studioATdenver: 2014


The 2014 studioATdenver was the first studio in the 3 year programme and established important relationships between the project teams, students and local government.

The first iteration of the studio included a vertically integrated studio format between the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Architecture’s 3rd and 5th years and aimed to break ground on the process and carefully navigate the outcomes of this first engagement

Interaction Session on-site

studioATdenver 2014: Vertical Studio

The course aimed to expose to the current methodologies of working within informal settlements towards spatial development strategies that should be developed with and for residents of Denver. The course planned to assist students in developing skills in:

  • Identifying and adapting current relevant urban and spatial theory specific to context
  • Analysing existing urban conditions and structures through on-site measuring and documentation
  • Understanding the purpose and relevance co-produced action plans and strategies
  • Engaging and collaborating productively with residents as clients and partners
  • Understanding density and its different iterations
  • Generating and illustrating responsive and appropriate architectural and urban strategies
  • Engaging in the debate on the sustainable housing challenges and provision of services
  • Communicating to and format a presentation accessible to a general audience
Student Process Work

Teaching & Learning Methods

Students worked through observation of a specific context through the act of drawing, walking, interacting, observing, discussion and exchange. These processes (acts) of exchange hinge on meaningful resident engagement and discussions with multiple stakeholders (residents, leadership, CBOs, NGOs etc).

Student Process Work

A process driven methodology of design-as-research (design-led research) encouraged the design and strategic projection of co-produced strategies, illustrated through the actions of drawing and model making.

Deliverables for each week were further clarified during the process and explained as the studio progressed. Along with active participation, these emergent deliverables were recorded and adapted in support of the studio’s larger goals.

Student Process Work

Studio Structure

The students were divided into ten groups, each of which partnered with two or more residents from Denver who took the lead as designated community planners and explained the resident’s various concerns to the students. This included the local leadership sharing their views on the studio as a platform to commence a dialogue about the urban poor and their conditions of living.

In the aim of co-identifying specific necessary outputs (through collaborative efforts with residents) the studio engaged multiple motivated and skilled people currently working in the context of Denver Informal Settlement. Of considerable value was placed on the role of the ISN and their long term relationship goals of working towards well located informal settlement learning centres within a broader intention of mobilising people in efforts towards humane and sustainable living conditions and achieving increased security of tenure.

Student Process Work

CORC (Community Organization Resource Centre) and uTshani’s role in the project partnership supported the joining of the academic and developmental agendas of the course.

In civil groups linked to the South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance through collaborative pre-course discussions with community leadership several areas on site have been identified for investigation under the key themes outlined above. The class was split into 12 groups with approximately 7 members each.

Each partnered with two or more residents of Denver settlement as designated ‘community planners’. Groups were designated by lecturers and each group included a 5th year student.

Final Presentation & Discussion

The studio was arranged in that the final presentation and handover of the 8 week process would happen on site where students, residents and collaborators would be recognised for their involvement and a series of tangible research resources would be given to the leadership alongside a shared (translated) presentations would share the work of the students and the resident volunteers.

Studio Reflections

Through the post-studio reflections with both students and residents, it was clear that the studio was a rich experience for all involved and while reaching many of its tangible goals – it uncovered some very difficult questions on intent, ethics, values and the important ideas of positionality as designers/researchers.

student blog archive

since 2014, students have shared their processes online through a blog format. This process was meant to allow for a critical reflection and to support a public discussion on the topics.

These can viewed here:

studioATdenver Blog Archives

  • Week 7
    REFLECTIONS Breaking down preconceptions At the beginning of the project we only spent a week in studio […]
  • Week 7 + Reflection Post
    The 29th of August had arrived and a buzz within the Denver Hostel Hall. The atmosphere in […]
  • Week 7. Reflection.
    Reflecting Back. After meeting with lecturers and role players to review the AT process we found ourselves […]

studioATdenver 2014 participants

UJ Staff

Eric Wright  [3rd Year Coordinator, Lecturer & Partner at BOOM architects]

Claudia Morgado  [3rd Year Lecturer  & Partner at BOOM architects]

Alexander Opper  [Senior Lecturer & Coordinator of MTech Architectural Technology (Prof)]

Jhono Bennett  [3rd Year Lecturer & Director 1to1 Agency of Engagement]

Jason Frenkel (Lecturer: Construction – ATC311)

Finzi Saidi (Lecturer: Landscape – ALS311)

Ken Stucke (Lecturer: Studio Work – ATS311)

Gregory Katz (Lecturer: Design Technology – MADT19X)

Suzette Grace (Lecturer: Design Theory – MAAT19X)

Tom Chapman (Lecturer: Urban Design – MAUD19X)

Tariq Toffa (Lecturer: Research Methodology – MARM19X)

Christo Vosloo (lecturer: Professional Practice – MAPP19X)

Denver Leadership, Residents & Local Government

Welcome Mchunu (Elected Liason)

Chief Mbata (Leadership Representative)

Councilor Simelane (Local Ward Councilor)

Bongmus Hadebe (Resident Volunteer)

Bheki Zondo (Resident Volunteer)

Daphne Mabaso (Resident Volunteer)

Jabulani (Resident Volunteer)

Bongani (Resident Volunteer)

Key Collaborators & Critical Friends

Philip Astley  [Fellow, The Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, University College London]

Monty Narsoo (NUSP)

NGO & Civil Partners

Motebang Matsela (CORC)

Sandra Van Rensburg (uTshani)

Dumisani Mathebula (ISN)

UJ Students

[2014] Ayanda Madi, Daniele  Cronje, Jade Botes, Jamela Mkansi, Martin Jones, Mitchel Thirwell, Moeketsi Phori, Mulalo Mafela, Nathan Abrahams, Lucille Jacobs, Wandile Bongwa Mahlanga, Gareth How, Mohau Moidi, Brian Maila, Victor Martins, Ashish Nathoo, Alwyn-Jay Pretorius, Musa Mathe, Joana  Ferro, Dewald le Roux, Crystal Francis, Melissa Brandt,Vikash Mithal, Tlali Nyareli, Sibusiso Lwandle, Pierre Perrault, Kerry Trebble, Isabella da Rocha, Megan Wilson, Wandile Mkhwanazi, Simone Pretorius, Siphosezwe Mahlangu, Thabang Semenya, Mohammed R Suliman, Travis Lee, Mfundo Magongo, Julian Almond, Aisha Balde, Rudelle Bezuidenhout, Kgaogelo Mashego, Karabelo Mlangeni, Binaica Morar, Kholokazi Ngoma, Ruben Smit, Jessica Rousseau, Kagiso Teke, Kyle Blake, Jaco Jonker, Maruscha Govenden, Palesa Khumalo, Ricardo De Sousa, Armand Barnard, Kagiso Bokaba, Nyasha Chirinda, Yusuf Dadabaay, Rosalie Ferreira, Lance Ho Hip, Tebogo Ntsoane, Thabo Ranaka, Mandy Shindler, Roland Britz, Llenette Jones, Lindani Langa, Tebogo Madito, Kashiya Mbinjama , Thabang Montle, Carol Phophi, Roberto Pinheiro, Leme Swanepoel, Nicholas Abrahams, Lerato Bothloko, Sanjay Jeevan, Tebogo Kgatla, Irena Konstantinova, Morena Mahlare, Tebogo Mokgwetsane, Njabulo Ndaba, Joshua Sampson, Reinhard Van Niekerk