Dead Fish on the Beach: The Problem with “Women in Architecture”

Today’s Matri-Archi post speaks to the complex overlay of gender and racial issues that have made architectural practice a hegemonic space. The post takes particular concern with “Women in Architecture” as a spectacle in today’s industry; an industry that in fact has an apparent and palpable lack there of. In order to explain this complex issue that I suspect is ever present in other professions of the built environment, I shall describe the Architectural Place for professionals.

Hegomony Beach:

2017-08-21 19:07

White men have and continue to sit on the soft sandy beach constantly breathing in fresh air. In the architectural space, it is difficult to distinguish the hegemonic imbalances between black men and white women, because black people were (and are) generally absent from architectural historic record whilst statistics today show that men in general dominate the profession. The racial distribution of this group is not reported on commonly, and one can infer that the problem is not as pressing. So, in this space, and according to my reading on the matter, it seems as though black men have more privilege in the architectural space than white women do.

And so black men sit swimming in the water, which might I mention looks refreshing and okay from the white man’s perspective, but is noticeably unsettling to the black man who still has the privilege of breathing fresh air whilst his feet remain soggy.

Then we have white women, swimming in the water, tiringly so, with no break on the beach. Having to exert quite a bit of effort to reach the beach, with some reaching the shore. Absorbing the chemicals in the not so refreshing ebb and flow of the toxic ocean that we are now aware of, they are able to observe life beneath the water by dipping under, but are able to come up for a breath of fresh air.

Finally we have black women (ah the familiar state I know so well). We drown in the depths of the ocean, looking up at the glimmers of light and constantly exerting our efforts to swim through the airless water. From the beach, this water looks like a nonchalant blue dream, but from the depths one can see the reality of the green toxic liquid; a sight only truly visible from the perspective of the black women swimming below. Sometimes, on a rare occasion, a black woman will make it onto the beach, and when she gets there, it is shocking to everyone including her.

The problem polluting the water lies on the ocean bed, scattered across the surface of the earth: unbearably reeking, rotting, toxic dead fish.

We seldom see or know what the other conditions of the Hegemony Beach feel like. Those basking on the beach do not know what it means to drown. Those swimming are struggling, but cannot claim a similar struggle to those drowning in the depths of the green water. And those, well us, black women, in the depths, can see all the other strata with the least access to the beach. It is from here that intersectionality is most observed, be it as painful as it is.

In describing Hegemony Beach, the intention is not to find an immediate solution, because as much as the issue is pressing, convincing the other members of the space to look beyond their conditions and to help one another, requires a collaborative effort yes? And so, the intention here is to fish out the problem, and place it on every plate on the shore. So that we can all experience the unbearable odor of the problem, and figure out how to rid the beach of its hegemonic problem in order for everyone to enjoy the beach.

The dead fish can be dissected into two (problems):

  1. Architecture is perceived as an ideal neutral, which it is not.
  2. “Women in Architecture” is seen as a homogenous group


Architecture is perceived as an ideal neutral, which it is not.

The architectural profession has extremely high gender inequality and biases. According to the South African Council for the Architectural Profession in 2015, of the 8,842 Registered Professionals (RP’s), only twenty-one percent (21%) are women. Of this group, 271 Professionals, or fifteen percent (15%) are previously disadvantaged individuals (Cullis 2015), which in South African terms means those affected by historical injustice and more explicitly, people of colour (POC). In the same year, the South African population was at 54 956 920 people. Of this group 50 422 912 were POC and only 271 were registered as POC women architectural professionals (Stats South Africa 2015). This shows the palpable racial and gender imbalance in the profession.

The numbers differ according to countries, but similar imbalances are ever-present in the US, UK and EU. Why is this so? From the readings I’ve come across, identifying the issues has been thin. However a common thread seems to be the income gap between men and women who hold the same position. According to the 2016 Women in Architecture Survey, the gender pay gap at partner and director level differs by 55% with the gap becoming smaller lower down along the experience ladder (Mairs 2017). Again, why? The moneymaking system in the architectural profession varies according to commission and project opportunity, which is a factor to be cognizant of when reading these results. I’m not too sure what drives this trend in businesses with co-directors of different gender, but the issue persists. Institutions such as Women in Architecture South Africa have been launched to put policies in place that legally rectify these pragmatic inequalities. So we can review this in a year or two again.

Concurrently, there is the greater influential driver of this trend: the social and educational culture of Architecture. Despina Stratigakos, author of Where are all the Women Architects paints the reality of the multifaceted issue when saying, “although women represent nearly half of architecture students, women are underrepresented among faculty, especially in design branches. Course syllabuses also heavily favor men’s work and writings, leaving students with the impression that women have contributed little of value” (Stratigakos 2016).

As a recent architecture student at the University of Cape Town in South Africa in the continent of Africa, I can testify to never coming across a black woman architect in my design course outline. Aside from Zaha Hadid, but she was a “starchitect” which is an issue we’ll get onto in a bit. It was only at the advent of #RhodesMustFall and the decolonial movement where in a (yes singular) theory course in my programme of study responded to the evidently heavy Western curriculum by including and restructuring the course and its reading list. I must mention that this was initiated by the personal agency of the professor of that History and Theory of Architecture course. However, in order to truly shift the image of Architecture as a Le Corbusier cigar smoking white man sitting on his modernist chair, the African literature sitting in the dusty annex of our SA university libraries needs to be put into our reading lists. I often laugh at this particular example of micro reform because the Professor is in fact a European white man; evidence of the symbiosis of white allyship. I thank him for introducing me to the works of endless writers who have moulded my perception of architecture greatly today. This include architectural Professor Lesley Lokko, writer and photographer Teju Cole, artist Joy Mboya amongst a growing list of others.

“Women in Architecture” is NOT a homogenous group

Historically and globally today, there is special mention of “Women Architects” amongst normal “Architects” in the industry. This fuels the idea of gender binaries, and more particularly to this post, fuels the idea that male architects are synonymous with the “ideal neutral”.

