10 August 2007

email: mission accomplished?

Hi Tom--

Nadeem and I just had a great meeting with Shamiel Jacobs and Denzel Fortuin, the registered architect with whom Shamiel has worked for many years. I brought a full set of drawings and some of the images of the building, all of which Denzel now has taken with him to go over more closely so that he can make the necessary adjustments (particularly in the foundation and structural framing drawings) before he submits them for approval with the municipality. Essentially, Denzel is ready to jump in as architect of record by overseeing the process of submitting the drawings for approval and getting any departures we may need. He seemed like a great guy, soft spoken but friendly and obviously experienced, and I feel extremely positive about he and Nadeem working together in the pre-tender process.

Shamiel also made it to the meeting, and while he won't be very involved until after the approval phase, he certainly had input toward some of the issues Denzel brought up while looking through the drawings and again was able to give us a good sense of what it will take to get the building started.

In terms of a timeline then, both stressed the fact that timing is highly dependent upon the municipality. Very generally speaking, they will take about a month to approve a new building/set of drawings, regardless of size, if there are no departures. If there are certain departures necessary ( i.e. building out to the lot line on all sides) we're looking at something closer to two months. Shamiel still holds that the building should take about three months in construction--barring any major holdups--and so the building could in theory be completed by the end of the year. Given that obstacles inevitably pop up, March still sounds like a good goal.

In terms of design issues, Denzel was most curious about the use of the one container. He wants to make sure that it (and the other instances of corrugated metal) are being used in a way that progresses concepts about where and how people live in the townships, rather than simply corroborating existing shack/container culture. We assured him that with an edible roof garden, new use of the corrugation's pattern in creating openings, and well-painted murals, it will.

Overall it was a productive meeting, and particularly satisfying for me as it now feels like we have completed another stage of the building, and capable hands will be taking it into the next. I will forward you the drawing set shortly, and updated images and brochure will be soon to follow (Denzel was quite interested in the images as a strong selling point to the municipality, hopefully enticing them to pass approval more quickly). I won't be able to update the 3d model until I am back in Cambridge with the right software, but I can definitely photoshop a bit this afternoon and tomorrow.


09 August 2007

whales for company

Monday night, I have to admit, I was a bit depressed with no Stephanie. No anyone left at the b&b. I even started feeling a little homesick, like I had overstayed my own time.

Today I can’t even imagine how I’m going to leave South Africa and return to not-so-real real life.

Today was probably my last visit to Khayelitsha, mostly taking place at Makatiso’s house for the tri-weekly Monkeybiz market day. I walked around our site and realized that (even though the only physical change we’ve seen on it is that someone recently stole the side door of the existing building) our project has come a long way in the eight weeks since I’ve been here. In the midst of finishing what looks to be the final drawing set for a consultant/contractor meeting on Friday, I see how important it was for us as a group and each individually to allow life here to soak in and affect our entire strategy. I’ll come back and articulate this better when I’m less tired.

I do know that returning to Khayelitsha after our ‘holiday week,’ I have a greater appreciation for its physical and cultural setting within this vast country. Joburg, Cape Aghalus (southern-most point of Africa), Aquila Game Reserve (safari), Stellenbosch (wine country), Cape of Good Hope, Fish Hoek caves behind our house…every place we traveled we were met with an incredible landscape, but moreover a completely different perspective and total way of life. A shabeen in Soweto with laid-back tour guides was more fun than a few bars with a jaded American in Melville; we’re still foreigners and we can still be giddy with other tourists when we see the two oceans meet (wait til you see Steph’s pictures); looking at animals was twenty times better because of how much our ranger loves her job and its location, but it still didn’t compare to sitting in the new Constitutional Court built with the remnants of a former political prison; Stellenbosch really could make you forget that anything else exists outside that little oasis of gorgeous country and beautiful young people; Cape Point reminds you that most tourists really don’t get to see much else outside these lovely bubbles; and—in contrast to all the understanding we’ve gained about the long struggle for equality of opportunity shared by the vast majority of the country—a dinner in Fish Hoek fully opened my eyes to the sudden difficulty, almost terror, people have had with forever losing their old way of life…even if that way of life was dependent on suppressing the basic human rights of other people. As a 21-year-old born and raised in Fish Hoek said, the townships simply didn’t exist in our world.

After breakfast today, before the rest of us headed to Khayelitsha, Barbara asked me as she got out of the car at the clinic if my time here has been a life-changing experience. I’m not sure exactly what I said in response, but I know the end answer was, yes. And I am looking forward to soaking up every last minute, even if and especially when watching the whales play off our shoreline from my desk.

