Project Leader Prof A Osman (TUT), Project Co-Leader Ms Afua Wilcox (UJ), Project Manager Suzette van der Walt (1to1 Agency of Engagement)

The National Research Foundation (NRF) funded Community Engagement Project (CEP)(2019-2021) focuses on community engagement in design processes to support the inhabitants of the inner city in Johannesburg, South Africa. The potential impact of this research project is to unlock a greater understanding of affordable inner-city housing, poverty alleviation, and the creation of sustainable cities and communities. It will allow for a more in-depth understanding of the demographics and experiences of the residents of the inner city and advancing knowledge with respect to squatting, invaded/occupied buildings, and effecting change in the inner city through participatory design tools.

We have been working with one specific community in the neighbourhood of Bertrams for the last few years. This project has allowed us to explore tools, approaches and methods for in-situ upgrading of so-called ‘bad buildings’ in the inner city. We have several project partners in this process. Our collaboration with 1to1 has meant that we have been able to focus on small, localised spatial interventions conceived form within a neighbourhood to serve the shared aspirations of the specific community. Under the supervision of Prof A. Osman, 1to1 has facilitated the renovation process, identified local skilled people and trained community members in carrying out much of the construction work themselves.

The project started off by aiming to understand the coping mechanisms and survival strategies of inner city residents as well as exploring how to unlock processes that allow for access to adequate affordable housing in the inner city. We also studied alternative building techniques and alternative funding models as related to this particular context.

Six month ago, just before the COVID-19 restrictions, we completed renovations at the building occupied by our partner community. In this news item, we revisit the site and see what changes have happened as a result of our intervention. A multi-disiplinary team from TUT and UJ was on the ground in Bertrams. Critical interventions were identified and implemented. These related to the structural integrity of the building and the poor health conditions resulting from the water damage from the roof.

The 2019-2020 interventions therefore prioritised issues of safety and weather-tightness and saw the reconstruction of brick balustrades, the repair of a steel staircase, and the reparations of a water-damaged concrete slab and waterproofing of the slab. 6 months later, the project has led to some more changes on site.

The concrete slab was made watertight by introducing a new screed layer, a bitumous paint and sealed with a reflective barrier.


Showing off the new steel treads.

Many of the residents have painted their rooms now that water damage is no longer a threat. A renewed spirit of community has been instilled with graffiti stating “We will not move”! The communal water point has been moved by one of the residents to make collecting water from it much easier – and some paving has been laid below it to reduce the muddiness that previously developed under the tap.

The new water point was installed by one of the residents after the renovation work had been completed. Though rudimentary, it has improved the water collecting process for residents.

Some additional remedial work will still needs to be conducted and this is planned for August 2020.

Although the project has been stunted due to Covid-19 lockdown, through the 1to1- Agency of engagement a partner in the project, engagement with the residents of the building and the surrounding neighbourhood has been ongoing. Interventions for 2020 will focus on access to water and sanitation, specifically as these are so critical in the attempt to control the spread of the virus.

Engagement around the introduction of food security programs is also underway, but in the interim, select residents who have expressed an interest have been supported in starting small scale vegetable gardens in their private capacity.

– Suzette van der Walt