Blog

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.

Inbetween.

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.

 

 

m1

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.

m2

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 – http://thandiswa.com/

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” https://www.wired.com/2017/02/someone-finally-mapped-cape-towns-bewildering-taxi-network/?mbid=social_twitter
  4. Cape Town to subsidise bus rides for unemployed http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/western-cape/cape-town-to-subsidise-bus-rides-for-unemployed-9426543

 

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

 

References

  1. City of Cape Town. WATER SERVICES AND THE CAPE TOWN URBAN WATER CYCLE . Public information paper, Cape Town: http://www.capetown.gov.za, 2017.
  2. Diko, Yonela. Cape Town’s Water Crisis: Is this the deadliest failure of the DA government? May 21, 2017. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2017-05-21-cape-towns-water-crisis-is-this-the-deadliest-failure-of-the-da-government/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=First+Thing+Monday+22nd+May+Knight+Knox&utm_content=First+Thing+Monday+22nd+May+Knight+Knox+CID_9e3b10c0b2ca6f53fdd75b4b9ed0c2c3&utm_source=TouchBasePro&utm_term=Cape+Towns+Water+Crisis+Is+this+the+deadliest+failure+of+the+DA+government#.WSn5LROGMp- (accessed May 27, 2017).
  3. Harding, Sven. Why Cape Town’s Forgotten Tunnels Could Provide the Answer to the City’s Current Drought. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sven-harding/cape-town-tunnels-drought_b_9619340.html (accessed May 27, 2017).
  4. What”s causing Cape Town’s Water Crisis? May 17, 2017. http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/whats-causing-cape-towns-water-crisis-20170517 (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.
  6. UN Habitat. URBAN PATTERNS FOR A GREEN ECONOMY: OPTIMIZING INFRASTRUCTURE. UN-Habitat, 2012.

 

SUNDAY FRUIT: RECAP WEEK!

It’s been 3 months since Matri-Archi started and we’re proud to say that we’ve delivered an article every Sunday since then!

Speaking about Intersectionality and Lived Lines, and there’s plenty more to come. It’s both exciting and overwhelming in this contested world we find ourselves in. Written through the lens of a black womxn, Matri-Archi seeks to project the voices and work of marginalized identity groups and to have this conversation in the design space. MAtri-Archi also seeks to challenge forms of knowing, and conventions that are centered around Western epistemology in order to uncover other ways of knowing ripe with other cultures.

We are all designers, our paths form the lived lines that edge, scratch and caress the built environment often imposed upon us.

This Sunday we are recapping on the past 12 posts that Matri-Archi has released. If you haven’t read any yet, get your wine, and catch up this Sunday. Thanks for engaging, reading and collaborating. We look forward to more! Here’s to more.

So we’ve listed our top 5 posts in order of views in descending order so you know where to start (if critical mass is a trend to go by, but don’t the need to conform):

 

  1. Airbnb Driving Cape Town to it’s Transient and Hostile State: https://matri-archi.com/2017/05/14/airbnb-driving-cape-town-to-its-transient-and-hostile-state/

 

  1. Leskley Lokko and Architectural History: White Lies, Black Absence: https://matri-archi.com/2017/03/05/lesley-lokko-and-architectural-history-white-lies-black-absence/

 

 

  1. MatriArchi Roundtable Discussion I: The Dark Side of Design School: https://matri-archi.com/2017/04/23/matriarchi-roundtable-discussion-i-the-dark-side-of-design-school-how-do-we-stay-sane/

 

  1. Jane Jacobs and the Death and Life of Jozi and Cape Town: https://matri-archi.com/2017/03/12/jane-jacobs-and-the-death-and-life-of-jozi-and-cape-town/

 

 

  1. Validation and the “Verncaular”: https://matri-archi.com/2017/04/30/validation-and-the-vernacular/

 

 

(But don’t be afraid to visit the first ones! They’re pretty thought provoking as well.)

If you’re completely new! Here’s the intro video!

Welcome,

Lets caress space together.

Airbnb Driving Cape Town To Its Transient And Hostile State

Last year I lived in Cape Town CBD and would say I paid a reasonable amount for the shared apartment I stayed in. The top considerations on my priority list were location, convenience and safety. I won’t deeply explore how social injustice in Cape Town has remained materialized in the segregation and zoning of the city- because that requires a single blog post on it’s own. But what is necessary to single out here is that as a black womxn, I can assure you that the affordability of accommodation in central Cape Town is inaccessible to majority of people of colour in this country, and even if you are earning the same amount of money as a privileged white person, and are at a certain level of privilege as a black person; the money absorbing baskets in the background such as black tax and historical debt, leave you one paycheck away from losing your lifestyle.