Marking this year’s International Women’s Day, Dezeen’s list of 50 inspirational female architects and designers made special recognition of Danish architect Dorte Mandrup who responded by saying, “Allow me to explain; I am not a female architect. I am an architect. When we talk about gender, we tend to talk about women. Men do not really have a gender. They are just… neutral. Non-gender. That is why you do not recognize the term “male architect” Despite all of the efforts to make female architects feel special, the result is quite the opposite” (Madrup 2017).

Accolade is well received and appreciated by women in the industry. However, the recurrence of this trend coupled with the slow transforming presence of women in the industry has come to a point where architecture becomes epistemolically male. Mandrup is assertive and frank in mentioning that even though this tendency aims to perhaps include women, it does quite the opposite. It exposes a quota-like behavior that the profession conforms to and maintains the status quo of keeping women as trophies who “made it” in the architectural sphere. Look at Jane Jacobs, Lina Bo Bardi and Eve Ensler; the single few (white) women who made it onto the history shelves. Retrospectively, if the profession continues on this trend, architectural record will remain a white male defined space.

So there you have it, the dead fish.

The head: academic curricula remain untransformed, with pinches of personal agency from progressive educators that unfortunately does not suffice. Educators are transient in institutions, but institutions have the capacity to make fundamental long lasting cultural changes.

The tail: An extension of the head. The culture incepted during the educational experience. It is the normalization of architecture as a male dominated or rather defined career. Sure, we have increasing numbers, but we need to look at the multifaceted scales on the fish – equal pay, appropriate numbers and intersectional cultural inclusion that do not define power complexity and impede others from advancing in their careers.


We all have a right to breathe on our beach.



  1. Cullis, Jacquie. SACAP Announces Women In Architecture South Africa (WiASA) programme. September 2015, 2015. (accessed August 20, 2017).
  2. Mairs, Jessica. Gender pay gap is broadening shows Women in Architecture survey. February 10, 2017. (accessed August 20, 2017).
  3. Stats South Africa. Mid-year population estimates. Statistical release, Pretoria: StatsSA, 2015, 8.
  4. Stratigakos, Despina. Why is the world of architecture so male-dominated? April 21, 2016. (accessed August 20, 2017).
  5. Madrup, Dorte. “I am not a female architect. I am an architect”. May 25, 2017. (accessed August 20, 2017).
  6. Lushaba, Lwazi. “Dr Lwazi Lushaba on the Black Schema at UCT-Lecture 3-Part 1/3.” Dr Lwazi Lushaba on the Black Schema at UCT-Lecture 3-Part 1/3. Cape Town: Youtube, June 26, 2017.


Illustration by Khensani de Klerk





On Locality: Women Facing|Place

It’s been a rather long hiatus, and I must apologize for this. The reason being that I have recently relocated to a new city for a year. With this, came the inevitability of setting up in a new context and the mundane administrative and time-consuming tasks that came along. Rest assured, Matri-Archi Sunday posts are back up and running, so don’t neglect your wine racks.

Today, the theme of Matri-Archi’s post is LOCALITY. The theme speaks to how one is able and should be able to decide where one is local, and that that place need not necessarily be one’s place of origin. At first glance this may seem like a modern day trope in direct antitheses to many progressive conversations centered around identity and heritage, but I do find it quite fitting within this reality of reclamation. Reclaiming and taking ownership of your identity without the consent or validation of any deciding body/group of society who deem you to be a particular way because of “where you come from”. Furthermore, how we discover strings of our history in places unfamiliar, and create new histories through the heterogeneity of choice in locality.

What sparked this theme, was initially a TED talk by Taiye Selasi titled “Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m local” which I would urge you to all listen to, its On The Shelf as well. I am only a recent reader of Taiye Selasi’s work, with Ghana Must Go sitting on my side table, and I’m rather excited by the fact that literary discovery is infinite. Anyway,  Selasi is a writer and photographer born in London and raised in Boston. She is of Ghanaian and Nigerian descent and is now living in Berlin and Rome. Selasi’s work has a great focus on identity politics and locality in the contemporary world we find ourselves in today.

Today’s theme was also sparked by my recent relocating to Zurich, and the travel narratives of four incredible womxn (and dear friends) whose journeys I have been following rather religiously. One of the many advantages of digital space is the rewriting of distance and how that traditional notion of physicality becomes vestigial when we become a global (and close) community; a Facetime call or click away.

Along with Selasi’s novel on my side table, in and amongst the 17 tabs open on my computer, is Teju Cole’s photo journal essay titled “Far Away From Here”. His essay captured my attention because of a mutual Switzerland setting (even though in significantly different micro areas), and the way in which we can engage so intimately with other writer’s narratives through journalling and photography.

Scale becomes very important when addressing locality. Scale has a significant affect on our perceptions of place, and how intimately we can engage with the spaces we find ourselves in. Place is both trans-scalar and dynamic, and it changes according to context. It is these changes that this post is curious about. I won’t deluge on the (already) plenty and rich experiences I have had here in Zürich (yet). What I have encountered is a connection to other travellers, all women, from South Africa; all in places undiscovered, unknown for now, and perhaps strange. The response to the unknown is almost indescribable. However, in attempts to make that describable, Matri-Archi presents to you Women Facing | Place, a series of narratives speaking about locality and place. Matri-Archi is here to provide a platform for multiple narratives so that retrospectively in the far or near future, we can record an intersectional knowledge and maybe call it history or something like that. Definitely something less homogenous and single minded though; histories(?)

This blog post is longer than usual, but I can promise you that it is worth the read.


Woman Facing|Place

(find issue booklet link at end, and On the Shelf)

Download pdf:  Women Facing | Place

or view online at issuu below:


Place: feeling, sound, memory, form.

Feeling: fear, overwhelming, exciting, nostalgia, curiosity, temperature…

Sound: language [known?unknown], shouting, singing, sneezing, spitting, silence.

Memory: Known, Unknown? Transient? Temporal, Fast, Slow, Go.

Form: Building, street, texture, body, skin, face;

Place. [undefined]


Amy Braaf                  South Korea/ Vietnam          My Mother’s Jar

Tshego Mako             Delhi , India                            Space and Routine

Gabrielle Cohen        Chendgu, China                     Maneuvering Space

Josie Dalberg             Medellin, Colombia               Repetition: A revealing and recording

My Mother’s Jar | Amy Braaf

There was a jar that my mother kept in our first house.

