Johannesburg, South Africa

Ten years after the formal abolition of the apartheid and the first democratic elections in South Africa, the country is in the heat of a transformation process.
In few fields this is so visible and important as in the one of architecture and urban development, as it is exactly in these areas where the apartheid system was materialized in the most forceful way, from the general territorial organization to the housing, through the rigid separation of urban areas, equipment and public services based on a racial criteria. (Pep Subirós)


Kliptown Park

The site is a 2 km long green area created during apartheid us a buffer zone for race segregation. It has been used as public golf course and presents smooth topography and natural vegetation.
Freedom square, a huge commemorative public space, has been recently built at the west end of the site, near to main public transport facilities and commercial areas. At the opposite end a lake surrounded by woods closes the site to the countryside and to the distanced industrial developments.
The government planned to connect the north and south existing low rise neighbourhoods by devoting the area to housing development. At the moment one social housing complex is being built on the western side.
The project proposes to maintain the park as a main public space, continuing from Freedom Square to the lake. Its winding shape follows the slopes, giving an anti-monumental character ad leaving space for housing blocks. The resulting linear park, presents some road crossings to ensure relation between the north and south residential areas.
The housing units are grouped in clusters and organized in north-south oriented strips. The variation of types results in a wide range of combination of space for rent, producing an interpretation of the backyard community environment typical of residential areas in Soweto.

site area 800’000 m²
housing 380’000 m²
public facilities (park)200’000 m²
units 12’000
inhabitants 30’000
density 375 inhabitants/ha

Silke Schnidrig
Switzerland, AAM

Orlando Dam
Central District

The municipality planned to transform the former power station near Orlando dam into a new busy district of commercial, leisure and residential activities, with a lake shore, some recovered industrial structures and public transportation nodes.
The proposal split the area into two main zones; the southern sector as a citadel attached to the huge power station infrastructure, and the northern sector with housing clusters in the park.
This project develops the first sector, creating a square shaped block of mixed activities. The main planned street, rectified to a linear layout divides the power station - recycled as a mall–from the new proposed buildings. A huge semi excavated basement hosts parking, departments stores, deposits, and shops facing the secondary streets. The green roof is a continuation of the external park, and the bars of apartments are placed on top of it, parallel to the climbing streets.

site area 55’000 m²
housing 68’500 m²
public facilities (mall, shops, parking)120’000 m²
units 1’280
inhabitants 3’840
density 700 inhabitants/ha

Stephen Reid
Ireland, WITS

Orlando Dam

The municipality planned to transform the former power station near Orlando dam into a new busy district of commercial, leisure and residential activities, with a lake shore, some recovered industrial structures and public transportation nodes.
The proposal split the area into two main zones; the southern sector as a citadel attached to the huge power station infrastructure, and the northern sector with housing clusters in the park.
This project develops the park sector, proposing fourteen clusters of bar buildings around a courtyard on pilotis. A cul-de-sac serves car access for the groups of apartments, avoiding to create a net of streets, and maintaining the natural aspect of the site.

site area 155’000 m²
housing 51’744 m²
public facilities (park)140’000 m²
units 896
inhabitants 4’500
density 290 inhabitants/ha

Cloé Gattigo
Switzerland/Haiti, AAM

Orlando East

On the western edge of Orlando township, a resulting linear space between main road and railway lines has been used during the years to place public infrastructure such as transportation nodes, schools, police stations, stadium, churches and commercial activities.
In the project the intention is to fill up with houses all the remaining vacant lands, in order to give a structure to the self standing public buildings, transforming this peripheric area into a central one. On the sides of the existing main street, recently enlarge to a multiple lane road, two rows of trees are proposed, forming a linear public space.
The new housing development of small detached units follows the settlement rules of the existing context. The lay out is such to reduce the amount of roads but allowing all units to face the public street. The placement of the units inside the plots conditions the informal growing of the houses in a way that avoid land remainders and chaotic configurations.

site area 163’000 m²
housing 27’200 m²
public facilities existing
units 850
inhabitants 2’550
density 160 inhabitants/ha

