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Architects: U-TT

Location: Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa

Leads: Alfredo Brillembourg & Hubert Klumpner

Coordinator: Scott Lloyd

Design Research Team: Clara Bitter, Fernande Bodo, Axel Chevrolet, Maria Deluren, Khensani de Klerk, Michele de Viliers, Emma Flores, Andrea Johnson, Marcin Kurdziel, Scott Lloyd, Svenya Schärfer, Irfan Safdag, Giulia Tigliè, Gregiore Farquet, Danny Wills

Collaborators: De Villiers & Hulme, Engineers / Design Space Africa / Information Architecture, ETHZ / Management Information Services, ETHZ / Transolar / PJCarew Consulting / OKRA Landscape Architects / Isidima / Arturo Brillembourg / Riverside Consulting

Empower Shack: Right of Access to Adequate Housing

While South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution enshrined a ‘right of access to adequate housing’, the country continues to experience a housing crisis. Approximately 7.5 million people (including almost one-quarter of the residents of Cape Town) are locked out of the formal property market due to escalating prices, limited access to financing, and inflexible land regulations that create a barrier to low income, private sector development. As a result, an estimated 2,700 informal settlements across South Africa create poverty traps that threaten social mobility due to lack of basic infrastructure and services, inadequate housing quality and personal dangers and environmental risks stemming from ad hoc development patterns.

Current government issue social housing schemes fail to meet increasing demand and do not cater to the diversity of end-user requirements. Additionally, small-scale civil-society-driven informal settlement upgrade schemes fail to address both the scale of the problem and integration into formal planning frameworks. Although alternative schemes have emerged since the official shift in housing provision in 2004, the challenge still lies in developing a scalable, transparent and replicable model that addresses both real demandmarket dynamics and municipal planning objectives.

This project aims to reshape the approach to informal settlement upgrading by offering an innovative and inclusive methodology for the fair distribution of public space, delivery of basic services, and an urbanization scheme that combines housing upgrades with a safer urban environment and new economic and social possibilities. The approach moves beyond turn-key housing solutions by focusing on the construction of living environments that integrate livelihood programs, encompassing microfinancing, renewable energy, water management, and skills training. Structured community workshops, enumerations, affordability assessments and microfinance contracts provide the framework for upgrading existing single-storey to double-storey units.

The resulting densification offers efficient land use to infrastructure ratio, provides cross finance possibilities through additional rental and sales stock and, most importantly, fulfils the need to guarantee all residents the right to remain on site. Additionally, the readjusted building stock, new plot sizes and allocation of public space are designed to integrate with municipal planning frameworks. This integrated approach to planning follows principles of land readjustment by which a structured methodology for negotiation allows the interests of all stakeholders to be addressed.

Customised digital planning tools have been developed to synthesise user inputs and preferences with microfinance obligations and municipal planning frameworks. The building units are priced to meet meaningful financial contributions from recipients by designing generous but robust living spaces and service cores that meet building code obligations through fit-for-purpose bridge contracts.

The long-term goals are to influence a new direction in housing policy and offer much needed diversity and access to housing for the gap market.

Architects: U-TT

Location: Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa

urbanNext (March 5, 2024) Empower Shack: Right of Access to Adequate Housing. Retrieved from
Empower Shack: Right of Access to Adequate Housing.” urbanNext – March 5, 2024,
urbanNext November 26, 2018 Empower Shack: Right of Access to Adequate Housing., viewed March 5, 2024,<>
urbanNext – Empower Shack: Right of Access to Adequate Housing. [Internet]. [Accessed March 5, 2024]. Available from:
Empower Shack: Right of Access to Adequate Housing.” urbanNext – Accessed March 5, 2024.
Empower Shack: Right of Access to Adequate Housing.” urbanNext [Online]. Available: [Accessed: March 5, 2024]

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