It was slightly larger than the average jar and inside it were different notes of money from all over the world.

Every country she went to she made sure to keep a note from it, its now something I do. When she was pregnant with me she went to Hong Kong. After I came to Korea on my own all of my inhibitions I had left behind, however as a result my loved ones were left behind too. I decided to go to Hong Kong at the age of 22, and I’ve been collecting memories of faces ever since.

I am currently writing from Vietnam, a space that I feel quite uneasy in despite the fact that its perceived to be a “getaway”. But all I can feel is myself pulling further away from myself and falling into places that no longer accommodate me.

There is an enigmatic pull that cradles you when you come to live in a country on your own. But as time passes it fades and all that you are left with is a fear that has been planted in us as women from the moment we were born.

Whether its taxi drivers placing his hand on my lap in Vietnam, or a man trying to lure me into a hotel in Hong Kong or every invasive experience I had as a woman in South Africa. When will I be free in my body? I try and find that peace in new countries and continents, but I dread that I run out places to run to.

Its interesting to see how the air tastes in one country in comparison to another. The rain feels like a warm cup of tea in Korea, in Hong Kong it feels like a sharp stab of rejection, and Vietnam’s rain makes me feel unwelcome. Its so unpredictable that was soon as I feel safe and at home it changes. Perhaps its trying to wash me out – back to where I came from. Wherever that is. I’m not quite sure.

My photography has been the antidote to my feeling of constant displacement, I am mixed race woman and I’ve never felt like I belong to any group or society. But I find peace in my art – I lose myself in my lens, I dive into an objective viewer. A voyeuristic eye roaming cities that I can never belong to but as time goes on I am finding a place in myself – a home that goes wherever I do.

Photos by Amy Braaf


Space and Routine | Tshego Mako

Delhi Bridge’ depicts’ the everyday motions and movements of Delhi goers, myself in particular. Although cityscapes and traffic are not exclusive to Delhi, it is however an element that makes up this city. Over time it has become apparent that kinetic cities are where I thrive most. It is evident that there is a hustle and bustle nature about Delhi. All this is subdued when I am removed from ground level and am transporting myself across the main road only to return to ground and resume my daily routine.

Space and Routine, shortfilm by Tshegofatso Mako


Maneuvering Space | Gabrielle Cohen

I’ve moved to a city in which I literally cannot breathe. I thought I understood what air pollution was but as it turns out I fall into a category appropriately termed “sensitive groups” and my childhood asthma has been roused from its slumber. The shortness of breath and pursuit of air purifiers created an unexpected context for my move to China. China is also known for its hard water. This means that there is a high quantity of metals, calcium and chlorine in the water. You can’t drink from the tap and my skin and scalp have been irritated.

Moments into my journey both air and water had betrayed me and they had both done so in extreme heat.

In the event that it is not already painfully apparent that you are an alien in this land you should try and ask for a showerhead that purifies water using Google translate in your nearest Walmart. That will certainly get the point across.

I left the store with two water-filtering showerheads and a bottle of wine and the next day I cut the bulk of my hair off. I could immediately breathe easier.

Chengdu is noisy and dirty and unapologetically itself. It moves and breathes in a way that I’ve never experienced in any city in my life. Apartments are stacked upon each other. Chinese people stare at me intensely and then forget about me almost immediately, save for those that take not-so-subtle photographs of me with their phones, there is no move to interact with my westernism or to try to understand my English as many suggested would be the case. Being Chinese is celebrated.

Where I live the roads are wide and long creating areas free from tall buildings and fostering an illusion of space and air when you look up. The shortness of breath reinforces its illusory nature.

Outwardly, being here is anonymity and invisibility. Inwardly it is the puzzle of navigating a new space, which does not resemble any of the spaces that I’ve inhabited before, it is solitude and a lot of confusion.

It is also a lot of magic. The people are housed and fed (at least, where I live) and if you walk along the river at dusk you see groups of old women dancing and men fishing in the middle of this urban city. They aren’t doing it for you. I have not been groped or intimidatingly ogled at and the fresh produce is cheap and nourishing. I walked home at 2am alone with my earphones in my ears and I was safe and I felt like a more focused Frances from Frances Ha and I immediately put on Modern Love by David Bowie and bounded down the road.

Don’t walk on the right side of people here because their spit will land right on your shoe.

(Made In China, Higher Brothers)

Repetition: A revealing and recording | Josie Dalberg

I have been battling with the question of whether or not, given a finite amount of time, one should attempt to see multiple countries or if one should rather take that time to settle in one place. The former allows one to experience the diversities of place and to be witness to a far greater spectrum of realities and contexts. The latter, however, gives opportunity to do more than merely witness. Extended time (if utilized with meaning and respect) allows one to move beyond a mere surface-level engagement with place and its people. It gives opportunity to absorb, process and learn and it gives time to engrave place deeply and wholly into memory.

I do not dismiss that this can be achieved in short visits too but from my month-long stay in the Colombian city of Medellín, after six weeks of fast-travel, I feel confident in saying that settling leads to more substance.

Settling allows for repetition.

Repetition allows for familiarisation.

Familiarisation, when done with curiosity and intention, leads to two things, amongst many others:

  1. An understanding of processes of place, of one’s own movements through those places as well as how they are navigated by others.
  2. Familiarisation with foreign place may, on occasion, run parallel with those to whom the space belongs becoming familiar with oneself and vice versa.

This second point, for me, has proven to be a special one. It has lead to names being learnt and repeated, warmer greetings, and conversations that extend beyond the usual “de donde son” (where are you from), despite my mediocre Spanish. My visits to the local “tienda” (corner store), at least three-times-weekly, have evolved from quick impersonal consumer experiences into lingering moments. Conversations are now had with the owner and the members of his family — who have all been met on various visits — are known and friendly faces. I am no longer referred to as “gringo” (a shift that went hand-in-hand with a 50% price drop in their avocados, I’ll add) and they are no longer anonymous. They have become engraved in my memory of this particular place, an inherent part of my settling in and familiarising with a city once so unknown by me.

