Ross Brooks

Urban-Think Tank's Empower Shack Could Reshape the Face of Slums Across South Africa

by , 03/07/14
filed under: Architecture, News

Urban-Think Tank, Empower Shack, Khayelitsha township, Alfredo Brillembourg, ETH Zürich, Phumezo Tsibanto, informal settlement infrastructure, affordable housing in South Africa

Design collective Urban-Think Tank recently released plans for housing that could help improve the infrastructure and general living conditions for residents of South Africa’s informal settlements. Empower Shack is a two storey structure designed to be affordable and easy to replicate in other areas. With more than 15 percent of the country’s population housed in 2,700 slum towns, it’s an important step that could help address extreme economic inequality.

Urban-Think Tank, Empower Shack, Khayelitsha township, Alfredo Brillembourg, ETH Zürich, Phumezo Tsibanto, informal settlement infrastructure, affordable housing in South Africa

Phumezo Tsibanto’s Original Home

Empower Shack is the result of a design-and-build workshop that took place in Khayelitsha, one of the largest slums in South Africa. Working alongside ETH Zürich, the team transformed Phumezo Tsibanto’s home from a single-storey abode into a two-storey structure complete with its own electricity supply and a watertight exterior. While it might not seem like much, simple configurations mean that the house can be adapted to as many different families as possible.

Related: Tiny Adob Shelters Provide Humane Housing for Slum Dwellers in Just One Day

What makes the Empower Shack different from similar housing solutions is the architects have placed as much focus on the infrastructure of the community as they have on the house itself. Less complications mean it’s easier to provide power, clean water, sanitation, and access for emergency vehicles – on top of a safe place to live. Urban-Think Tank co-founder Alfredo Brillembourg explained to Dezeen in an interview that:

“While we are absolutely trying to innovate upon the design and technology of low-cost housing, we’re more concerned with the general ‘system’ that surrounds housing in the context of informal South African settlements.” He went on to add, “The Empower Shack project seeks to address these larger challenges, and in doing so, hopefully changes not just the built landscape of places like Khayelitsha, but also the social, political and economic structures that shape residents’ lives.”

So while the housing may not seem groundbreaking in its approach to sustainability, that’s because its focus is on affordable housing that can act as a building block for a more organized infrastructure. From that foundation, it’s possible for the community to thrive and reach a tipping point where they take control of their own destiny.

+ Urban-Think Tank

Via Dezeen

Images by Empower Shack

Related: Stephen Lamb Creates a Prefab Nursery and Vertical Veggie Patch for Children in Cape Town

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