Anyway, at the end of 2016, the time came for the end of our lease, and in my mind the future seemed pretty clear. I would extend the lease with an expected increase of a maximum of 10%. However, little did I know that there were in fact two options on my landlord’s table. One, being the same aforementioned instance and two, the possibility of turning the apartment into an airbnb and renting it out short term at a rental rate. At the time I didn’t investigate much, and my circumstances led me to moving to Southern Suburbs for ease of location in proximity to campus and of course affordability.

Fate took its play and I now somehow find myself living back at the same apartment block that I did last year; a floor two times higher than that I had originally occupied, fully furnished, incredible views and a rather generous long list of other amenities. Strangely enough I am paying less than I originally did for an unfurnished home 5 floors down. To add to the giving context, I am under a very short-term two-month lease. After some thought, and working in Youth In Property Association (YIPA), it all began to make sense: I currently stay in an airbnb apartment and happened to have stricken a great deal due to it being off-peak season. The apartment would otherwise be vacant and so an extra two months worth of rent is a simple bonus to the owner.

Airbnb has lead to an imbalance in market trends threatening other forms of short term accommodation. With fewer long term rental homes on the market, the supply continues to decrease, and the demand is escalating due to the ever increasing population and housing crisis. Hence, a strikingly high increase in long term rentals has become common in the Cape Town CBD. “We are finding about 50% of buyer enquiries in Sea Point specifically requesting properties that can be holiday let. Investors are seeing favorable returns with Airbnb, so the appeal is completely understandable.”  says Lyonelle Venter, an estate agent from Jawitz Properties who specializes in apartments priced up to R4 million in the area. (MyProperty 2017)

The cost of living in the city is increasing at an exceptional rate due to Airbnb. Not only does this create a city of privilege but worsens the socio-spatial condition of the city. Due to the particularity of our historical context, capital in South Africa is concentrated. Wealth is contained in white capital and so by reducing access into living in the city with increased rental rates, the Cape Town remains untransformed and lack in diversity. Sure, during the day you may be surrounded by people of colour, serving you in restaurants, working in stores, or in my case, fellow friends from up north studying in Cape Town- but the fact is that when the working day is done, people of colour use their income to return back to the far removed, infrastructure-poor areas that they have been placed in by historical injustice.

However, to extend on this, the bigger picture is more daunting. As UN special rapporteur for housing and human rights Leilani Fahra puts it “In such markets, the value of housing is no longer based on its social use. Properties are equally valuable regardless of whether they are vacant or occupied, so there is no pressure to ensure properties are lived in. They are built with the intention of lying empty and accumulating value, while at the same time, homelessness remains a persistent problem.” (Farha 2016)

With this intangible driving force of economic activity and market play, the socio-spatial condition of the city begins to degrade. Jane Jacobs speaks about the importance of keeping the street and cities diverse, on a 24 hour basis, and furthermore highlights that when cities do not have familiar faces, they become unsafe spaces, “The high-rent tenants, most of whom are so transient we cannot even keep track of their faces, have not the remotest idea of who takes care of the street and how”. (Jacobs 1961) The Airbnb boom is becoming an urbanization trend, and it would be interesting to map out the movement of people on a migration basis at the point of that occurrence. I would encourage you to read the post titled Jane Jacobs: The Death and Life of Cities, Jozi vs Cape Town that was released a few weeks back by Matri-Archi.

It is clear that completely intangible forces have enormous effects on the spatial condition of the city, be that physical or metaphysical. This brings me to question how we as designers begin to loosen our frame of thinking in this particular discipline. Granted, considerations such as time spent learning need to be discussed, but in order for planners to truly create cities that give opportunity, we need to not only learn about the numbers, patterns and trends of the economy but also be able to pre-empt and predict changes that can be shaped into the mechanics of the system of the city. At this point, the constant presence of collaboration and co-production in the design space seem to be the way forward, and I suppose it is in retrospect when we are able to see how successful our actions will be.

In my time spent in the CBD, I can count the number of neighbours I’ve had; neighbours who I could perhaps ask for sugar, or knock on a door in times of emergency. The others are strangers that I’ll never know; a buzz of different accents looming in the background of the lift on my way up to my apartment.

Cape Town, as a node, is a transient city. Of course this brings with it many benefits for the economy of the city on paper, but the negatives are of greater concern and deserve more attention by governance structures. According to The Library of Congress, “On May 1, 2016, a law prohibiting the illegal repurposing of residential housing without a permit took effect in Berlin, following the end of a two-year transitional period. The law aims to combat the growing housing shortage in Berlin.” (Gesley 2016) It’s happening elsewhere, laws are being put in place to preserve the right to the city.