This same sense of familiarisation is achieved through walking. As students of architecture we have been taught to “map the city through walking,” paying attention to how we walk and how different intentions in our walking reveal different layers of our environment. This concept stresses the idea that repeating an exercise does not mean repeating an experience. Rather, this compounding of variables of place allows for an understanding of said place[s]’s multiple states, functions and frequenters. As importantly, this repetition of walking and re-walking is a tool for recording, for embedding space into memory. I think of it as muscle memory, putting one’s body and attention through the same motions until moving through that space becomes second nature, allowing for focus to shift onto details previously missed. A more complex understanding, a more formulated recording.

In walking — being on the ground and engaging with the finer grain of the city — one faces place in a full frontal and totally committed manner.

On the streets the city throws itself at you without filter.

It drills the local language into you then forces you to twist your tongue in reciprocation of said language, challenging you to communicate beyond flustered hand-gestures.

It forces you to confront not only your surroundings and those who occupy it but also yourself:

What is my intention here?

How do I achieve this?

What am I contributing to the space?

What am I taking from it?

Am I engaging with respect?

Which of my pre-conceived ideas are being dismantled?

These questions become easier to answer in the “re-walking,” in the reflection for which repetition allows. One feels oneself relax and loosen in these second, third, fourth navigations. No longer entirely submissive to space and its foreignness, one returns with the assurance of pre-gained knowledge and the confidence that said knowledge will be compounded upon.

This is how I have been facing place. And this is how I etch place into memory. Repeating the lines of navigation by walking  and re-walking until place is so deeply engraved into the mind that it would take much to be entirely lost.

“Memories lie slumbering within us for months and years, quietly proliferating, until they are woken by some trifle and in some strange way blind us to life.”

– W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn (1995)

Outro | Moving, Mapping

Place is undefined, and in our stories we realize that it will remain undefined; situated in our particular experiences and characters. Perhaps we will see the overlays, the very overlays and collisions that become a web of Intersectional Space. We may be miles apart but the known and unknown places we read in each others’ journeys may begin to taste familiar. Matri-Archi speaks about Lived Lines and Intersectional Space. We are, in our movement, mapping lived lines, and as we bump into and add to the places we experience, we create Intersectional Space.



More Reading:

(On The Shelf)

– Teju Cole- Known and Strange Things, 2016

– Teju Cole- Far Away From Here, 2015

-Taiye Selasi, “Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask where I’m local” TED Talk, 2014


Cover photo by Amy Braaf.

Thank you to Gabrielle Cohen, Josie Dalberg, Tshegofatso Mako and Amy Braaf for contributing. 

Next Post: 5 August. Coming Soon…

Hello everyone!

Apologies for the minor 1 week of blogging absentia! Things have been loaded on the Matri-Archi side of things but please do rest assured that this hiatus will come to a near end!

5 August will be the release of the next post.
With Sundays and Sundays (on) Sundays to come.

In the interim there will be regular “Daily Fruit” which you’ll find out more about in a few days, but in simple terms, it will encourage knowledge sharing.

Stay tuned.

And thanks for being loyal readers/engagers/contributors


“Ode to an Architect” a Matri-Archi short film

Matri-Archi welcomes you to it’s first film, “Ode to an Architect” coproduced by Khensani de Klerk and Giorgi Young.

The film was screened last week Friday at the Drawing Room in Observatory. The space sought out to manifest a physical form of Matri-Archi fostering critical dialogue. Prioritizing and bringing attention to the dis/misplacement of black bodies in space, the film seeks to evoke a sense of urgent responsibility in designers and governance to address amending Apartheid planning, which has been created by our discipline. Architecture, design and planning need to become tools for social justice, and Matri-Archi believes this to be an inevitability. The question of how soon, is imperative.


Ode to an Architect

“I walk down the pavement,
Down a pavement,
Wedged in between concrete walls
Buildings, reflecting and peaking
For the sky.
Reminding me of my people.
Looking up
In constant sight of the light
That we’ve been shaded from
In the alleys of the cold moist city
In the shadows of signs
And symbols.
Do not be fooled
We are not where we deserve to be
Soaking in the sun
Our skin absorbing ever last ray
Golden and glistening
Drifting through the waves
Nyoni ya manzi
Bird of the ocean
Step onto the land
Feel the soil.
Where is the soil?
The permanence of this imposed pavement
Etched into the skin of my soil
My soul
Ebb and flow
Wash away our oppression.
For we are merely floating
Black bodies
Black objects
In the water
Miles above
Our land
Far removed.
Constant pollution
White noise
Designed to mute the black body
Do you see me?
Don’t get me wrong,
I do not need your validation,
I only question your humanity
Your ability
To see past a black body
To see me as a black woman
An heir to this very land you’ve stolen
Have you no memory?
Don’t try to begin to ask
What life would be like
Without your science
Your cars
Your buildings
Your concrete
Because you robbed us of the chance to
Our hidden uncovered
Ways of knowing
We cannot compare.
So don’t.
I remain a visitor.
I remain removed
No place.
We find belonging not in space,
But only in each other.
So then?
I question you,
The architect?
Us, the architects.
Moving through the city
Bumping against buildings, eroding public space.
Lived lines.
Architects of place,
Do not forget
Your capacity
Your ability
Your responsibility
To restore.”


The event featured artwork from both Ibtishaam Toffar and Darren Coventry (Instagram handles: @ib.create and @darren.creates) as well as incredible music by local artists Under Pressure Sundays (IG: @underpresh) , larsxbars (IG: @larsxbars) and OBAE (IG: @nandi_jpg). [see for more on the artists]


Thank you for coming.

Thank you for engaging with Matri-Archi.

See you next Sunday.


Photos of the space/event to be released soon. Stay tuned to the Facebook page @matriarchitecture


“Ode to an Architect” Film Screening | Friday 7 July | The Drawing Room.

Matri-Archi will be screening it’s new film “Ode to an Architect” this Friday at the Drawing Room! The film will be submitted as an entry to the Africa Architecture Awards as a space for critical dialogue.

Written through the lens of a Black Womxn, Matri-Archi aims at creating a space where the work and writings of multiple and marginalized identity groups can be discussed and given space to flourish. Matri-Archi is here to challenge universal epistemologies of architecture, design and space. Matri-Archi is a space that encourages various forms of representation and communication and is not prescribed solely to architectural articulation.

