studioATdenver: 2016


The 2016 course took place over 6 intensive weeks as an integrated studio on site participative planning and Winter School. The Winter School pursued both a more focussed and product driveb approach and worked to support the original MOU in terms of possible outcomes. While the 2014 curriculum was driven towards a collection of highly responsive and co-produced strategies, the 2016 Winter School focused on the enhancing the Community Action Planned that was co-developed earlier.

Resident Workshops

studioATdenver 2016: Winter School

The 2016 studio operated on a number of levels which was driven by grass-roots engagement and conversation trough a process that encouraged community awareness around the last 3 years of work conducted with the Denver leadership, local government and local actors towards improvement in the settlement. The 2016 Winter School focussed the development of a set of tangible outputs for the final year of AT’s engagement.

The most notable achievement was the co-design of a broad settlement upgrade strategy, which has been termed the Community Action Plan. This action plan set out broad scale principles for potential upgrades across a number of timescales based on the work done since 2014. Provisional positions for communal ablution facilities, gathering spaces and an experimental road layout for emergency access and waste management have been identified through collaboration with residents and leadership.

As the site studio wrapped local South African elections took place. The impacts of the change brought on by the vote have delayed the leadership’s plans as new ward councillors have been appointed. AT planned a number of site workshops once the political dust had settled and maintained open conversation with the active NGOs on the ground for technical assistance around community mobilisation as we approached the project end of the studio and original 3 year MOU.

Due to a local fire that occured in 2016, AT planned to direct the efforts of the year’s site work and the allocated funding to the areas affected by fire which they saw as pilot projects for improvement where methods could be developed to later be employed settlement wide. It was the intention that if this is conducted successfully residents from other areas will use the pilot projects to enable grass-roots driven ideas to be self-implemented in areas other to those affected by fire.

The 2016 studio aimed to extend the themes of; Dwelling & Neighbourhood (the physical), Planning (spatial, social and developmental) and Policy (broader strategies from gov. level). The intention was that these three foci would form a critical investigation lens into current higher level strategies for informal settlement upgrading and begin to suggest possible linkages with current existing bottom-up initiatives.

In 2016 AT continued this investigation and development of these three main foci identified in conversations with various stakeholders connected to, and invested in, Denver Informal Settlement.

The studio aimed to generate three main outputs;

Output 1 – Collaborative design/planning ‘handbook’. This was seen as a prototype graphic system/language: a catalogue of the realities in Denver informal settlement with related strategies for improvement through self-build, co-ops, CBOs, local Government assistance, infrastructure etc.

The aim was to develop this information pack in two ‘languages’: one geared towards local government officials taking on a more formal report-style language. The second version was framed as a popular media interpretation of the information as a book, a ‘zine’, newspaper or graphic novel.

Output 2 – Light public space installation. This output was conceived as a ‘life size’ map/illustration of the settlement layout where both top-down strategies and grass-roots desires can be depicted and discussed collectively between residents and stakeholders.

Output 3 – Settlement Address Installation. Tying in to active NGO processes, this output aimed to humanize the ongoing process of enumeration with the production of hand painted address plates. These plates were coded, numbered and coloured to link to Output 2, allowing residents to see their dwelling’s relationship to strategies and forces for future improvement and upgrade.

It wass further intended that this exercises becomes an up-skilling initiative where the ‘business’ of sign making could be developed through collaboration and transferred to resident volunteer participants as a process that stays in the settlement.

Studio Themes

Dwelling & Neighbourhood

Developing a grounded and critical understanding of ‘on the ground’ realities with, and for, the residents. This understanding is aimed at promoting dwelling and spatial improvement at varying scales; the resident, a community group and the larger community.


Settlements that promote sustainable and equitable dwelling (living) through social, economic and communal opportunity through the planning for; improvement of systems, spaces and places that allow equitable co-existence. A focus on housing, services, infrastructure and healthcare.


The co-production of visions, action plans and joint objectives towards short, medium and long-term potentials. The proposals should be set as extensions and critique to existing policies impacting informal settlements in South Africa and can be seen strategic mobilising tools for physical and spatial upgrade and development plans at varying time scales.

Studio Outcomes

These anticipated outputs intend to contribute to a better understanding of Denver as a well located urban informal settlement, as well as co-producing a strong developmental vision for the settlement situated within the larger context of Region F.

These outcomes were planned to demonstrate the short term as well as long term improvements that can be achieved by working together with residents. The material generated was designed to be used by residents to pro-actively demonstrate to the City of Johannesburg what spatial, social and economic possibilities exist based on a bottom-up approach.

An imperative principle of this studio wassthat all outcomes must be equitable for, and co-produced by, both the research unit (AT at UJ) and the community (residents of Denver). The process of engagement was developed to be of relevance to residents and affiliated organisations (ISN, CORC, uTshani) in their pursuit of improving living conditions.

Further to these intentions the studio argued, through these processes, that sustainable and equitable development is generated through participative processes in which professionals and spatial practitioners partner and collaborate, not as the decreed experts but by engaging with residents as rightful experts of their own living conditions.

Students and staff were called to develop insights and concepts through processes of listening, observing and collaborating in the Winter School.


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

Deliverables for each week developed based on the process and explained as the studio progressed. Along with active participation, these emergent deliverables were developed to support the actors involved in Denver.

The course planned to enable participants to:

  • Comprehend current methodologies of working within informal settlements;
  • Identify and adapt current relevant urban and spatial theory specific to context;
  • Analyse an existing urban condition and its structures through on-site measuring and documentation;
  • Understand the purpose and relevance co-produced action plans and strategies;
  • Engage and collaborate productively with residents/representatives as clients and partners;
  • Generate and illustrate responsive and appropriate architectural and urban strategies;
  • Generate information and strategy maps at varying scales; dwelling to urban;
  • Engage in the debate on the sustainable housing challenge and provision of services;
  • Communicate to and format a presentation accessible to a general audience.

Studio Outcome – Community Action Plan: Spatial Layout

The 2016 studio produced a final synthesized spatial development for the Community Action Plan. This was later developed and condensed into a HandBook for easier application and sharing

AT Coordinators

Eric Wright  [BOOM Architects]

Claudia Morgado  [BOOM Architects]

Stephen Hoffe [Build A Future]

Dumisani Mathebula (ISN)

Tuliza Sindi (BRN WSH)

Jabu Makhubu (UJ Lecturer)

Jhono Bennett  [1to1 – Agency of Engagement]

Denver Leadership, Residents & Local Government

Welcome Mchunu (Elected Liason)

Chief Mbata (Leadership Representative)

Councilor Neuren (Local Ward Councilor)

Bongmusa Hadebe (Resident Volunteer)

Bheki Zondo (Resident Volunteer)

Daphne Mabaso (Resident Volunteer)

Jabulani (Resident Volunteer)

Bongani (Resident Volunteer)

Key Collaborators & Critical Friends

Simon Ngubeni (UJ Student)

Yoana Hristova (UJ Student)

Kobus Marais (UJ Student)

Tiisetso Mokgopo (UJ Student)

Gloria Pavita (UJ Student)

Tresor Mbayahe (UJ Student)

NGO & Civil Partners

Motebang Matsela (CORC)

Blanca Calvo (utshani Fund)

Sandra Van Rensburg (uTshani)

Rosy Mashimbye (FEDUP)

Maureen Sikepo (FEDUP)

Simon Sizwe Mason (City of Joburg – Management)

Moabi Pekone (City of Joburg – Region F: Housing)

Nicolette Pingo (Johannesburg Development Agency)

Monty Narsoo (NUSP)