26'10 south Architects, Taxi Rank No. 2 in Diepsloot. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Informal Cities Workshop Lecture: Thorsten Deckler

October 21, 2016
6p Reception, 6:30p Lecture
Steinberg Auditorium

Architect Thorsten Deckler will deliver a public lecture titled Armed Response—architectural maneuvers in Johannesburg to kick off the Informal Cities Workshop.

Deckler works with people to create spaces and environments in which they can thrive. In 2004 he founded 26'10 south Architects together with partner Anne Graupner. The practice takes its name and cue from its geographic location in Johannesburg, South Africa. As one of the world's most unequal and violent cities, it invariably continues to deploy architecture as a tool of segregation and control. With the awareness of this reality, Deckler and Graupner have set themselves the task of using the formal, material, and detail aspects of architecture to maximize the social potential of this context. Their built output is informed by an analogue curatorial practice that allows them to treat their projects as case studies. This approach culminated in the Informal Studio carried out in parallel to large-scale housing and infrastructure commissions. The resultant content has been disseminated in the form of workshops, exhibitions, and publications that have reached audiences in the South African Presidency, Shack Dweller International, and local and international universities, as well as the London Festival of Architecture and BMW Guggenheim Lab, with the aim of shifting the discourse on architecture into a more direct relationship with society.

26'10 south Architects is continuing to pursue built work that is pragmatically suited to its local context and is also developing a new teaching unit to be launched in 2017 at the University of Johannesburg's Graduate School of Architecture.

Informal Cities Workshop

In many parts of the world, people build cities without the help of professionals. Spontaneous, hybrid, popular settlements are built at a scale, speed, and affordability with which the formal city cannot compete. As spaces of arrival, they offer people a foothold into urban economies, and in some cases they "grow up" to be indistinguishable from the formal norm. In other instances these young cities remain stuck in an illegal limbo, direcly mirroring the lack of housing and land. Marlboro South is one such example. Located in Johannesburg, South Africa, it was created as an Apartheid buffer zone, separating Alexandra, one of the oldest black townships, from more affluent surroundings and was conveniently zoned industrial to benefit from a "captive" labor pool. The area has, over the past three decades, been inhabited by people seeking shelter closer to the opportunities of Johannesburg, the wealthiest city on the African continent.

Warehouses and factories have been invaded and now house mini-cities within their shells. Living conditions are dire, but schools, churches, restaurants, and informal businesses have turned the former buffer into a multifunctional connector. The warehouse typology offers a low-cost, low-rent model that could unlock this impasse and help transform the area into a functioning mixed-use neighborhood with an industrial base as well as affrodable accommodation. Yet its potential remains largely invisible, and regular evictions take place. These are countered through court interdicts obtained by highly mobilized inhabitants who see the area as a home base.

This three-day workshop, led by Deckler and professor John Hoal, aims to demonstrate Marlboro South's nascent potential by developing strategies for the immediate improvement of the occupied warehouses and to imagine future scenarios at the scale of the neighborhood. Maps, films, and text describing the life-worlds of its inhabitants will inform the debate on how architecture and urban design can navigate complex urban conditions in order to understand and meet the needs of people.