The event will encapsulate a space of all visuals and senses.


7:00 “doors open”

7:30 OFFICIAL SCREENING of “Ode to an Architect”

8:00 larxbars live performance

8:30 Rescreening of “Ode to an Architect”

9:00 Under Pressure Sundays live set

10:00 OBAE live set

The event is FREE because access is a design hinderance we’re trying to debunk always.

The Drawing Room, Observatory | 19:00 | Friday 7th July

There will be drinks for sale


Film trailer:

Featuring artists, all phenomenal womxn:


larsxbars. Musician. (Instagram: @larsxbars)




ib.create. Painter. (Instragram: @ib.create)




OBAE. DJ. (Instagram: @nandi_jpg)




Under Pressure Sundays. Music collective. (Instagram: @underpresh | Soundcloud: )



COME and experience Intersectional Space.

The Space Inbetween: a visual montage

final composition

This week’s post is rather different to the others, which is great, because MatriArchi is explicit in allowing space for malleability. Today, I will not be referring to academic writing, (I have still shared extra sources related to the theme, at the end of the post and on The Shelf). Today’s post will be very short on words.

I invite you to journey through a visual poem, an eidetic montage; one that invites you into a space confronting notions of the “Inbetween”. Perhaps you may go down a train of images and leave others behind? Today’s post is both cathartic, artistic and irrational. This post is a reminder to designers  -which is all of us really- that the way in which we perceive and make space is both physical and metaphysical, both of which we constantly occupy.

The reason for this theme is really a culmination of weeks that have for me, been turbulent with decision making, constraint, discovery and curiosity. The future is a corridor with endless doors waiting to be opened, with the unknown waiting to be unlocked. The condition of the corridor constantly changes, and time means nothing inbetween. I suppose the theme is born out of a personal narrative as a result of how I’ve recently been hyperaware of experiencing states of transition.

The aim of this week’s post is simple: it is a canvas for the expression of the Inbetween, and a way for us to explore each other’s minds on a more intimate level. Comment, or send some of your work through, to eventually reach a body of work that speaks to the metaphysical state of space.


Constraint? Comfort? Pressure? Solace? Curiosity? Claustrophobia? Safety? Unfamiliarity? Spirituality? Fear? Choice? Down the Corridor? Up the Staircase? In the Lift? On the Plane? Resting in the Courtyard? Running across the Bridge? Refuge in this Camp? Neither here, nor there? No man’s land. Yet completely your land.

In creating this story, my hope is to occupy the inbetween, to be constantly aware of it, to be able to face the darkness of the daunting unknown; or perhaps to stumble upon creeks of light, unconcerned with the notion of time. Breathing inbetween, before opening the door. Forgetting about opportunity costs. Neither here, nor there. Yet.


The Poetics of the Inbetween.

A special thank you to Hlohi Ndlovu for capturing the film photos, and to Jevon Jacobs for featuring as a model.




As we occupy the earth, consuming, busy busy, in our self imposed rat race, be weary. We think we know it all, building bridges, across scars of roads we’ve scratched into the earth’s tough skin; pretending to amend the divides we’ve created. The beginning of a story? Or the end? Ignoring the inbetween, pushing it to the side, bottling it up… it all ends in collapse. An instant merciless dramatic explosion? We ignore the inbetween, a slow motion living implosion.


I’m curious. Something’s hidden inbetween the rocks. Come with me? Don’t be afraid, of the unknown. It changes all the time. Shores weather the rocks away; we never notice until we come to lie on the rocks which once scratched our backs but are now smooth as silk. What is time inbetween? But an ebb and flow constantly moving, without compromise. Don’t drown, walk in slowly. Feel the water in between your toes, cold feet? Which door? Look up. Blessings from the sky. m3

Inbetween, where the rocks are cold, moist, fresh, crisp; where the rays decide when to be harsh, open the next door? Or perhaps stay. Sunlit golden rays, sometimes shy; warm rays,  soak into the tendons of my shoulders, loosen the immense tense coils of angst. Ready to climb up, inbetween. Look, see; through the glass. Look down, see, over the landscape, onto your dreams. m4

Switch, reorientate! The inbetween changes, sometimes gradually, sometimes with haste. Don’t forget. The corridor gives no warning, no expectation. We avoid the inbetween, we leave it be, unsure with how to confront the space unattended. The space neglected. Stand up, look, see, feel. It’s okay to pause, inbetween.  Sitting in fragments, neither here nor there, yet. There’s space, to be. Let be.

Incredible Montage artists/ more on montages:

  • Archigram movement- 1960s avant-garde architecture illusionary depictions.
  • @artxman on instagram – Afrofuturistic artist that will take you to another dimension.
  • Thandiswa Mazwai website –

Transport in Cape Town: Intermodality= Access? Learning from the informal taxi system

Today’s blog post is a sequel to last week’s coproduced film on Intermodality in Cape Town. A day that involved four City Planning Students going on a journey through Cape Town using only public transport. The journey will serve as a case study and personal anecdote that speaks to, and strengthens a molding of understanding transport systems in Cape Town. Essentially this post will speak on Intermodality and it’s relationship to access. The UN Document on Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility puts it perfectly in that “Modal integration is also an essential prerequisite for urban accessibility”. Europe and Global North Cities have shown the effectiveness of Intermodality, but in Global South cities where informal transport systems flourish, and there is a distinct different way of knowing; how do we begin to debunk and rethink intermodality in the formal and informal transport system interface in our particular context?

The journey around Cape Town was a UCT Honours project that sought to give students an understanding of how the transport system in Cape Town worked from an experiential point of view, and from this begin to start a conversation around degrees of efficiency, both in the formal and informal transport systems. A week before the project, I sat in a talk by Director of Centre for Transport Studies at UCT, Roger Behrens, who spoke on various modes of transport and the pragmatics of infrastructure that come along with that, in extensive detail. It is important to give definition to what kinds of transport systems are in Cape Town for this blog to be an effective means of conversation. Transport systems can be formal and informal, as well as public and private.

