Unit 2 (Osman, Bennett, Toffa)



“…production is shaped by social structure and society organizes itself around production…” (Habraken, 1985).

“…buildings have secret lives; all too often, the existence of their stories have been either overlooked or willfully ignored… one is struck by the multiplicity of different functions that a building can contain over time, and how these functions are completely independent of form.” (Edward Hollis, 2010)

Unit 2 is based on the understanding that the Built Environment comes into existence and transforms as a social/physical ecosystem in which environment is never finished, but rather transforms part by part. At the core of this Unit are concepts which include levels of decision-making (such as urban design and architecture); distributed control of environmental decision-making among many different agents (including users who can make decisions); and the idea
that the interface between technical systems allows the replacement of one system with another performing the same function.

These and related core concepts will be studied and documented at many levels, from building/neighbourhood project-level to city/policy higher-level decision-making. The unit will develop, evaluate and apply Socio-Technical Approaches, Methodologies & Tools/Toolkits as well as study existing and new building types known by their capacity to accommodate a variety of changing uses, including commercial, office, educational, residential, recreational and healthcare functions. Unit 2 is based on the premise that “open” buildings are not tightly
integrated with programmes* of use and may transform over time. Open buildings are able to offer architectural infrastructure of sustained architectural quality, as well as spatial and technical capacity*. In this sense, UNIT 2 links open building and sustainability, believing that to be long-lasting and resource conserving, a built environment must have the capacity to adapt and change to meet new social / technical conditions.

This unit therefore links strongly with current international trends in thinking about the built environment. International case studies will be presented at the start of 2015 and the students will be exposed to best-practice Open Building projects such as the INO hosptial in Switzerland, the NEXT 21 building in Japan and the SOLIDS in the Netherlands, TILA in Finland and others. Indeed, one of the aims of this Unit is to demonstrate that Open Building is highly relevant to South Africa – and that South Africa may become the pioneer for Open Building in developing countries. We will therefore be speaking to key people and agencies nationally and internationally throughout 2015 about Open Building. To help promote the intentions of Unit 2, one student will be offered an opportunity to travel to Zurich, Switzerland, to the ETH Wohnforum – ETH CASE which will be hosting the 2015 Open Building Conference in September.1

The intentions of Unit 2 also resonate strongly with present-day South African concerns. It critically examines national policy around the Neighborhood Development Grant, People’s Housing Process (PHP), Housing Support Centres under Part 3 of the Housing Code on the Upgrading of Informal Settlements. The National Development Plan, Vision 2030 and the newly launched (and perhaps wrongly termed) Master Spatial Plan will also be considered as well as
city level visions such as the Corridoors of Freedom. There will be inter-departmental collaborations within FADA exploring the documentation/communication of complex policy/legislative structures through graphical representation of information, local systems of food production as well as methods of practice in developmental contexts.

Unit 2 will investigate various case studies and assessment tools and will promote the idea of “supports” as government-subsidised (and perhaps as private) infrastructure. In this way, Unit 2 will explore the boundaries between architecture & planning, building & city* and architecture & infrastructure towards a new way of designing and building in the interest of of spatial equity, access to opportunity, and efficiency in design, finance, management, maintenance and implementation.

Unit 2 offers an exceptional opportunity to engage with an international network of thinkers/practitioners in the field of Open Building, Urbanism and Human Settlements. This engagement spans across South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, Lebanon and the USA, offering exposure to different contexts/sites and concepts nationally and internationally.2

*These sections of the text borrow freely from authors such as Habraken, Kendall, Geiser. A list of references will be provided in the full briefing document.

1 There will be a condition that the student submits a research paper that must be accepted – this will also be subjected

1 There will be a condition that the student submits a research paper that must be accepted – this will also be subjected to an internal review process.

2 Further details will be provided about these programmes and how they will be implemented. to an internal review process.

1 Further details will be provided about these programmes and how they will be implemented.