27 July 2007

questions of implementation

Packing up tonight for a weekend trip to Jo’burg—our first adventure beyond the Western Cape—and I’ve been gathering things that I can take with me to continue working on (must be analog, cause my new machine will not be making the trip). Redlining the current drawing set is a given…I think we can have some fun with the new container elevations, as well as all the windows on the courtyard… But after working on a brochure describing the building’s intentions and role both in education and economic development, I can spend some time now reevaluating the program of the building and its role in the community. We recently met with Sipho Puwani, an inspirational community organizer who has been pushing social development programs for the last 15 years (and whose organization Ikamva Labantu will be a part of some 19 community centers in the townships over the next six years). In his experience, long-term sustainability is dependent upon having a broad base of organized programs that together address the social problems of the specific community in a holistic way. For example, an educational program for younger children combined with training programs for the adults can expand incrementally from a few core classes to an established series that allows all members of the community to continue learning, which ensures the survival of the building and its use. His main point was that we don’t provide the solutions—the community already has them. We just provide and critical strategy and vision that will enable their implementation and ensure a sense of community ownership. eKhaya eKasi is well on its way, as the women of MonkeyBiz and their craftwork will no doubt be the heart of the building, and many holistic efforts are planned…but can we further pursue a building framework that will help maintain the relevance of this center to the changing lives of those who will use it..?

Stephanie and I also spent a day with a UCT student from Fish Hoek who will be traveling through America for his own summer break in 6 months. While enjoying some down time and the “essential” family restaurant experience at Spurs, we covered many of the questions facing South Africans right now—seems that, at least in our experience, there are no taboo topics here. People want to discuss, how can a country be properly informed and motivated to take advantage of upcoming opportunities and plan for the future, beyond making unrealistic goals for 2010 (like providing homes rather than just slum clearance, slowing the ‘brain drain’ and keeping new next generation minds focused on the challenges their home country..).

There are so many challenges, and it can be overwhelming to try to place ourselves amongst them. At MonkeyBiz on Friday we are recognized and asked about the building as we greet the artisans and work on documenting their stories. Later that night we enjoy some vino and wizard hats at a Harry Potter release party in Kalk Bay. So many different facets of one rewarding trip..

19 July 2007

carin...market day...'africa' vs 'the rest of the world'

After a solid week of drawing out our building, we're back to a more active schedule. Not that climbing Table Mountain last Friday wasn't active in the best way (and totally gorgeous every giant-boulder step of the way), but in terms of moving the project closer to manifestation in real space it is now time for us to get busy with meetings. We started off with an excellent one: another conversation with broadly experienced architect Carin Smuts. She gave us an hour of her time that again had great implications for the building design as well as its representation in drawings (which she felt are quite adequate for sending out to bid, given we track down that site survey..). Some notes from the discussion:
----drainage--we have already accounted for the fact that water needs to get out to the street. however, carin recommends having a manhole or other drainage point in the back of the site, in the outdoor courtyard, and then running a pipe under the container and out, allowing for easy access at the front and back of the site in case of blockages--which, apparently, are inevitable because in her experience every single drain in a township gets clogged at some point with rice and porridge. this is not something we can change, just something we can design for in order to make the problem easier to fix.
----on the drainage note, she says nix the porous pavement in front and just use another gutter to take water from the entry over to the green roof. says it's not worth the trouble.
----water supply in--be aware that we will need a stop cock and meter at the point of the supply, which is going to be at the front of the site where the toilet is currently located. this poses an issue for container placement, as our container currently rides the site boundary, but we need to have a place on that boundary to at least locate this meter for easy reading. this could mean moving the container off the line slightly, or modifying it somehow.
----lighting--carin gave us a heads up on finding someone to make our electrical drawings, which will be immensely helpful. we also discussed effective daylighting strategies in order to minimize the need for compact fluorescent lights. specifically, she felt that having such a large translucent roof, even with the bamboo to filter, would be too much light and heat in the multipurpose room. rather, sh suggested, keep the transparency to a meter at each side and allow the walls to do the work of bouncing light into the rest of the room. (we have in fact already seen that this works quite successfully at one of her own buildings, Guga S'Thebe)
----perimeter windows--a bigger problem is our design's reliance on windows on the site boundary line. even on the upper level, she feels this is a no-go because they could in theory be built against. this means we have, at the moment, a couple of very dark rooms.
----ventilation--even more than daylighting, the need to move the windows requires a new ventilation strategy. whirlybirds are one option for the upper level rooms, but through our discussion a new idea evolved: make the courtyard central. we can remove the need for walls that are 'just walls' or a corridor that is just circulation if we use the back program to form the perimeter of the site, making it particularly secure and allowing all rooms opening doors/windows onto a small central courtyard. this requires a bit of refiguring in plan...but the more we spoke about it, the more it seemed like a perfect solution.
----storage--in her experience, the kitchen needs the most storage space because that is actually one area where you might receive a surplus in terms of donations (canned food and such). moving it to the other side of a central courtyard would allow the kitchen to utilize the allocated storage space in the back end of the container. also, we should make sure the kitchen gets a nice strong roller shutter because this is where people are most likely to steal things.