Airbnb is an extremely innovative model, similar to Uber: faciliating activity with minimal assets and maintenance, and furthermore giving access to people who would like to make money. But in every model there is room for exploitation, and in the rat race world we’ve created for ourselves, the amount of people willing to turn down an opportunity to make more money is rare. The economy does not have an incentive to a morale, which I feel it should, and the governing and judicial bodies who do have a societal obligation to maintain morale do not seem to have acted as radically in this interface. If this interface is left vacant of responsibility then we will continue to face socio-economic Apartheid, and Cape Town will remain a transient city, where everyone is a stranger in a (slightly diliuted) white ocean and will slowly become vacant blocks of concrete overlooking unsafe streets. No community, only hostile faces.

 

References

  1. Farha, Leilani. People’s homes are not commodities: cities need to rethink housing. October 2016, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2016/oct/18/homes-investment-cities-housing-un-habitatiii (accessed May 12, 2017).
  2. Foster, Dawn. UN report lays bare the waste of treating homes as commodities. February 28, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2017/feb/28/un-report-lays-bare-the-waste-of-treating-homes-as-commodities (accessed May 12, 2017).
  3. Gesley, Jenny. Global Legal Monitor. May 24, 2016. http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/germany-law-restricting-airbnb-and-other-vacation-rentals-takes-effect-in-berlin/ (accessed March 10, 2017).
  4. The Airbnb impact on the South African property market. February 10, 2017. http://www.myproperty.co.za/news/14447/The-Airbnb-impact-on-the-South-African-property-market.aspx (accessed May 13, 2017).
  5. Property Wheel. AIRBNB BOOMS IN ATLANTIC SEABOARD. January 20, 2017. https://propertywheel.co.za/2017/01/airbnb-booms-in-atlantic-seaboard/ (accessed May 13, 2017).

 

In Conversation with Edgar Pieterse: The Malleability of Planning?

This week I had the humble honor of having a sit down conversation with South African Research Chair in Urban Policy and Director of research hub African Centre for Cities, Edgar Pieterse. Pieterse is also consulting editor for South African magazine Cityscapes: Re-thinking Urban Things. The idea to have a conversation with Pieterse has been on Matri-Archi’s list of “people to speak to” for a while now. At the same time, I am an Honours student in City Planning and was tasked with having to interview a “planner” so the moment was ripe with opportunity. Granted Pieterse is not a planner per say, my first instinct led me to interview him for a few reasons:

 

  1. There is an infinite amount to be learnt from such a prolific thinker who can shift between various scales along the design spectrum.
  2. Part of my curiosity as a designer lies in the interface between planning theory and practice and how we actually begin to actualize the intangible into the tangible, and how the two constantly speak to once another. I can imagine other designers have this same curiosity.

Essentially this conversation is the beginning of a pragmatic investigation into looking at how policy affects South African city planning, and Apartheid cities, which we currently unquestionably occupy. Edgar and I had a 30 minute conversation, which transcribed into quite a lot of reading. So the conversation below has been shortened in order to articulate the moist poignant points that emerged.

 

K :       Thank you for meeting up and having a conversation Edgar. I decided to sort of interview you because you are not simply a planner, but a practitioner involved and invested in the discourse of urbanism in South Africa, through policy shaping, the act of regulating: A strange paradox in the psychological hangover South Africa faces with historical oppression and present socio-spatial political existence. I have also stalked all of your work online and looked into all of the critiques, blurbs and “abouts” beyond the content of your work. So having said all of this, how do you place yourself within planning theory? I’m just going to go right ahead with the first question then: When addressing a particular project, how do you shift between the global and local scale, if so at all?

 

E:         To give you a little bit of an overview as to how I situate myself in this all: So part of it is that I don’t talk of myself as being a planner, and so a lot of the work that I do is on the policy end of planning. I do both research and policy development on a metropolitan scale and strategic planning. I’ve done quite a bit with regards to Cape Town and part of my ongoing research is to analyze that planning instrument in the case of Johannesburg. A lot of the work is then Urban Policy Frameworks at a national, continental, and global scale. That stems from a fundamental everything which stems from how political power operates, and asking how one exercises a multiplicity of pressure points at the same time as a way of affecting change at the local and global scale? – And that is a symbiotic process.

For example if you take a notion of “the right to the city”; that discourse is not reflected in the constitution of the city but it is implicit in a rights based conceptualization of access to a minimum basket of services and goods which all citizens and residents are entitled to. Of course the right to the city as a concept denotes a sort of political assumption about right bearing citizens that has a stronger sort of agency component to it in that assumes that rights are achieved through striving for them as opposed to them being in doubt. That sense of agency isn’t in our constitution in a way.

Of course policy circulates and that has a downside when really regressive ideas get taken for best practice by the government and often they can be highly problematic. This is the case because often, policies come from contexts that are so different that the simplistic translation into the applied context makes no sense. So policy is not something that is uncomplicated and uncontested. There is a fundamental link between resources and political forces to effect local change and policy frames. My work is very much about how you do that translation and ACC is structured in a similar fashion of translation.