The formal public transport system in Cape Town is comprised of the metro rail, the bus system, and the BRT (bus-based road transport). The full Golden Arrow buses we often see on congested roads are an example of the bus system. The unreliably late, unmaintained train is an example of the metro rail system. And then the often empty, rather unaffordable yet very comfortable MyCiti buses roaming around on their designated routes are a good example of the BRT system. Then there are private forms of formal transport, such as the private car which seems to be the mode of preference in South Africa (a big misfortune) and other forms of private formal transport such as uber, taxify, and meter cabs that cater to a higher income bracket population.

The informal transport system in Cape Town is comprised dominantly of the mini bus taxi system, which acts as a capillary network between nodes that do not give walking distance access to users who would like to get to their destination with time in mind, which is often the case. These taxis cater to short distance trips and function at a significantly lower price than that of the formal system, making it more affordable to majority of the population. So, is public transport in Cape Town effective?

Let’s use the hypothetical example where the one lane on ALL roads within Cape Town are dedicated to the MyCiti bus system. To add to the scenario, the MyCiti becomes efficient in reducing time of travel due to no traffic, even with frequent stops. It is no secret that population growth is increasing at an exceptional rate and so, with one less lane, congestion for private cars is guaranteed. And so we reach a stage where the MyCiti becomes the preferred mode of transport to those who previously used private cars as; and with this increase in usage of the BRT, the maintenance costs would be more easily covered leading to a potential decrease in travel fares.

However, this caters to the middle income to high-income commuter (which I suspect the MyCiti has been designed for from the get go). The problem lies in this public service being unable to accommodate the low income bracket population, because the truth is, a huge portion of commuters within this bracket do not have the privilege of considering opportunity cost. And so even if the MyCiti bus were to implemented holistically over Cape Town, reaching the periphery in the same fashion that mini bus taxi’s do; without a decrease in fares, it would still be unaffordable to majority of the population and we would find ourselves exactly where we are now, with empty MyCiti buses running on schedule and overloaded minibus taxi’s driving parallel to these buses and commuters getting off at many of the same stops.

A big observation from the readings I’ve come across on transport, including that by Julio D. Dávila and Peter Brand titled Urban Mobility and Poverty: Lessons from Medellin and Soacha, Colombia highlight that the answer does not lie in formalizing the informal. In fact it is far from that. From conversations with my colleges who went on this journey around Cape Town, we realized and suggested that lessons need to be learnt from the informal taxi system. Firstly, the mere fact that this system was created through the agency of the people, and is a self-sustaining and complex economic model is reflective of how effective it is as a transport system. But, do we mean by effective and efficient? – Because there are degrees of both in both the formal and informal public transport systems.

We arrived at a brainstorm and discussion on effeciency. The formal public transport system is efficient in that (if well maintained) can be fully reliable in terms of a schedule; and this is in particular mention to the metro rail which does not have to consider traffic of other vehicles. However, the current metro rail is poorly maintained and therefore not an efficient mode of transport when considering time and punctuality. With a focus on the BRT system, the formal transport system is also efficient in having set routes, schedules, maps and catering to disabilities through the design of the vehicles. The loading of money onto cards reduces dwell time when getting on and off the bus and so, this adds to reducing the time spent at each stop allowing the trip to be faster than that where cash transaction means of money exchange occur.

Then there is the informal transport system, and why it is extremely effective in it’s own right. The commuter can negotiate where to stop along the route of the taxi, which means that when you want to catch a taxi, your travel time by foot is reduced, and access to this system is expanded. Here, there is value in cash transaction as a means of money exchange because this means that one can hop on the taxi sporadically without having to access a main vendor to purchase a card and load money onto that card. (However, simple card vending machines at MyCiti stops could eliminate this problem). The informal taxi system speaks to access, because it is affordable, frequent and acts as a capillary network that reaches a broader area of Cape Town. This makes it convenient for the commuter to leave their house, walk to the closest taxi which is not too far away, and commute to the next intermodal node that will allow them to either switch taxi’s or opt for formal transport that will take them to their desired location.

Where the informal system works more efficiently, in my opinion, is in the fact that with class being the greatest segregation device in “post” Apartheid South Africa, it gives access to all income brackets. It is unfortunate that it is ablest, which is a lesson to be learnt from BRTs in the formal transport system.

So what do we do?

Firstly, we found that a day of experiencing commuting around Cape Town using only public transport was not enough time to observe. There are various other variables to consider before reaching concise decisions, such as peak hours and safety (which is another reason why people who can, opt for the privacy of their private car). So, a starting point starts with conversation. The obvious challenge is who facilitates that conversation? When various stakeholders are not currently at same table and the bureaucratic players are not serving their role of bringing these various stakeholders to the table to discuss co-production and collaboration, progress is difficult. Transport infrastructure engineers, mini bus taxi system representatives, private transport representatives and commuter representatives need to start chatting, in order to prevent conflict in future plans.

Using the same hypothetical example of the one lane on ALL roads being reserved for the BRT as mentioned earlier in the post; we would potentially see huge conflict between the BRT and the informal mini bus taxi system, because taxis would be fighting for space in the congested lanes with private cars and so, the system would become less efficient and the possibility of losing money would increase. (Maybe people would create their own carpool systems? Who knows?) And so, these conversations are imperative to prevent that kind of conflict- maybe the BRT and could taxis negotiate in the reserved lane, and we let it happen? We need to come to terms with the fact that we cannot eliminate the informal taxi system.

How do we read our ways of moving in the city with situated knowledge, without constantly referring to the effective models presented and present in Global North cities. The fact is that there is an abundant amount of other knowledge yet to be uncovered because we have confined the effectiveness of our economy, transport, and political systems in proximity to the Global North. As soon as we begin to delink from that, perhaps we can allow for principles of functioning that suit our context- our South African context- instead of deeming our system inefficient because we haven’t reached ‘Global Standards’ yet.

How do we move forward?

We need leadership, leadership that prioritizes ACCESS. As designers and citizens, we are working in reaction to a city intentionally designed to segregate. Access is a tool in amending our built environment. The challenge is that this will come at a cost, but in the greater scheme of humanity- surely it is a cost worth facing, strategically?


