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Prof Kendall joined us in the UNIT2 studio for an intensive two weeks when we not only learnt more about designing open buildings, but also had intensive input from both Kendall and Thomas Chapman around issues of urban design and how applications may be made in various contexts – using Denver, Johannesburg as the case study.

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At the end of Quarter 2, the students had deepened their understanding of concepts and applications of Open Building through tools used in achieving Open Building (working with Tissue Models and designing Supports). They also became more competent in neighbourhood analysis (with an Open Building perspective), documentation, representation and urban design.

“As a pedagogic approach, the idea of SUPPORTS is exceptionally useful. It contributes theory and method, and provides a conceptual basis for students to explore in connected ways a wide range of issues germane to housing and building; from building technology to the organization of decision-making; from questions to formal design starting points to computer aided design. It also allows students to address the tired dictate that form somehow follows immediately from function, by asking for attention to the idea of change of function over time.” (Kendall, TEACHING WITH SUPPORTS, OPEN HOUSE VOL. 7. No. 4. 1982)

“The TISSUE MODEL and its PLAN notates Themes at the urban design level and offers possibilities (and rules) for variation among the buildings and spaces that make the plan real – over time. The BASE BUILDING gives the architectural (building) Theme and offers opportunities for variations at the fit-out level – over time.” (UJ_UNIT2 ASSIGNMENT 5, 2015)(

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Denver is a light industrial zone on the southern extent of Johannesburg’s CBD. It sits adjacent to the historic east/west gold mining axis (known as the ‘main reef’). Denver Hostels and other surrounding settlements emerged to accommodate migrant workers arriving in the city. Denver (township/informal settlement) contains minimal established residential areas within its confines. The fabric of Denver comprises of mainly older industrial stock, many of these large factories and warehouses are disused. The area developed rapidly from 1920-1940 and much of the disuse is due to the fact that most buildings are now either unsuitable or less competitive for contemporary industrial uses. Denver has a growing demand for housing, the effects of this imbalance of people and housing provision/access can be seen in various conditions of the adaptation of spatial scenarios in the area; ever-growing informal settlement/s and appropriation/inhabitation (illegally) of nearby vacant shops and warehouses (Acknowledgement AT Terrain).

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The students were tasked to study Denver and its immediate (and relevant) surrounds through an intense desk-top study and re-represent the complex socio-spatial nature of this neighborhood through a series of drawings/maps/diagrams/graphics in an easily accessible format to future collaborators on this project (community, local/national government, private sector spatial designer, students e.t.c); identifying the elements (physical, spatial or systemic) that are deemed of value to be retained in any future proposals.



  1. Theory of Open Building and its implication and examples of Open Building projects from around the world
  2. How to design an open building – Capacity analysis – how to adjust an existing building to make it more “open” (designing a base building from an existing building)
  3. How to build a base building – exemplary technical solutions and how to think about the placement of the base buildings’ utility shafts
  4. How to devise, deliver and install fit-out – exemplary technical solutions and how to design a façade for an open building
  5. The potential for the insertion of new buildings, landscape or appropriation and re-use of existing buildings and the relationship to the surrounding structures

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There was a point of contention detected in the interaction between the UJ_UNIT2 approach when compared to the approach of the STUDIO AT DENVER team. In dialogue with the STUDIO AT DENVER coordinators regarding this approach it is evident that the studio has a particular approach
to this aspect: “In our approach this top-down would need to include spatial development frameworks, development plans, NUSP reports etc. If we are able to quantify and summarise the province’s/city’s stance on the site this will inform the formulation of design proposals to be both radical and realistic as an interpretation/response to local government intentions.”

There is also a concern from the STUDIO AT DENVER coordinators with regards to looking: “…too heavily to the physical aspects of context. The [later] immersive process will call for cultural and social sensitivities. We suggest including time frames for (limited) transformation immediate, medium term and long term strategies/goals.”
The brief for Assignment 5 is deliberate, and carefully structured so as to enable the achievement of a balance between the physical and the socio-cultural conditions – however it also acknowledges that built form – carefully considered – may facilitate and support socio-cultural process. UJ_UNIT2 had hoped to engage in a meaningful debate with STUDIO AT DENVER and community representatives from the area, but this was not achieved for various reasons.

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On Pedagogy:

…focus on the idea of MAKING AND USING CONSTRAINTS (that is, the design challenge and opportunities in “setting the stage” that others will play on and conversely the design challenges and
opportunities in playing on the stage designed by someone else). This is about distributed control and levels.”

All academic studies are partial – they take from the fullness of reality in manageable “bites,” and thereby, step-by-step, prepare students for the full complexity of practice.

On studio process:

What I am asking you to do is unsettling, perhaps, because I am not presently interested in SOLUTIONS. I am interested in teaching you METHODS – ways of working (designing). We are interested in architectural design that accepts the facts of change (the built environment, to be healthy, is always transforming in big and small ways); that control over a healthy environment’s making and transformation is distributed (NOT unified or integrated, and some are shared decisions, and some individual) and that the individual (family or social unit) MUST HAVE A ROLE (must have aspirations and be able to take action on those aspirations) in the making and transformation of environment for it to be healthy.”

On Type: “Riding around in the city, a thought occurred to me, after seeing many vacant buildings, that an inventory of vacant buildings and a study of their typologies would be quite useful and a good M Arch study. But beyond the vacant buildings with “good bones,” there is the realization that TYPES are a primary nutrient in the cultivation of the built field. Ignorance of the types that grow well in Johannesburg’s soil mean that we (architects) will always be at a disadvantage if we try to make new interventions grow healthy roots in this particular soil. When we don’t know these types, and try to make new ones, its like a gardener being ignorant of the soil and the plant types that thrive in that soil, and who, trying to be creative and inventive, attempts to make new flowers never seen before. The chances that they will fail to take root are large!

On Habraken and systems:

[Habraken’s] identification of “three orders” is, to my understanding, a way of describing built environment in which all three are always evident. “Systems” belong, interestingly, to the third order. He says that systems live in social bodies… people agree to call something a “system.” Another arrangement of things will not be understood as a system, although from a rational mechanistic perspective it could be declared as such. That is why systems are born and die to the extent that they correspond with people’s understanding – often unspoken. These three orders are all there, all the time. Evidence of them is only possible by watching built environment change, and by watching change, we learn about people’s control of form, space and culture (style, systems, agreements, etc).
On terminologies:

Use “System” sparingly. Its easy to get trapped into seeing everything as a system and overusing the term when its effectiveness is that it describes limited phenomena. There are also patterns and types, and to avoid confusion we need to know the differences.

…the word “integrated”… is used too much, and is ambiguous when related to the built environment. I have come to think that its use is a thin disguise for control. The world is too big to be integrated! So is the built environment! Too many people are taking control of parts of it! Integrated smacks of unified control which is not a useful way of describing the way the built field comes into being or changes! As many have said, the built environment will continue to exist with or without architects’ contributions!