periphery, the thesis also makes a methodological contribution, developing practical and analytical tools and building a theory that offers new ways of analysing other European peripheries. The methodological tools explored in my own architectural/urban research (photography, walking, narratives) have also been the basis of the studios that I have taught in the School which engage with architecture and the city in the context of theory and projects framed within the work of critical scholars, such as Aldo Rossi, Venturi and Scott-Brown (looking at the Strip and its urban condition BA Studio Unit), Boeri, Moneo (Theoretical Anxiety- Dissertation Periphery Group), Sorkin, Basilico, Ignasi and Manuel de Solà-Morales and others.

The impact of this research has attracted International interest: including the publishing of two peer-reviewed book chapters, and two papers/articles in conference proceedings. I have also been invited as visiting Professor at Trento University for two talks about this work, and submitted a Fulbright Application with Professor Michael Sorkin (NYC). Furthermore I had the privilege to interview two key scholars in the subject in Spain and Italy (Professor and Pritzker Prize Rafael Moneo (Harvard), and Professor Stefano Boeri), and my work on Peripheries was the basis of a successful bid that was awarded the AHRA PhD Symposium held at Plymouth University in May 2015.

In addition I organise the Professional Studies education at Plymouth, offer lectures in architectural and urban theory and supervise student’s dissertations. My students’ satisfaction, results and feedback have been always very positive. Most of my students have gone on to successfully acquire jobs or furthermore set up their own companies before completing their final year.

I have always involved international participation in conferences and workshops with my teaching. In 2015-16, I was invited as a Visiting Professor at the University of Trento and by Liverpool City Council as a keynote conference between three UK Cities to discuss my urban research on waterfront and communities. This is all closely connected to my Studio teaching and research. I have presented papers in urban design at conferences annually for the Society of Italian Urbanists (Milano), the Rome Ecological Design Symposium (La Sapienza Rome with other distinguished speakers such as Kengo Kuma and Andrea Branzi from Superstudio), was also invited by the University of Pescara to deliver a key note lecture and by Essenia (centre for research in Salerno funded by the EU) for a week of workshops with Italian students (award winning competition entry for the Highway competition in Genoa Italy).

Over the past 9 years – as a studio tutor and Lecturer – I have conceived of or contributed to, design courses at every level of architectural education at Plymouth University, Dundee University and the University of Ulster. I led studio teaching in Dundee for first year students for two consecutive years and have taught at MArch level in specialist units themed on Peripheries and final MArch projects. I have been dissertation supervisor, module leader, lecturer and study trip leader for fieldwork visits to Madrid (15 students) and Bilbao (24 students). I have conceived and designed both foundation and research modules including lecture and studio based teaching. I have also taught in specialised Masters programmes (Urbanism, Planning, Project Management and Landscape Architecture). My teaching is intrinsically linked to my research, developing an innovative pedagogy for my students, while meeting the accredited bodies and Institutional required University framework. I have supervised eight to ten students per semester for dissertations at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. My teaching has been recognised as excellent and exemplar by external examiners both at Ulster and Plymouth. The interrelation between my work as a lecturer and a researcher has been recognised by fellow peers and as a result other Universities have invited me to collaborate with their programmes on an ongoing basis. This includes: visiting lecturer and guest tutor at the Barcelona School Architecture (ETSAB); Edinburgh University; University Federico II Naples LUPT; Pescara University, and visiting Professor at the University of Trento, workshops in Venice for Italian students invited by Professor of Architecture Stefano Stanghellini (IUAV) and at the British Pavilion at the Biennale of Architecture invited by the British Council.


My teaching approach is underpinned by a theoretical framework based on ecosystem thinking, open building and the concept of ‘catalysts’ as an approach to community engagement. The intention is to provide future architects with the tools to practice in contexts which conventional architectural practice cannot provide for. South Africa is a divided nation with divided cities as a result of its political history. The idea of complete, integrated, sustainable, human(e) settlements and multi-layered environments, realised through alternative design, finance and delivery mechanisms, that acknowledge built environment levels and diverse agents of decision making, is still a far-away ideal.

My design teaching practice has focused on instilling the values of citizenship and design activism by emphasising the belief that design can make a difference and serve a higher purpose. I have done this by tapping into the unique skills of architects in addition to borrowing from other disciplines, as innovation is not necessarily embedded in the narrow confines of a single discipline, and mostly exists at the interface between disciplines. In my courses, architecture is presented as a social act, based on social agreements, serving the needs of ‘the individual’ as well as ‘the collective’, and helping to manage the relationship between them.

By premising my pedagogical approach on these concepts, I aim to enable my students and our partner communities achieve more awareness of their agency, influence and decision-making capacity in the built environment. In projects that I led, activism has mostly been in the form of ‘service learning’ and in providing documentation, design and/or building services with the intention of achieving education, empowerment and improved negotiating power for all participants.