More reading

  1. Brand, Julio D. Dávila and Peter. Urban Mobility and Poverty: Lessons from Medellin and Soacha, Colombia. London: Development Planning Unit, UCL & Faculty of Architecture , 2013.
  2. UN Habitat. Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility . Abingdon : Routledge, 2013.
  3. “Someone finally mapped Cape Town’s bewildering taxi network”
  4. Cape Town to subsidise bus rides for unemployed


Watch last week’s film on Intermodality

By Michael Brooke, Hlohi Ndlovu, Jessica Saunders, Khensani de Klerk

Short Film: Intermodality in Cape Town


This blog post will be very short for the purpose of encouraging you to watch the short film which serves as the core essence of today’s topic: Intermodality. Following this short film, in a week, will be a MatriArchi written post on mobility in Cape Town.

A bit about the film:

The social character of hostility and angst in Cape Town is a direct reaction from spatial injustice as a result of Apartheid planning. Those furthest away from the focal nodes, economic hubs, subcentres; have less access to economic opportunity and – as Amartya Sen writes about it – development as freedom.

The interaction between formal and informal transport systems- getting off of a delayed train to get onto a taxi 2 seconds later to go to Wynberg- spark questions around efficiency. Particularly, how formal systems can learn from informal systems and how we begin to delink and reimagine a productive state without the tendency of wanting to constantly formalize as a way forward.

This short film takes you on a journey around Cape Town, using only public transport (excluding Uber), in order to explore aspects of efficiency from the daily commuters point of view. Most importantly, the intention of this route of observation was to explore how transport can be a tool of progress in amending spatial segregation by becoming a networked infrastructure involving both the formal and informal transport systems into the future.

MyCiti BRT system is being developed and extended, and seems to be of good quality, but who can afford to use it? Then is the informal transport system that created itself, runs itself and dominates the transport sphere accommodating high volumes of people travelling short distances at an affordable price. And then there is the over usage of the private encouraged by our current culture of immediacy- getting from point A to point B. The car is seen to be preferable and convenient, for those who can afford it. How do we make public transport better; so efficient, that it becomes the preferred means of transport- in order to broaden access to various parts of the city, and reduce emissions through a compact city urban form?

When I stand at the Jammie bus stop in town every morning, I struggle to spot a car with more than one person in it, all heading the same direction.

There is a lot to be discussed with regards to transport and access in Cape Town, and this short film titled Intermodality in Cape Town is the introduction to a conversation that will extend into next week’s article. Don’t hesitate to comment, or question.

Read about it in…

  • Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility: Policy Directions, Global Report on Human Settlements 2013 – UN Habitat

Water Get No Enemy | Rethinking Water Infrastructure in Cape Town

It’s no secret that the drought and water crisis are on the top of Cape Town’s priority list at the moment. Coming from a fairly privileged position, the direct effects of the water crisis do not feel as critical as the statistics, highway signs and low dam levels make them out to be. Standing in the shower line at the gym, surrounded by warning signs of low water levels encouraging 2 minute showers does serve as a reminder here and there. This week for an Urban Infrastructure course I take in the City Planning programme at UCT, we went on an excursion around the metropole. When we came across a walk in Khayelitsha followed by a drive past Blikkies Dorp when I began to realize the severity of the complexity of this crisis. The crisis is not only about our low water levels, but also about the ever-present overlooked struggle that is a lack of access to water and other forms of infrastructure that constitute daily needs and functions in underprivileged areas. It isn’t the privileged in Cape Town CBD who will feel the severe effects of the water shortage, but rather those in areas with poor infrastructure provision. Not to say that it won’t affect us all, the tone of this post is to be far from facetious.

The reason for this week’s post was born out of my curiosity to investigate the severity of the water crisis coupled with my frustration of what the day to day situation looks like- a picture where Cape Town is relying solely on the agency of good citizens to decrease their water consumption whilst waiting for the rain which we all hope will come. However, in exploring South African urbanization trends in my Urban Infrastructure course, it became apparent that the underlying issues are greater and speak to various degrees of control that various characters in the spectrum of society have; from the citizen, to the municipal manager, to the Minister of Public Works, to the President, to the global stakeholders involved in water imports and exports all the way to good old mother nature, the external driver that will determine how climate change will effect the roles of the aforementioned stakeholders (Thanks/no thanks to us). As Fela Kuti put it in his lyrics “Water get no enemy”,  it is “water you go use”. We rely on water for sustenance, and with a fast growing population, we seem to be water’s greatest enemy.

And so, this article serves as both a means of challenging existing infrastructure in Cape Town, touching on Caron von Zeil’s Reclaim Camissa, a project that addresses activating the existing underutilized pipe system in Cape Town that runs litres of fresh unused mountain water into drains or sewers that lead straight to the ocean. This post also seeks to broadcast and share information on the fundamental details of the water crisis to aid in conversations and debate we have on a day to day basis that I often found myself confused in. All in all, governance and agency seem to be two themes that run through today’s article, as well as where to find information about this looming reality in a world that is constantly washed by fake news and information, hype and rumor.

“Water risk inhabits a landscape of rumor, stealth and speculation – on materialities such as pipe locations, water pressures, and the timings and operations of valves, as well as on networks of power and influence that might underpin the appearances and disappearances of water”, as presented in the March 2017 Water Services And The Cape Town Urban Water Cycle document, a good source of information with regards to water education is provided to the general public.

Where does Cape Town get its water? Currently Cape Town has 14 dams that it relies on for water collection and storage. Together these dams have a water capacity of 900 000 MI. “Most of this capacity is provided by six large dams: the Theewaterskloof, Voëlvlei, Berg River, Wemmershoek, and the Steenbras Upper and Lower dams.” (City of Cape Town 2017). An interesting history is given on each dam in the document which is worth checking out, as a side note. For the purpose of this post, I felt it necessary to present a recent table published a few days ago on May 22nd by the City of Cape Town expressing the water storage percentages. The table also gives reference to water levels in previous years to show or highlight a potential pattern of general water levels decreasing, confirming and reiterating a decline in annual rainfall in Cape Town.

