Eth Teaching

Fall '14

Empower Shack

Designing Housing for South African Settlements

Design Studio

  • Start 16.09.2014
  • ETH Zurich, ONA
  • Prof. Alfredo Brillembourg & Prof. Hubert Klumpner
    Hannes Gutberlet, Katerina Kourkoula, Danny Wills
  • Scientific Advisor: Scott Lloyd
  • Collaborators: Jessica Altenburger (X-Runner), Marcel Aubert (BLOCK Research Group, ETH Zürich), Lindsay Blair Howe (ETH Zürich), Andy Bolnick (IkhayaLami), Arturo Brillembourg, Dirk Hebel (Core Sing, ETH Zürich), Benjamin Mansfield, Heinrich Wolff (Wolff Architects)


The design studio focuses on the development of a functioning and replicable housing prototype for a real site in an informal settlement of Cape Town, South Africa. The studio will respond to the need for dignified, affordable housing and leverage the potential of modular construction, strategic urban planning, community capacity building and industry systems. Each student will individually develop a prototype through all scales – from connection details to urban plans – and undertake a holistic series of topics – including material studies, passive strategies, economic models, and scale mockups. Taken together, these projects will form an overall body of research with the potential to manifest itself in a built prototype in Cape Town.

With a population of over 50 million and the continent’s largest economy, South Africa is often seen as a source of relative stability and prosperity in the region. Yet economic inequality remains high. Around 1.5 million households (approximately 7.5 million people) live in 2,700 informal settlements scattered across the country, which faces an overall shortage of 2.5 million houses. While the government’s rxecord on housing delivery is laudable, the scale of need means informal settlements will remain for the foreseeable future. In response, authorities have slowly begun shifting the focus to incremental upgrading, including committing in 2010 to improve the quality of life of 400,000 households in well located informal settlements by 2014 through improved access to basic services and land tenure.

The studio research and design will engage itself in an ongoing project to develop and implement design innocations for rapid and incremental informal settlement upgrading. The goal is to provide practical strategies to alleviate a national crisis, while remaining embedded within community-driven processes around resource allocation.