The Imizamo Yethu water platforms
In Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay, an estimated 9464 households make use of shared toilets and taps – this means that the service ratio in the settlement is 61.1 households per toilet and a staggering
394.3 households per tap. As part of a continuing effort to engage with this issue, the University
of Cape Town’s second year Architecture students, together with a few key staff members and
members of the local community, have been designing and building water platforms in Imizamo
Yethu (or IY as it is known to local residents). The platforms are a way of providing additional
services, more dignified places for water collection and washing, social gathering spaces, and
cleaner areas for children to play.
The project has been stitched into both the second year Design and Theory course and the
second year Technology course, so students develop designs for the platform in the Design and
Theory course, before the project moves into the Technology course where they design and
manufacture physical prototypes of components. Approximately a third of the class then
volunteers to physically construct the platform on site during an intensive six to ten days in the
June vacation. The progression of a project through different courses culminating in an actual
built artefact offers a wide range of learning experiences for students, and eventually for
community members. Community members are involved during the planning phases and
unemployed community members are then nominated by the community to assist during
construction: There is an exchange of knowledge where students teach community members
new skills, while the community members in turn teach the students artisanal skills and
demonstrate the realities of living in informal settlements to them.
The project has been running since 2010 with one platform having been built each year since
then. The project has included various attempts (with varying degrees of success and failure) at
creating social and economic infrastructures to provide more comprehensive benefits to the
community besides the platforms’ physical manifestation.
The project is essentially about the provision of vital infrastructure in an informal settlement, coupled with the needs of tertiary education. The project involves the use of recycled content, prototyping and pre-manufacturing, digital fabrication and extensive on-site construction.
One of the sub-themes of the platforms is (temporary) job creation and skills building. By
employing two to seven locally nominated unemployed residents per platform, and by
collaborating with a number of NGOs or groups who are active locally, a community network
or social infrastructure is being established that helps to facilitate future projects in the area. A second sub-theme of the platforms is pre-manufacture and the use of recycled content. This
includes the use of glass bottles, recycled timber and formwork, recycled steel and recycled
plastic bottle caps amongst others. The use of recycled bottle caps in 2016 contributed to the
funding of operations for children with cleft palates via the project partner Operation Smile.