In the contexts I used for student projects, mostly inner city and township settings, I have aimed to combine ‘learning goals’ and ‘community service’ in a manner that aims towards ‘knowledge exchange’ as opposed to ‘knowledge transfer’, and to encourage a search for design and technical solutions through deeper understanding of people, place and context, rather than deriving solutions in isolation, using abstract theories that may not have relevance to partner communities.


I began teaching quite soon after my master’s degree, mostly due to a frustration that the type of design learning I fought for during my post-graduate studies was not offered at the university level in South Africa, but also because I understood that teaching at the tertiary level combined with research and practice would provide a holistic means to grow as both a practitioner and a researcher while contributing to values I hold deeply.

Since 2012 I’ve attempted to blend teaching, research and tactical design projects into my praxis. This approach aimed to simultaneously train future spatial design practitioners while allowing for the development of an additional mode of spatial design practice and completing real projects in the field that would set precedent for such a practice. This blended approach has allowed me to develop various applied research interests through academia while growing an experienced position in the field of development practice across South Africa.

I am interested in how we apply our academic knowledge to practice and how practice informs our methods of knowledge production, specifically in the translation of this praxis into teaching and facilitated research with people in our urban contexts. Within this interest of applied action research, I have begun to develop a specific focus on what our demographic and societal privileged or disadvantaged intersectional positionality means to our work and how we can address it productively. Particularly the aspects of societal ‘power’ that we are perceived through as spatial designers and researchers.

Through my exposure to different sectors of the built environment I have found that the core issue of Spatial Inequality, largely embedded by the colonial and apartheid systems in South Africa, remain acutely unrecognised by spatial practitioners, built environment professional and governance officials in their everyday work. As a result, my interest in unpacking this term; how we understand it, how it manifests into our everyday practices as a society and how we contribute to its continuation in South Africa have become an area of focus in my research. The moments that lead my interest in this regard are the lesser recognised aspect of public and common spaces in South Africa and the broader socio-spatial systems that guide their use and creation.

I am currently most focussed on how the idea of co-design, particularly in shared spaces, can be deeply understood and applied to how we make cities as user, practitioner and official in post-Apartheid South Africa.


Motebang Matsela is currently an employee of Community organization Resource Centre (CORC), affiliated to Shack Dwellers International (SDI). Employed as a Project Coordinator, since February 2013 to present day and focused on Informal Settlement upgrading program and PHP Housing: My role involves supporting communities living in poverty stricken slums in Southern Africa, with a strong focus on South African informal settlements, townships, and housing & backyard communities. I am responsible for coordinating multi stakeholder partnerships with Political leaders, Government officials, Private sector and Academia; by signing an MoU between CORC and other institutions; supporting and strengthening community structures; poverty reduction through generating livelihood programmes; capacitating communities on issues of WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene), shelter and informal settlement upgrading; I also facilitate and manage the upgrading of informal settlements, consisting of, due diligence and feasibility assessments, project conceptualizing and scoping, project finance structuring and modelling, stakeholder and institutional management, implementation modelling, etc. Focused on women centered development, by building capacity in local community and creating jobs, targeting women headed vulnerable households. This allows communities to contribute towards their own development. Using local knowledge and capacity, formulating a wide palette of community driven slum improvement and strategies that address wider socio-economic, health and education issues; Conclusively, I am interested in learning more and building a wider knowledge on creation of Sustainable Human Settlements, which is a dynamic space to work in and thus creating this interest, with a hope of improving on lives of the citizens of South Africa, especially the poor.

Valentine Manenta is a 2016 graduate with a Masters in Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano: My thesis was about community upgrading through public spaces in the Khayelitsha township (Cape Town). I worked with CORC NGO (Shack Dwellers International) in Khayelitsha for five months during 2015, developing skills in the practices of on-field cooperation and participative design; I attended a Post Graduate Course called COOPERA(C)TION Knowledge and skills for sustainable cities in the Global South, held by Politecnico di Milano. This course enriched my knowledge and understanding of the multifaceted reality of international cooperation; I participated in the International Workshop of Landscape Architecture 2016 WATER CANALS-COMMON SPACES-ARCHITECTURE | SANTIAGO DE CHILE where I engaged with different approaches to socially responsible design; I am currently collaborating with the office UrbanWorks Architecture and Urbanism in Johannesburg, in particular, I am contributing to a body of research regarding informality and rogue economies; It is my deep belief that civilization will progress once everyone is living according to an adequate life-quality standard, moreover, I see myself as a professional who works within a network of collaborators that cooperate in Developing Countries, with a specific interest in urban development and support of disadvantaged communities.