Change the world



The 2017 Fourth Year Master of Architecture Urban Design project has a unique touch to it. It was developed jointly by the studio masters and the Nelson Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA). The normal trend of assigning students a project in Architecture and Urban (1st term), Architecture and Ecology (2nd term), Architecture and Heritage (3rd term), and allowing the students to choose a project they enjoyed working on, to develop it further into a mini-treatise complete with working drawings (4th term), has been adhered to. 

The MBDA was involved because it wants to fulfil one of its mandate of fostering urban regeneration of the Port Elizabeth CBD, which experienced a slump following the opening of Green Acres Business District in the 1970s. It intends to re-activate the rich heritage, economic and tourism potential of the Baakens Valley in South End. South End was for generations a multi-racial, multi-denominational, mixed-income precinct, exuding a vibrant culture unparalleled in most of South Africa. Its communities were united by family values, faith and morals, despite the diversity of language, religion and race. Unfortunately the forced removals of the Group Areas Act of 1948, wiped all this out in the 1970’s when it was classified a white areas only precinct and other races were relocated to the northern suburbs. Since most residents subsisted on resources garnered from the sea and its harbour, this action drastically altered their socio-economic, cultural and political networks, negatively impacting their livelihoods and sustenance. The tangible and intangible heritage, the culture and the spatial layout of the suburb were defaced. A segregated, lacklustre and gated community replaced the throb of an integrated and vibrant one. It was therefore not surprising that, after the demise of apartheid, people began craving for their lost valuable and unique heritage. This project is therefore an attempt by the School of Architecture and the MBDA to restore the ‘spirit and sense of place’, which the Port Elizabeth and South African society needs.

The aims and objectives of the project were geared towards restoring the ‘spirit and sense of place’, and to achieve them, students were divided into five groups each with a topic to study. In the first week, a research seminar was held where NMMU lecturers, internal and external experts, including eyewitnesses to the forced removals presented lectures. In the 2nd week, students presented their group study topics, to conclude the theoretical seminar. These seminars were then followed by critiques of students’ conceptual designs solutions, presented to a combined MBDA and NMMU audience, including 5th Year students of Architecture. Feedback from the critiques were revisited and presented to follow up critiques, which alternated between the MBDA Boardroom and NMMU studios. The process went on until a preliminary grade was given at a final critique. The students have now been left to deepen their design solutions in readiness for the final November portfolio exam.

Meantime the MBDA has decided to push this project further. During the June, break a group of students will work as interns and develop the solution of one project to development stage. As a token of appreciation, the MBDA intends to reimburse students’ expense with a token of appreciation to cover material costs.

Although the project stretched the students to the limits of their ability, it was a worthy and unique attempt at developing a live project to enrich their experience.