 

K:        I find that symbiotic relationship very interesting: where you shift between these various scales. I recently read the Art of Shaping the Metropolis by Pedro Ortiz and I think it translates a lot into what you’ve just spoken about. There is a lot to be said as to how characters with various capacities of power speak to one another and what implications their actions have on scales above and below. And so speaking from the lens of a black woman in the current contested space that is South Africa, I find that there is a tendency of institutions to measure themselves in proximity to a Eurocentric/Global North model. Is there any explicit identification of how the Global South Theory is feeding the post-colonial idea of Eurocentricism in planning policy discourse? Would you say that we are still following the path of falling into the “Global South”? Johannesburg classifies itself as a “world-class” city, what does that mean? These are things that I’m very interested in investigating.

 

E:         One is never fully formed as a researcher and ones theoretical standpoints are always changing and growing. And so if you take the very Eurocentric stuff in planning theory, like the Planetary Urbanism stuff, you get an understanding of capital accumulation, which is driven by specific data sets- value, assets, and circulation of money. So there’s a link between theories, their data sets and the information they invoke.

Given the scale and the challenges of the Global South, we don’t have the luxury to do all of this endless theoretical gymnastics where Western philosophy has been the main thing for the past few 20 to 30 years. And so there’s such an urgency of historical burden of injustice that you have to think through pragmatically of how you do things. And I do think there is a very useful pragmatism in philosophy that is helpful in getting there.

But there is equally a constitutive complexity both if you think in terms of historical layers and the range of contemporary questions, that there’s just no way that you can resolve what to do next in an absolute way. You can have a sense but not an absolute solution. And so its important to draw on the humanities tradition which helps us in an existential sense to think about the registers of life and aesthetics; and that sort of tempers the nature of being able to think pragmatically. So it’s really about allowing oneself to inhabit that tension and move between various data- and that’s not a fixed field.

 

K:        I ask this question knowing assuming that you will challenge it. How would you define a “better” Cape Town City? What interventions or types of interventions do you feel should be implemented in order for a just Cape Town to exist/grow?

 

E:         In 2014, Tau Tavengwa and I, who collaborate, put together 10 thematics to tell the stories of 10 Cape Townians and their everyday lives. We used photography and film to animate and intimate that their lives are beyond the one-dimensional sense of the text. And then quantitative data was used to emphasize the thematics- journalists followed their lives for 6 weeks. This is emblematic of how I think about your question. There’s obviously a long list of things that we can do to change things, so in the case of the exhibition we took on the conceit of saying that if there’s one thing we can change it’s this.

So I can think in very specific and different ways but I know that in order to affect change you need movements: and you need coalitions and narratives and you’ve go to build a shared narrative. It’s a different kind of work. I can tell you all about policy in my sleep but in order for things to work they have to have political and cultural resonance, and that’s not a technocratic exercise. You’ve got to be in conversations, involved with other people. It has to be co-produced across the fields. In a setting where certain identities are dominant, which is the norm, how do you destabilize the setting and at the same time build alternative perspectives and create movements for change in different institution settings?

 

K:        Something that has stood out to me from what you’ve said is this idea of the interface between the pragmatism of planning and the process of setting conversations up to create shared narratives, particularly in a context where many narratives are conflicting. Policy through my lens seems to be quite defined and absolute, and so I am trying to find out whether the way in which you work speaks to the malleability of planning policy?

 

E:         Policy is an artifact. So you’ve got to understand that part of the logic of policy is to appear certain and defined and clear and permanent and absolute- but that’s part of its logic. Because policy is always profoundly unstable and vulnerable, it has to kind of put that certainty on the foreground. So the assumption has to be that this thing is malleable, and it can be changed, and destabilized and improved and so forth.

I think the challenge is that many people aren’t adept to knowing how to do that without destroying the very idea that you do need policy to allow various institutions to function in a consistent way to solve various problems. So what often happens is that people think that they have to abandon the very idea that policy goes, and that’s what radical politics means right? But actually it’s about dismantling a particular interpretation; an effective policy can provide an alternative imagination of another or developed policy. A lot of the radical movements are very clear on the destabilization but the re-imagination… there’s almost a pathological fear of codifying into policy because you may feel like you are becoming part of what you are fighting against. And that schizophrenia and radical impulse is something to always and constantly wrestle with.

So to answer your question: to take policy’s sense of certainty at face value would be to give it to much power.