Current Week Dam Water Levels
Major dams Storage
Ml % % %
  Capacity 22/5/17 Last week 2016
Berg River 130 010 31.7 32.4 27.2
Steenbras Lower 33 517 25.1 26.5 35.9
Steenbras Upper 31 767 57.2 56.7 55.7
Theewaterskloof 480 188 14.3 15.0 30.6
Voëlvlei 164 095 16.3 17.2 21.0
Wemmershoek 58 644 36.1 36.0 47.0
Total Stored Ml 898 221 184 231 190 300 274 026
% Storage   20.5 21.2 30.5

The numbers are frightening to say the least. What is important to note here is the total % storage presented in the last line of the table. This gives an indication as to how much water that can be consumed at the moment, keeping in mind that the last 10% of water in dam cannot be used due to the need for over purification. Therefore when we read the most recent data collected from May 22nd , we can see that we have “access” to only 10.5% water in Cape Town. The above presents main issue number 1: climate change driving low water levels.

Issue number 2 which I find more pressing, lies in the exceptional population growth accelerating at a much faster rate than infrastructure growth. Our current infrastructure is struggling to accommodate the growing population. From 1995 with a population of 2.4 million, Cape Town is expected to have 4.3 million people by 2018, with dam infrastructure remaining the same. How do we work around it? Should we be working around it, or rethinking it completely? It seems as though a step forward lies in strategic planning and good governance What this means is that we shouldn’t see the current water crisis as a temporary phenomenon that will resolve in a year or two. It’s a long-term problem. We will need substantial government intervention to make Cape Town’s water supply sustainable.” (News24 2017)

 However, from reading proposed infrastructural advancement proposals online, it seems as though there is a stagnation in implementation or a reluctance in government to take action on ways in which creative infrastructural extension can aid in future provision for water services and access in Cape Town. The current agenda from the public eye is focused on water conservation and reducing consumption, which don’t get me wrong, is highly important. But in resonance with the concerns of other fellow Cape Townians and online writers It’s 2017, and Cape Town’s dams are sitting at 11%. Experts have always told us that the bottom 10% of water should ideally not be taken out both for ecological reasons and because it needs extra purification. This effectively means the well in Cape Town has run dry and the worth of water has shot up to the top of every Capetonian’s serious concerns. How did we not see this coming?” (Diko 2017)

And there is no doubt that we could have seen it coming. Research through Reclaim Cassima, a project that uncovered and documented the vast amount of fresh water that flows to waste underneath Cape Town” gives thorough evidence of the political stakeholder conversations pre-empting the water crisis as a result of climate change. Filmmaker Sven Harding, took a trip down the well preserved tunnels and researched along similar lines, reporting that WaterAid’s regional policy and advocacy manager Chilufya Chileshe said, “The global water crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing us today…As the global urban population rapidly expands, we’re seeing that growth in developing cities is typically unplanned and water, sanitation and hygiene services are not keeping up.” (Harding 2017)

The possibility of drier seasons in Cape Town is not an un-discussed issue in governing structures with the capacity to affect change on a wider scale, and so, having tagged the city of Cape Town in this post, I hope that more transparency for future water security plans in Cape Town can be provided.

There is a plethora of issues that need to be addressed beyond what the city has implemented at the moment (such as fixing water leakages, implementing water restrictions, educating people about water usage. More can be found in their documents on the city of Cape Town website):

  1. As a preface, Visiting Professor of Urban Studies at the African Centre for Cities, AbdouMaliq Simone, puts it in his chapter of Infrastructural Lives titled Relational infrastructures in postcolonial urban worlds, in cities where there is limited access to basic services, the needs and voices of those who have no access to them cannot be ignored. Sustainable infrastructure therefore should reconcile environmental interests with human interests, particularly those of underprivileged groups.” (Simone 2014). Broadening water access to disadvantaged communities needs to be addressed in this time of water crisis. Potentially by extending infrastructure and looking towards networked infrastructure; of course how this is funded is the greatest challenge but provision through political budgeting, community economic incentivized systems and coproduction should be explored. Any economists and politicians reading this? The comment section is your canvas.
  2. A transparent pubic strategic plan addressing how the City of Cape Town aims at addressing population growth exceeding the growth of water infrastructure needs to be addressed. Perhaps there is no distinct answer to the crisis at the moment, but as a government, the responsibility to keep societies’ best interest in mind is mandatory and by thinking about the long term, citizens can be aware of the situation and how to aid in it.
  3. Penetrating communities across the demographic and economic spectrum with incentives, and education that does not rely solely on the agency of the citizen consuming less water needs to be addressed. The sad fact is that some people, who have access to water, don’t care to reduce their consumption where as others use their self-made grey water systems to flush their toilets with shower water. There is an imbalance in agency and perhaps there always will be. But how can policy, regulation and law begin to speak to water consumption? In my opinion, if a household exceeds a specific amount of water per month, a high inflation on rates should take effect for that household, provided leakages have been addressed and rights have been respected. However, I am uninformed in that regard, and it is not my position to suggest such plans with little knowledge of the factors driving current rates and taxes. It is obvious that in this capitalist structure, money is an influential driver, and in privileged areas where water consumption is equally as high, perhaps the response in that realm may lead to positive change. The pie chart below presented by the City of Cape Town shows a breakdown of water consumption in Cape Town. All in all, what needs to be addressed is discourse around the water crisis issue, if we are to capitalize on coproduction to ensure infrastructure can accommodate rapid urbanization, and speak to long term water security.

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 5.32.43 PM



  1. City of Cape Town. WATER SERVICES AND THE CAPE TOWN URBAN WATER CYCLE . Public information paper, Cape Town:, 2017.
  2. Diko, Yonela. Cape Town’s Water Crisis: Is this the deadliest failure of the DA government? May 21, 2017. (accessed May 27, 2017).
  3. Harding, Sven. Why Cape Town’s Forgotten Tunnels Could Provide the Answer to the City’s Current Drought. (accessed May 27, 2017).
  4. What”s causing Cape Town’s Water Crisis? May 17, 2017. (accessed May 27, 2017).
  5. Simone, AbdouMaliq. “Relational infrastructures in postcolonial urban worlds .” By Stephen Graham and Colin McFarlane, 17-39. New York: Routledge, 2014.