“With its infrastructures, services, and local systems of power, the urban level works as a relay station between the far order and everyday life. Urban space under capitalism thus has a double character. On the one hand, it functions as a productive force, which helps trigger waves of industrialization; on the other, it represents a social relation, where human everyday life is organized and reproduced.”
(Ronneberger et al., n.d.)
Assignment 2 aimed to allow the students time to reflect on the neighbourhood immersion exercise conducted in the first week in Jeppestown, Johannesburg. Indeed, a number of students “re-visited” Jeppestown in Assignment 3 even though this was not prescribed in the brief.
The student work – to see more information on the work, click the image:
The students became aware that there are multiple layers of meaning in any context and a level of sensitivity required to navigate inherent complexities towards better understanding embedded dynamics and networks. The students were therefore offered many resources to better understand context, networks and communities – with a particular focus on systems and infrastructure and how people related to them.
With a move towards more independent on-site solutions due to greater appreciation of the environmental costs of conventional practice, the divide between people and technology is sometimes bridged. However, the brief asked the students to “step back” and consider if that is the solution and if neighbourhood-level technologies might not be the better option. Thus putting more emphasis on the interface between community/infrastructure rather than individual/infrastructure.
The students were also asked to reflect on urban decay and neglect – aiming to better understand the real reasons behind this and the power dynamics that are at play within a city neighbourhood – and between authority and neighbourhood, between “money” (developers) and “community” (inhabitants). The topic of real and perceived safety also emerged in this assignment, as it did in the neighbourhood immersion assignment preceding it.
It is hoped that in future assignments that the students further absorb ideas of how systems and infrastructure need to be understood in a socio-cultural as well as a technical sense. The interface between people and infrastructure being a critical one if technical systems are to be accepted, sustained and successful. Understanding the city as an integrated eco-system was key to this assignment.
The final projects led to questions around appropriate responses to environmental sustainability and closed-loop systems, ranged from the fantastical to the highly pragmatic and addressed issues of waste, energy, water, transport, local food production, etc. and the potential links between them. The exercise was studio-based with desk-top research. The students challenged conventional approaches to infrastructure by reflecting on current practice and proposing alternative future practice.