 

 

References:

  1. Edgar Pieterse, Audio interview, May 5th 2017

 

More Reading/Watching:

  1. Siona O’Connell , “An Impossible Return”, 2015
  2. Pedro Ortiz, The Art of Shaping the Metropolis, 2013
  3. Cityscapes: Re-thinking Urban Things https://www.cityscapesdigital.net/

 

 

 

 

Validation and the “Vernacular”

It has been an extremely thoughtful few weeks preceding this week’s article, which I have decided to title Validation and the “Vernacular”. The post is also a film photo series captured by an incredible creative and dear friend of mine, Hlohi Ndlovu. The theme at hand speaks about the reality of validation within hegemonic beauty ideal structures and furthermore tying into the forced need for validation of African and marginalized identities through the constant narrative lens of white hegemonic record of history in Architecture.

Having recently read Kopano Matlwa’s Coconut, analyzed and reflected on what is seen to be a credible source South African History by reading critiques of The South African Architectural Record journal, along with my daily reference reading being Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist thought- plenty thoughts orbiting around validation in contrast to freedom, as well as authorship and ownership that people of colour should have, have contributed to the thought process of writing this article.

In addition, as a person who responds to a visual world, and an avid instagrammer myself, I have for a long time been following accounts that journal African narratives: many different ones- non prescriptive. And so I found it most fitting to speak to the subject at hand for today through a series of images creatively co-directed with and captured by Hloli Ndlovu in a series of film shots.

 

I’ve cut all of my hair off.

0005_4

I won’t delve into every last reason as to why I did, but I will include the necessary reasoning in relation to conveying today’s theme and the reality of what I imagine many other women of colour have gone through/that are going through or will perhaps go through.

For the longest time, even though I had never consciously admitted it to myself, my hair defined my confidence in asserting my beauty in space. From the early days of relaxed hair to breaking away to a more comfortable state of natural hair, the idea of length kept me feminine enough, kept me beautiful enough. Long red braids, longer black braids, bantu knots at night in preparation for a day of aesthetically cool black girl curls…the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, I do not dispute these practices and looks; they shaped the person I am today and were pinnacle points of embracing who I was at the time of I went through the experience.

0008_7

However, wow! I have never felt as liberated as I do today with NO HAIR! – None to touch, none to ridicule, none to fetishize over. And trust me, I have been in too many spaces where white men, white women, white people find the urge to touch my hair, not knowing that the act in itself is a form of invasion. One thinks of Solange’s lyrics, (very pop culture I must admit) from the song Don’t Touch My Hair “Don’t touch my soul… don’t touch my pride… don’t test my mouth”. A good friend and gloriously great vlogger, Tshegofatso Mako, speaks about an experience very similar and I would urge you to watch her video “Unapologetically Black on Youtube (reference in list). The point is, this narrative exists in many spaces. Black women across the globe can relate to one another spiritually but also sadly through the harsh reality of the enormous amount of systematic oppression we have received throughout history and still today.

0009_8

As a spatial thinker, I automatically think of what I read, what I learn, and how that is projected into how I think about occupying and creating space. The typical point of departure in design lies in research, precedent and history. From my previous blog articles you will be able to tell how I find knowledge production founded in universal Western epistemology problematic. I look back to many project briefs I had once received based on finding and investigating design that speaks about the “vernacular”.

0014_13

Sources of credibility, or what we have for a long time considered to be credible have been the main go-to point when finding information about the conception, and development of South African “vernacular’ architecture. My mother tongue is Tsonga, and still to this day I find a huge struggle in finding how my people innovatively housed themselves and creatively designed on both macro and micro levels. Obviously an abundant amount of dense knowledge lies in means outside of the academic discourse rooted in Westernization. And so, we look to books that have been dominantly produced through that western lens: Where our people and their spaces have been written about through the lens of westernization and colonialism, and furthermore encouraged and given highest priority in social intuitions. We can acknowledge that there has been a slow change, and I can see this through my current course reading lists including African writers- but that is also due to the agency of the lecturer as an individual. It is sadly not an embossed principle that I personally feel should be included in African institutions of knowledge.

0016_15

Elisa Dainese, an architect and historian currently teaching as an Assistant Professor for Architecture at Dalhousie University writes in her Histories of Exchange: Indigenous South Africa in the South African Architectural Record and the Architectural Review 2015, “Despite an open-minded attitude that ignited interest in South African traditions among British and South African architects, the articles published in the Architectural Review and the South African Architectural Record show an asymmetry in the discourse on indigenous architecture. The articles reveal a deep imbalance within the magazines’ cultural milieu that was bolstered in the architectural exchange between European and African cultures. Both British and South African architects and historians promoted a Eurocentric perception of indigenous South Africa. In nurturing an interest in tribal architecture, the Architectural Review and the South African Architectural Record participated in the unequal power dynamics of colonialism and apartheid. As a result, the native voice was almost completely silenced in the magazines.”

0019_18

 And so the history of African ideals, both in bodies and space, have been tainted by the mythisazation and fetishism by virtue of being recorded through the Western lens. I personally don’t expect white people to stop writing about various topics, but marginalized groups and their ways of identification and culture cannot be recorded through a voice that does not occupy that space. These bodies and spaces are not subjects. Specimen culture, I sometimes call it.

