LogoEast Chiappini Street


I was initially employed by a firm of local architects as a freelance consultant to prepare a concept design for this project. The project is located in the metropolitan south east of Cape Town. On the site, a large number of informal structures have been built on the banks surrounding an area which becomes flooded to form a large dam every year in the Cape Town wet winters. Then, in the dry sumer months, the water dries out leaving a green park like 'kick-about-space' that is surrounded by these informal housing structures. The City wanted to formalize an already existing situation and create a social housing project here.

In addition, available pockets of land within close proximity were identified, as infill sites, to increase the possible number of housing units provided and create the opportunity for a phased approach to its implementation.

Unfortunately, the initial concept I prepared for the firm of local architects was not taken any further. As a result I had no further involvement in the project. However, the project really captured my interest. So, I decided, with the permission of the original frirm of local architects to whom I was contracted, to continue with it as a design excercise. The results of this are shown here.

I decided to stay within the original brief and provide all two bedroom living units, each 40m2 (or 43m2 if duplex). However, within these restrictions I also strove to create a design solution that allowed for future flexibility.

Click on first tab below, for an introduction to the design intent. Then, the next tab, currently showing, gives a 'contact sheet' of thumbnail panels showing the design as it developed.

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  • 1. Introduction to the Design Intent
  • 2. Project Contact Sheet

Introduction to the Design Intent
The main bulk of the proposal is organized around a low lying area that becomes flooded in the wet winter months. As described before, the majority of these units formalize an already existing informal situation.

However, a new innovation is the inclusion of two, parallel, bridge structures. Each accommodating 16 living units. These bridges are located centrally across the flooded area, on axis with the street, approximately centre, perpendicular and to the west of the flooded area. There is a school on the east side of the flood area. So the bridge serves to function as a pedestrian link from the precinct to the west of the site, and across to the school. Effectively becoming a pedestrian extension of the west, perpendicular, street.

Further, the two bridge structures define a central summer green court, that becomes flooded in winter. This green court is overlooked by passing walkways and internal seating areas. As a result, it can function as a safe, overlooked area, for children to play in during the dry summer months.

The lower level units of this bridge structure are all accessible universal ramps, located to the west, that provide universal access to the lower level walkway. So, essentially it also functions as a public balcony, overlooking the central summer green court.

Either side of this central green court are two large open areas within the low lying flood area. These areas can be utilized as sports and 'kick about' spaces during the dry summer months. Therefore, they are surrounded by a large amount of informal seating spaces.

For precedent I referred to a number of projects in the book "Urban Dwelling Environments", by Horacio Caminos; John F. C. Turner; and John A. Steffian. Particularly, East Boston; Charlestown; and Columbia Point. All these in the urban area of Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Some positive elements from this precedent that I endeavoured to include in my project included the following. The back-to-back kitchen / bathroom plumbing and shared stairways. I particularly liked the positive spaces provided by the corner treatment of the examples. This can clearly be seen reflected in the presented proposal. Besides providing opportunity to function as spaces for social interaction these corner spaces provide, the mutually reinforcing, opportunity for small scale local economic development. This occurring by way of small convienience shops operating out of the corner ground floor units. Or, strategically located market structures.

In addition, just before the start of the bridge structure, to the west, there is the opportunity for an informal market to develop. Possibly on a periodic basis, such as on Saturday mornings. The symbiotic relationship between markets and bridges has a long history. For example, Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

Also, in the studied precedent, a clever innovation was the use of clothes cupboards as a sound buffer between two adjacent units in the Columbia Point example. Then, I found that a related benefit of this was that the wet service spaces, bathroom and kitchen, were clustered around the stair core. As a result, the adjacent units bedrooms are located contiguous to each other. So there is a fixed stair and service core with a more flexible space between these stair service cores. Thus a degree of flexibility, and future choice, is built into the design. See Fig. 1.

To illustrate, all units are designed as two bedroom units, as per the original project brief. However, pairs of contiguous units can easily be adapted to form a one bedroom unit and three bedroom unit instead of two, two bedroom units. Or even a four bedroom unit coupled with a separate bedsitter unit. See Figs. 2 – 6.


Fig. 1. Fixed service core with flexible served space.

Fig. 2. Standard two bedroom units.

3Fig. 3. Flexibility demonstrated: Three and one bedroom unit option.

4Fig. 4. Flexibility demonstrated: Four bedroom and bedsit option.

5Fig. 5. Standard two bedroom corner units.

6Fig. 6. Flexibility demonstrated: Three, two, and one bedroom option.

Space for hanging laundry to dry is always needed. Space for laundry drying yards can easily be accommodated, at ground level, in the infill sites. But for the units surrounding the low lying area, subject to periodic flooding, this is not always possible. As a result, drying yard space has been provided on the roof tops of the 'small towers', inside the perimeter buildings surrounding the flood area. This means that all the units that share a common stair will also share a common roof top drying yard. The roof top drying yard is located half way up the stairs. Thus being most conviently located for all the served units. See Fig. 7. Sectional elevation AA

7Fig. 7. Typical service core sectional elevation AA.

In addition, this roof top space also serves as a viewing balcony, overlooking the summer sportsfield. Thus, also forming an intimate, shared, social balcony space that contributes to building a sense of community.

At ground level a semi-basement is formed. This has a dual function. One, it raises the ground floor units above street level. Thereby giving a degree of vertical separation from the street, and thus added security to these units. Secondly, the basement serves as a rainwater, and greywater, storage area. Thereby helping mitigate against Cape Town's current scarce water situation.

The drying yard solution is different at the corner and bridge units, where there are no 'small inside tower buildings'. Here the drying yards are generally located on the side of the building facing the open flood area and away fro the street. So, the drying yards are largely protected and screened from the street. However, they are also placed on 'high ground' so that they are above the flood level and are easily accessible from their served units.

The construction is concrete frame with outer walls cement block infill, plastered on the outside face. The bridge units and those surrounding the low lying flood area have external cavity walls. They were designed as having two skins of 90mm blocks with a 50mm cavity giving a total wall thickness of 230mm. However, on the infill sites only the stair cores have 230mm thick walls. The external walls are made with 140mm cement blocks, plastered on the outside, as per minimum building envelope requirements for energy usage in buildings.

After costing analysis and input from the structural engineer regarding the structural concrete frame, a decision can be made on this. However, at the architectural design level, the the units have been designed so that there is a maximum span of 6m between outside walls. Thus, not exceed the maximum permissible span for industry precast concrete floor decking. Thereby ensuring that economical, industry standard, precast units can be used. Furthermore, because the floor decking, within the units, spans across from outside wall to opposite outside wall, it means that maximum flexibility is maintained within the units. So, should the internal walling need to be altered at any time, say to convert a pair of two bed units to a one bed and three bed unit, as has been described above, it can easily be done.

Further precedent referred to in the design development was the architect Andrew Thomas's work, the Dunbar Apartments (1926 – 1928), in Harlem. Specifically, the facade treatment in dealing with, and visually breaking up, such a large building mass.
Should you have any comments, having got this far, I would be very interested in your feedback. Please email comments Here. Thank you.

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Project 1. Social Housing Proposal



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Lance Gilmour • Architect • Urban Designer
Contact: lance@lanceg.co.za