Constantin Trifan
Rumenia, AAM

South Johannesburg CBD

Brickfield is the former western boundary of the inner city. Due to the recent transformations its function is being turned into a new cultural pole.
The sloping down topography, and the presence of the taxi rank complex–minibus public station–in relation to the high buildings in the central district were fundamental for the configuration of the project.
A public square is proposed in front of the taxi rank, surrounded by bar buildings with apartments on top and shops on the ground level, creating an U shape block. The single buildings, splitting one from each other, are positioned in two rings, creating an internal communal in between and allowing each unit to face both public space–the internal square or the street–and the domestic access area.

site area 17’500 m²
housing 24’130 m²
public facilities 20’000 m²
units 500
inhabitants 1’500
density 870 inhabitants/ha

Claudia Morgado
South Africa, WITS

North Johannesburg CBD

The site is located outside the boundaries of the inner city, in a dismantled area of the railway grounds. The recently built Mandela bridge, the Brickfield blocks housing development and an unfinished concrete structure–the abandoned project of the railways museum–are the main presence in the context.
The housing project of apartments for rent is proposed as a continuous 3 storey basement, surrounding the existing concrete structure. This low rise high density device results in a flat element opposed to the heterogeneous high rise blocks of the central district, reinforcing the limits of the clear grid of the inner city.
In the half excavated ground floor there is a public and residents parking area. On the top of the parking there is a layer of duplex units with private courtyards, in clusters of four. The terrace roof is an extension of the public functions located on the existing building included in the centre of the complex.

site area 29’000 m²
housing 32’400 m²
public facilities (parking) 31’800 m²
units 380
inhabitants 1’520
density 525 inhabitants/ha

Nicholas Mallandain
South Africa, WITS


Pageview and Vrededorp constitute a well defined residential district, close to the inner city and surrounded by big open areas such us the railway maintenance fields, two historic grave fields, and university campus.
Before apartheid the neighbourhood had developed as a lively mix cultured commercial and residential area. This ambience was strongly transformed by the application of the racial laws. After local Indian inhabitants were removed, many original houses were demolished and the commercial activities disappeared.
Because of its central locations well served by public facilities and relatively short distance to university, the area is very suitable for housing, specially student’s accommodation. The project proposes a serie of shortcuts throw the almost 200 metres long blocks, improving pedestrian connections and combining mix uses such as shops, living-working spaces and small flats.
The positions of the interventions were chosen in order to create a continuous path in the central part of the neighbourhood. In each complex, two face-to-face identical buildings give space to a semi covered public space.
The three storey buildings are higher than the average elevation of the residential context, denoting the presence of these catalytic elements.

site area 4’000 m²
housing 8’100 m²
public facilities 1’350 m²
units 216
inhabitants 288
density 720 inhabitants/ha

Nisha Parbhoo
South Africa, WITS

Middle Lombardy

Outside the south eastern corner of Alex, different urban areas come together at one point: Alex over crowed low rise development, London Road industrial buffer zone, East London suburban residences and recent RDP housing developments–a programme of small detached social houses. The site is also crossed by some electric power lines and two water courses.
The Alex Renewal Project–the local developing agency–planned a fluvial park along the east side of Alex township. In the project it is proposed to extend this park to the south. An empty green space is placed in the middle of the project site; the new housing units are concentrated in the outskirts of the area.
A precise and unitary shape is given to the limits of the park, connecting the heterogeneous context. The proposed housing types are juts the natural extension of the existing urban structure, cropped at the boundary of the park.

site area 333’000 m²
housing 100’000 m²
public facilities (park)163’000 m²
units 2’700
inhabitants 10’800
density 325 inhabitants/ha

Vusi Phailane
South Africa, WITS

Far East Bank

The re-qualification of London Road, transforms the exit on the freeway in one of the new gates of Alex. The road lays on the reef of a promontory, dividing two strips of empty land limited by the backs of new housing settlements.
In the project, the land near the road is intended as a park, and a new pedestrian bridge is proposed. At both sides of the road some strips of row houses are placed on a zigzag pattern in an attempt to maximize the number of units facing the park.
An extension of the existing net of streets of the near neighbourhoods allow vehicular access to the units. On the resulting new blocks, small semi-detached houses are planned as continuation of the context.

