EXECUTED WHILE AT THE FIRM HOLMJORDAAN, TOGETHER WITH INSITE LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS, MAXIM TOWNPLANNERS AND BIGEN AFRICA
REFILWE TOWNSHIP NDPG PRECINCT MASTER PLAN AND IMPLEMENTATION FRAMEWORK
Published: “Upgrading of the Refilwe Business Node”, in Digest of South African Architecture, 2014, Volume 19. 138-139.
Awards: Commendation Award open-ended urban upgrade Refilwe, Cullinan, Pretoria from the PIA, 2015.
The Refilwe nodal transformation forms part of an urban network of upgrades supported by the Neighbourhood Development Partnerships Grant (NDPG), National Treasury, in the Metsweding area, City of Tshwane.
We followed the concept of urban acupuncture, using small-scale interventions to transform the larger urban context. The network of interventions was identified following comprehensive research on ground level through community engagement. We learned from the ideas put forward by Nabeel Hamdi in his book entitled Small Change, where he considers how a small intervention often makes a significant impact in communities. For example, build a bus stop in an urban slum and a vibrant community develops and grows around it. Small gestures at the right place often have such spatial agency. The Refilwe precinct master plan tries to tap into the ingenuity of informality at the right places through tapping into a series of networks on the ground. Besides providing open-ended structures to allow for such impromptu improvision, it offers basic programmatic amenities in the form of sheltered roofs, ablution, seating, and access to water. As such, it becomes an infrastructure of dignity.
A precinct and implementation plan leveraged private and community investment into the NDPG infrastructure, enhancing adjacent properties’ collateral value. Along with involving the community in planning, designing and construction, each intervention’s programmes evolved from the existing activities and needs on each site.
The Refilwe nodal transformation was the first of the nodes to be transformed through the NDPG in Refilwe. A humble urban intervention, this upgrade is an example of a local community taking great pride in renewing public space. By simply formalizing open space by providing a permeable edge condition and patterned surfacing, the area in front of various small existing shops was upgraded. Basic place-making principles were applied to define the urban public space.
An open-ended, covered area along the new periphery houses basic amenities of public ablution, water, roof shelter and seating for the elderly who are queuing for grants. A framework provides for the possibilities of various impromptu programmes: for example a car wash, hawking, waiting areas for the elderly, taxi drop-off, and anticipating improvisor activities. These open-ended possibilities are arranged along a raised platform that defines the edge. The plinth gives prominence to the otherwise mundane functions accommodated along the edge – in fact, one could say that the public ablution facility becomes monumentalized as an inverted urban narrative. School children use the space in waiting before and after school. Along with patterns recalling local tradition, Maraba-raba and chess play boards are part of the horizontal field that binds the spatial diagram together.
When xenophobic attacks happened in Refilwe over several months from 2016-2017, many buildings in the area were damaged at the time. The small urban upgrade was, however, not affected. At the time, this became a testimony to the pride community feels when they are involved from the outset.