0020_19

Here lies the importance of self-definition, which Patricia Hill Collins writes about in Black Feminist Thought, Self definition speaks to the power dynamics involved in rejecting externally defined, controlling images of Black womanhood. “ What would a world where knowledge focused on particular contexts were produced (in various media, as many communities and sites of study remain formally uneducated) by those at the centre of experiencing those contexts. A world that prioritizes those with a direct experience and way of knowing according to that particular site; with an ease of access to undiscovered histories laying dormant in storytelling and cultural practices which are mostly seen as folktales and “ethnic” “Other” forms of knowledge. What would a world look like where the “Other” is eliminated, and locality begins to dominate, allowing multiple sites to produce rich information for the world to share? I suppose considerations such as resources and sites of institution need to be considered. They should be. But the current hegemonic setup of the Global North/The West acting in a binary relationship with the “Other”- ie the rest of the world, the marginalized identity groups- maintains this production of oppression. Even in the contemporary world we occupy today.

0033_32

As a generally privileged individual, I see experience this through black beauty ideals projected on Instagram and consumer marketing. Marketing where beautiful black models are remain copies of white women in their physique, with exceptionally dark and coconut oil dripping skin, or alternatively light skinned mixed black women with bouncy beautiful bronze curly afros. These women should continue to flourish! Of course they should, but by only projecting these images in pop culture, those who do not conform to this aesthetic, fall outside of the ideal. It may not be a conscious reaction, but after having gone through cutting my hair, I’ve come to invite subconscious reactions to converse on this platform. Collins extends on this further in a sub chapter of Black Feminist Thought titled “Mammies, Matriarchs and Other Controlling Images”. I do encourage you to give it a read. We can acknowledge that naturally, critical mass occurs in response to trends on a Planetary Urbanism scale which can be seen in fashion trends, Instagram lifestyle minimalist bloggers and “black girl magic” movement. It’s all a lot, and should never be deemed to prescription, but we do need to admit that these spaces maintain forms of control.

0034_33

Where there is control, freedom is tested or simply non-existent; and women of colour tend to be at the core of that dilemma.

It’s all a mess I know. But we do need to begin to dismantle these troubles. At the moment, I would say that a step forward lies in making sources of knowledge inclusive, and truly addressing authorship in order to remove the production of assumed knowledge and more importantly the oppression of bodies, cultures, sites and spaces having to find validation in universal theory.

0036_35

Bibliography

  1. Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge, 2000.
  2. Dainese, E. Histories of Exchange: Indigenous South Africa in the South African Architectural Record and the Architectural Review. 2015
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAAUyWnqSMg Unapologetically Black, Mako, T
  4. Photos – Hlohi Ndlovu

MatriArchi Roundtable Discussion I: The Dark Side of Design School; How Do We Stay Sane?

This week Matri-Archi has decided to do its first roundtable discussion. For a while an intended topic for this blog was to speak about the unhealthy culture that students experience in schools of design as well as what professionals in the industry go through mentally. With horrific statistics of architecture falling into most top 10 lists of suicidal jobs as well as the physical and mental effects I have seen in my direct environment; I decided to investigate through anecdotal research whether this culture exists in other similar spaces outside of my direct context.

Another factor that triggered this topic is linked to my physical and mental response from working incredibly hard on a project this week and strenuously investing all of my efforts into design at the expense of basic human needs. I got 4 hours of sleep over 2 days and my eating habits relied on the vending machine and take-out food. All of this in order to produce work that I did not expect to fall flat in. Having all-nightered this past week for probably the 30th time (I kid you not) in my university experience, you would think I would be used to it. But every time I crash, the depression and anxiety of having slept 13-16 hours as a “recovery” and waking up disorientated feels fresh as the first time. It’s not okay.

For some time I thought it was just the way I personally worked. But upon speaking to other people in the design space, it seems as if others go through the same, if not worse. Some are fortunate enough not to experience it this at all. I then dived into some research and even came across a student at Nottingham University in the UK who documented her final 42 days of study in Architecture School through selfies. Through the progression of the series you see her gradually become physically unhealthy, eventually ending up in hospital (read: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3594606/University-student-s-daily-selfies-goes-fresh-faced-haggard-hospital-final-year-exams.html)

And so for todays article, I found it appropriate to articulate this real life global issue in an intimate and visual fashion. Yesterday, a group of us met up over breakfast for the very first Matri-Archi RoundTable Discussion where we spoke about mental health in the design world. Seated around the table were students of design, in a safe space: current Landscape Masters Student Lesego Bantseng , 3rd year Architecture Student Sivan Zeffert, Urban Design Masters Student Saudah Asmal, 2nd year Architecture Student Nompilo Sibisi and City Planning Honours Student Khensani de Klerk. Nompilo Sibisi is an incredible illustrator who created the visual narrative of the conversation and experience of the discussion. (Do check her instagram @iamnompi.)

roundtable women

Introduction aside, I now present to you:

Matri Archi Rountable Discussion I: The Dark Side of Design School, How Do We Stay Sane?