site area 25’900 m²
housing 31’500 m²
public facilities (mall, parking and park)14’400 m²
units 781
inhabitants 10’800
density 90 inhabitants/ha

Sei Takenaka
Japan, AAM

Marlboro South

The important industrial belt that surrounds Alex township was planned as a buffer zone to isolate black communities from the rest of the city. In the last years, the Marlboro industrial district was dismantled, some warehouses were illegally occupied and others were demolished. The authorities show interest in upgrading this area since the regular layout of the existing streets, the presence of expensive infrastructure and the proximity to working places make it very suitable for housing developments.
The project proposed the gradual renovation of the district throw the construction of six storey residential buildings. Since most of the plots of the area are regular, a single module is planned to be repeated in all the vacant lands. Each module is formed by two parallel bars of apartments enclosing an internal courtyard. The bars have access corridors in the perimeter and private balconies looking the communal space. Duplexes apartments are disposed on ground and top levels taking advance from the slope and the pitched roof.

site area 160’000 m²
housing 128’600 m²
public facilities (square)12’000 m²
units 2’114
inhabitants 7’800
density 500 inhabitants/ha

Roberto Caputo
Italy, AAM

Programme of activities


information meeting in Mendrisio


communication of the selected participants


free travel in South Africa

workshop in Johannesburg

  • JDA Joburg Development Agency
  • SHF Social Housing Foundation
  • EDA Ekurhuleni Development Agency
  • ARP Alex renewal Project
    Guided visits
  • Joburg CBD
  • Ekurhuleni housing developments
  • Joburg housing developments
  • Melrose Arch
  • Soweto Township
  • Alexandra Township

6 lectures seminary at Wits university campus

Workshop in Mendrisio

Design atelier
Collective critics
Structural reviews

    Guided visits
  • social Housing in Milan with Sebastiano Brandolini
  • projects discussion with guest critic Leonardo Benevolo


Presentation of the projects

    Guest critics
  • Leonardo Benevolo
  • Sebastiano Brandolini
  • Lone Poulsen


Johannesburg exhibition


Schools of Architecture and Planning
University of the Witwatersrand Campus

History of Johannesburg
Alain Mabin

WISH past editions
Martino Pedrozzi and Otto Krausbeck

Johannesburg Social Housing Company (JHC)
Anton Gollub

Architectural social housing practice
Colin Savage

Housing in South Africa and Johannesburg
Lone Poulsen

10 projects
Martino Pedrozzi

Accademia di architettura di Mendrisio
Palazzo Turconi

Social Housing policies in Switzerland
Pietro Martinelli

La chanson des ponts
Jacques Gubler

Guest Critics


Leonardo Benevolo


Sebastiano Brandolini


Lone Poulsen



Accademia di architettura di Mendrisio
Palazzo Turconi
WISH presentation


Accademia di architettura di Mendrisio
Palazzo Canaveè
Johannesburg exhibition


La Pagina

WISH interview

Corriere del Ticino

WISH–Progettare alloggi sociali
page 5



Schools of Architecture and Planning of the University
of the Witwatersrand


Alex Renewal Project


Johannesburg Housing Company


Social Housing Foundation


Social Housing Focus Trust


Johannesburg Development Agency


Johannesburg Social Housing Company



Commission for Research Partnerships with Developing Countries
Bern, Switzerland


Banque de Dépôts et de Gestion
Mendrisio, Switzerland

Special Thanks

Julian Baskin
Leonardo Benevolo
Sebastiano Brandolini
Odette Crofton
Anton Gollub
Yael Horowitz
Peter Di Ionno
Chris Lund
Alan Mabin
Shaun O’Shea
Lone Poulsen
Margot Rubin
Colin Savage
Melinda Silverman