Innovative students aim to improve life in IY

The infrastructural challenges faced by the residents of Imizamo Yethu are numerous.

With devastating fires and constant housing and sanitation problems, life is a struggle. It’s a harsh existence, but one that students from UCT’s School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics believe they can improve through innovation.

A project started in 2008 by Cape Town architect Luis Mira and associate professor Nic Coetzer has evolved into a programme that is making a real difference in residents’ lives.

In 2011, as part of their curriculum, second-year students started designing wooden platforms to improve communal spaces in the township for collecting water and washing clothes. They built the prototypes during their June holidays.

UCT senior lecturer Michael Louw has run the programme since 2012.

“The service ratio of people to taps in Imizamo Yethu is exceptionally low. That was really the motivation, to go there and try and add more taps,” he said.

“When we started, there were 24 taps in the informal portion (of Imizamo Yethu), and we have managed to increase that by 50%.”

The initiative forms part of both the second-year design and theory course and the technology course, where students first design and then manufacture physical prototypes of components.

Over the years, they have created furniture, tiles, wash tops, shade structures and more, using recycled materials where possible.

Each year, a collaborative design is chosen for its feasibility and innovation.

“It’s got to have some aesthetic value to improve the quality of the space,” Mr Louw said.

The platforms are located throughout Imizamo Yethu.

“We have been doing this a few years now, so the people do know us. Our work has been well-received. It’s sometimes happened that residents start using the innovations while we’re still in the process of building them,” he said.

“We’ve also found that the platforms are being used for social purposes. In fact there’s one guy who lives next to a platform who’s a huge Orlando Pirates fan. When Pirates are playing, he wheels out his TV and puts it on the platform so others can watch.”

In the past two years, the students have not been able to carry out their work in Imizamo Yethu because of the destruction caused by last year’s March 11 fire and the stalled superblocking plan.

“It does make it challenging for us, but we are always speaking to people to find out what the situation is. Fortunately, we are always working on new ideas and prototypes at UCT until such time as we can go in again.”

The students are currently conceptualising a new workshop space for Imizamo Yethu.

Their ultimate aim is to install a network of platforms for water towers. Three 5 000-litre tanks have already been pledged by a large water-tank manufacturer.