Showcase at Ruimsig: Partnerships at Work

by James Tayler


**Cross-posted from the South African SDI Alliance Blog**

An exhibition will soon open at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg, which will showcase the recent, successful partnership between the residents of Ruimsig, a small informal settlement on the north-western periphery of Johannesburg, the SA SDI Alliance and the University of Johannesburg, Department of Architecture.  Ruimsig serves as the site for a pioneering studio for architecture students which aims to highlight the necessity and challenges that come within-situ upgrading in the informal context. Partnerships with the community, several NGOs, as well as the National Upgrade Support Programme (NUSP), have been put in place to ensure that the work produced by the students is closely informed by inhabitants’ immediate and long-term needs. Students, teachers and residents have worked together intensely, in a temporary studio in the settlement, to produce a map towards the sensitive ‘re­blocking’ (or site-specific formalisation) of Ruimsig. Apart from the primary re-blocking exercise, various site-specific strategies, for short and long-term upgrading and sustainable growth of the settlement, were also work-shopped and tested, together with the community.

On the 1st of September, the project outcomes were exhibited to community leaders and residents of Ruimsig, as well as to representatives from the SA SDI Alliance, NUSP, project partners and officials from the City of Johannesburg.

As a pilot project its significance is potentially catalytic as its realisation will exemplify government’s goal of upgrading 400 000 informal households by 2014. In this context, students collaborated with ‘Community Architects’ from Ruimsig over a period of seven weeks. The collaboration with Ruimsig residents led to the development and illustration of strategies for the sensitive community-driven upgrading and formalisation of the existing settlement. This exercise builds on the inherent spatial qualities of a settlement which has, over a period of more or less 25 years, grown and evolved into a vibrant, dynamic and self-designed place.

The exhibition at Goethe on Main, opening on Thursday, September 21, will make a summary of the project – and its layered and complex process – available to a broader public. The collected work on exhibition until the 2ndOctober 2011 will portray, primarily through film, the challenging dynamics inherent in the teaching of this course, and the necessary shift required by architects, educators and officials to acknowledge and engage with the informal city and its networks.

For detailed documentation of the Ruimsig project and process, please visit