K= Why did you decide to study in a school of design? How has your perception changed from then to now?

L= If I take it back my reason is very basic, I was looking for a middle ground between my two identities – design seemed like the best thing for the logic creative and I was pretty sure I wanted to study in Pretoria and so I began Landscape Architecture at Tuks. Originally from Mafikeng, many people asked how I found out about this small tiny career and so I supposed when you look at what the department has to offer you end up searching and finding what you like. When I arrived at Landscape, nothing was what I expected it to be- like the whole thing of how low your income will be, and that it is so strenuous; that we spend so much time straining over something that doesn’t get acknowledged for all the effort we put into it.

But it’s this toxic relationship we all have with design where we are constantly searching for approval- from the externals, from the lecturers. But you kind of work hard because of passion- which is what we like to say when we make it romantic- but we are really only working for approval.

roundtable women detailed

And that’s why we spend these nights working, and we get depressed because of the anxiety of what the lecturers think. It lies so heavily on their opinion, even though it may be an act of “love” in the end.

K= I completely resonate with what you’ve just said. I mean personally, I applied to UCT without having researched it thoroughly. There’s this misconception that if you study art you wont make money and if you study architecture you will make lots, and so that did put my family at ease considering the idea of having a job at the end.

Si= That’s funny because architects are busy designing artists houses

LAUGHS! 

L= Architects kind of forgot that we also deserve money for our livelihood because of how caught up we became in the trance of space and design whilst the civil engineers and surveyors hopped onto the money train.

K= I mean, space and design are very important but this is all ture. Did any of you guys study anything else before you studied architecture?

N= So architecture was kind of everything I expected it to be, I mean it was ridiculously overwhelming, I expected these late nights, and this culture of “you have no life”. And so I got sucked into that in my first year, and completely isolated myself from the rest of the university. I stopped being friends with all my other friends, I just had architecture friends-

hole spilt tea

S= Yeah most people do that.

N= -And so eventually FeesMustFall came and RhodesMustFall. I’d just been so cooped up in my own bubble, and when I went to all of these meetings I just felt so disconnected from it, being in architecture. I realized I wanted to know more about people and spaces and how real spaces work for real people, which was not what I was getting at Archi School. And so at the end of the year I was just really overwhelmed and depressed and so I left architecture and started a BA in Politics and Economics with English Literature and Gender Studies and in doing so integrated myself into the rest of the university, and what the university life should be like; I could have other friends, I could join societies. But I knew that I’d come back because having a design degree would allow me to do design stuff, which is ultimately what I wanted to do. And so at the end of the first year of my BA I felt I had learnt and matured and got the things that I felt I was missing, and really just felt like I was ENOUGH to go back to architecture. And I don’t regret that decision. I’m definitely a happier person now, and if I had stayed back then I wouldn’t have survived it.

I mean some people aren’t going through any of this kind of thing, so it really depends on who you are.

K= yeah, and I suppose the idea of quantifying creativity to marks with the aspect of lecturers opinions is also a concern?

affirmation

Si= yeah like everyone has their own process, but some processes are valued more than others.

Sa= I feel that once you get to postgrad it becomes more rational in that you set your own brief and satisfy it.

K= I suppose it differs across the design spectrum right? For instance you started with an Architecture undergrad and then studied Landscape at an Honours level and now you are doing a Masters in Urban Design. Did you know that you would go along that path or did other things inform your change in trajectory?

Sa= Well I decided that I didn’t want to study architecture once I had worked in a firm. I think once I had gained more confidence and thought through that notion of constantly seeking approval I decided to branch out and do Landscape because of seeing the other creative things people were doing, and how it was less harsh than Architecture.

approval

K= From your work experience, would you say that this late night macho unhealthy culture is the same in the work place?

Sa= No, definitely not at the places I worked at. I never went big, I chose smaller firms specifically. And my life was balanced! But mostly, once I got married that brought a whole lot of balance into my life.

balance

L= how did marriage bring more balance?

Sa= I think it brought balance into my life because I realized it cant be all about you which is the culture in Archi School. In marriage you have to have time for the other person and so you do that. And it’s not more difficult to juggle now because I care much less about my work (laugh); like I haven’t fallen into that trap I that I fell into in undergrad where you spend so much time on one thing. And I found that spending less time on that one thing doesn’t have as much of an effect as spending less time with reality. I realized how important it is to maintain a social aspect.