Design continues to evolve, and happily we have the opportunity to keep our real clients, the women of MonkeyBiz, informed as much as possible. Today we attended the monthly Khayelitsha market day for MonkeyBiz at Makatiso's house and the Boat. While market day is by now a familiar but still captivating experience, it is always exciting to see and speak to the women at the site of our project, where we can see right in front of us the many uses their new building will serve. We even got the chance to put our craft skills to work, making new tags when Makatiso had run out. Though we were unable to do any more with the cameras or storytelling (projects we've been working on for artaidsart at the Friday clinics), we will be back in three weeks to do that.

Finally, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MANDELA! '90 minutes for Mandela' was our chance, for only a few dollars, to watch two full teams of soccer legends come together on the Newland Rugby Stadium field for a charity game. It was a good cause--and it was fantastic! We hung around the bars and kiosks outside the stadium for plenty of time before we ran inside to our bleacher seats with a crazy loud croud. 90 minutes later...Africa and The Rest of the World tied. Just for Mandela perhaps (who I kept trying to find with my video zoom but alas, he was either well hidden or not there). Anyway, next time we're learning to blow a vuvusela.

Patrick is headed back on Friday, and our home here will be sadly quieter for it. However, his attention to and exploration of details in the last week has been invaluable to clarifying and moving forward with the project, and I won't let him lose touch with me that easily...I'll miss my roommate man. But I gotta feel for him because he'll be missing it here bad after getting spoiled with bunny chow, the best fish n chips ever, and TWO delicious ballpark sausages (with onions and chili sauce) all in one day...

16 July 2007

Photographs (2)

In contrast to Laura's last blog, which so adequately captured many of the thoughts and feelings we've shared in our time here, I just wanted to let everyone know that I finally have a working computer and can now upload and edit some of my own documentation.


[africa is everywhere]

12 July 2007

on the way to the airport...

looking out the window on my ride into the cape town airport and seeing the extent of informal settlements, i thought again about the hopes for 2010 and the staggering reality of the level of need. i also began to think about the last day i spent with the other pKers in guguletu and khayelitsha. loyiso brought us to the cemeteries and as we took in the vast size he commented quite simply "people are dying of AIDS." it was the physical representation of such an overwhelming crisis. and an image that will stay with me. but that image will also be contrasted by the hope that the women of MonkeyBiz, many of whom are HIV positive, emanated with their tireless creativity and collective determintaion. these 450 women have begun the process of change in their community, and though the problems are overwhelming the accumulation of small progressive steps can potentially have a powerful effect. we hope the building of the eKhaya eKasi center will be one of these steps as a further catalyst for economic empowerment and community wellness. the time spent in khayelitsha has and will continue to strengthen pK's commitment to helping the process forward to the best of our known and expanded abilities as designers and community advocates.

08 July 2007

green roof test

Yesterday was Gena's last day in South Africa and that girl worked full force until Nadeem dragged her away for her 11pm flight. We spent the day putting together a test plot for the green roof that will be installed on top of the container, a framework allowing us to test three different combinations of soil and sand from Khayelitsha and different planting schemes.

The start was a little slow, as we had to do a little door-to-door soliciting for extension cords in order to work up in the garden. Then, though electricity was working, the drill was not...in fact it started smoking and smelling like burnt rubber after all of a minute.

So we ditched the drill in favor of some analog work, grabbing 2 hammers and all 19 nails we could find in the garage. Thanks to Patrick and our friendly cab driver Toyer (who knows us well by now), we got a fresh supply of nails delivered quickly and the rest of the afternoon/evening went pretty smoothly. Stephanie's pizza and beer delivery helped as well.

The test consists of three bays for planting. We attached all the boards to a base, lifting one of the sides about an inch to allow for drainage.

Next we attached the waterproof membrane across all the bays, which were then filled with about 2 inches of gravel, a water filter, and the different mixtures of soil and sand. And then we gardened.

In the end the project looks something like the picture below, though we'll hopefully be cleaning up the edges for better water protection and sunlight. The plot closest to the camera is all sand from Khayelitsha, planted with small grasses seedums and a few herbs. The middle plot is half sand and half soil, the design most likely to grow grasses and edible plants well without costing too much money. The furthest part, and deepest plot, is all soil, and is planted with vegetables like lettuce cabbage and cauliflower.

We learned that Gena has an admirable and genuine love of plants, and knows a ton about them. I enjoyed gardening 101, and am just hoping not to mess up these lovely plantings. Finally, Stephanie made a great statue of liberty as the night drew to a close.