L= I also realized that when I was working, because you’re forced to work 9-5. And then during your weekends you have time to enjoy your life, which motivates you to work efficiently and hard from Monday again. So getting that work culture would be a good step in Archi Schools. If they encouraged us to work like that it would help, for example in Landscape, our lead lecturers have structured our deadlines to fall on Fridays and not Mondays, which ensures people don’t NEED to work over their weekends.

K= That’s amazing! I mean I wish that ran through all classes because some lecturers are demanding! In first year I had to submit on a Sunday and wow- Kereke* – dolololo!* you couldn’t go to church if you wanted a mark! And I find that when you complain about such things, lecturers revert to the excuse that they went through similar experiences in their schooling days and so this culture becomes idolized and idealized.

Si= and in retrospect this culture is heroed, and so as a lecturer looking back, that’s what you did because that’s what you remember but you forget how depressing and unhealthy the experience is. Or perhaps they think everyone must suffer because they suffered? Quite spiteful.

K= to extend; I think because the experience is so collective amongst students, we are also victims of embracing this culture through our all-nighters together in the studio. Do we find time to complain amongst it all?

slaves to culture

N= well our class did express our concerns and we do get extensions but the problem of this culture isn’t really ever addressed. I mean we have two consecutive 8-6 days and then you have to consider all of the work you have for all of the courses you have. A lot of time is under allocated.

I mean a few of us were talking about it, and do you have to go through all of this to be a good designer?

Sa= I suppose they are trying to see if you are willing to stick it out.

K & N= But WHY?

Sa= Hmm… It’s similar when I speak to my friends studying medicine, who go through late nights, sleep deprivation and appetite loss and it becomes so unhealthy because you don’t notice other people going through it because it becomes you in your own bubble.

L= I think it may be preparation for the extremes of the industry.

K= But is the industry THAT extreme?

Sa= yes… or well, depending on what firm you work for. Some interns leave their offices at 11PM in these big commercial firms.

K= But perhaps universities shouldn’t force you to go through such extreme conditions and instead should tell you what the industry is like, because to go experience this culture without consent is quite violent. You can see it in our school, where more and more people are splitting their courses over two years so that they can cope or manage their day jobs to pay for tuition. Why hasn’t the university formalized a longer programme yet?

Sa= Because of the turnover time I would say, making sure that the number of people studying brings in enough money to maintain the institution.

Si= I mean I’ve been working part-time throughout and part of it is to support myself. I’ve also come to realize that its that forced removal from the Archi environment that is a relieve. I find it my way of not having to interact with talking about the stresses of the design and studio.

K= I here you. The stress is a lot. To add, I’ve found that you are expected to be a Renaissance Man as an architecture student, where lecturers ask you how feasible a project is without having even taught you or introduced you to how feasibility structuring works; or the questioning the incremental process of your project but you don’t know where to begin tackling time structuring in projects. You end up relying on precedent, which is not enough. And it’s all hypothetical in the end.

L= I suppose varsity only teaches us to think, not to know.

N= How do you think you deal with it all? How do you self-care after being critted and crushed? How do you move on from every crit? How do you keep going?

K= It depends you know, if you get a good crit you feel on top of the world, as if your momentum relies completely on good critique.

bad crit good crit

Si= Affirmation for nothing.

K= but then when you have a bad crit it really throws you off. I end up giving work the middle finger and doing what I want through binge splurges of non-work related activity.

Si= I end up lying in bed for three days. I feel like I just have no control.

L= mine is movies, anything that’s not about me; I’ll watch movies.

self care?

N= and it just goes to show how much our mental stability is reliant on the product we produce and the feedback we get. And when that goes wrong and it is not what you expected it to be coupled with all of the time you spent on it, it’s difficult to recuperate.

L= I think it comes down to the department knowing that the system is flawed, and all systems are flawed; but acknowledging that they will do something about it.

Sa= I mean if you look at your timetable alone, it’s clear that you don’t have time to fit it all in with decent sleep!

L= I think it’s expected at all Archi Schools. In Pretoria we all-nightered so much! It gets to a point where you begin researching what the minimum amount of sleep you need is. (laughs)

archiculture

K= we need more psychological health care at hand. At some point there was only 1 psychologist for the whole faculty at UCT! And when that psychologist was unavailable you just had to deal.

Mental care needs to be prioritized in Archi Schools, this culture needs to be dismantled and disposed. Designers are not gods designing for people. They are people designing for and with other people.

If not, is it even worth it?

is it worth it

 

 

Footnotes:

  1. “Kereke”- Sotho word translating to Church in English.
  2. “Dolololo” – Slang vernacular term referring to “nothing” with emphasis.

 

References:

  1. All drawings: Nompilo Sibisi
  2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3594606/University-student-s-daily-selfies-goes-fresh-faced-haggard-hospital-final-year-exams.html