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Finding Alexandra by: Fatema Kanji Project presented to the faculty of the Department of Architecture, College of Architecture and the Built Environment Philadelphia University In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of: BACHELOR OF ARCHITECTURE Design 10: Research and Design Faculty: Chris Harnish Philadelphia, PA May 2014

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table of contents: thesis




site analysis and documentation


design intentions


works cited and footnotes


appendix: process



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thesis: In a high density urban township, the re-appropriation of formal civic space may enhance township identity. goal: develop an urban scale master plan to cultivate a community identity and improve security


abstract: Alexandra is suffering from a lack of cultural identity, because of Alex’s difficult history. Particularly the past 100 years; the apartheid almost demolished the city. Other historic events such as the bus boycotts and the Bantu Education Act have also had an adverse affect on Alexandra’s identity.1 Alexandrians have constantly had to fight to maintain its status as a city. Despite all the hardship Alex has overcome and is slowly becoming a stronger city. Along with the lost cultural identity, security is a huge concern. In fact, 70% of residents think that crime and safety is the biggest problem that needs to be resolved.2 Alexandra was designed to accommodate 70,000 people, however over 950,000 people reside there.3 This has caused Alex to be a highly dense city, which is why security is such a concern. The high density has created low-visibility and poor lighting conditions that affect security concerns. This project aims to highlight the positives of Alex’s history, by creating an identity that is brighter and successfully portrays the heart and soul of Alex and its journey throughout history. However, this can all be changed by improving security and by cultivating a local cultural identity. In a high-density urban township, the re-appropriation of formal civic space may enhance township identity. The goal behind this project is to develop an urban scale master plan to cultivate community identity and improve security.

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separ(n)ation by alexander opper: brief blurb

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Some of the precedents that were considered during the research phase of the project include the VPUU in the Khayelitsha Township in Cape Town. This project improved the security of a walkway between a residential area and the near-by train station. This was accomplished through improved lighting, walking surfaces, and visibility.4 They created a series of active ‘safe boxes’ that provided a rest area for anyone to take refuge in when they felt threatened. Not only that, but the community aspect to these projects really gave the areas a sense of identity. These centers became hubs for children to gather and play safely.5 Another interesting view on the security constraints in South Africa is the exhibition done by Alexander Opper, named “Separ(n)ation.” Opper notes that as the poor areas of South Africa get poorer, the walls in the wealthy areas get higher.6 The continuous progression of these walls has an adverse affect on security because it greatly reduces visibility. An easy solution Opper suggests is the implementation of palisade fences, because these maintain security without reducing visibility.

vpuu: khayelitsha township brief blurb


design proposal: An urban scale intervention that provides public space, uses less severe boundaries, improved lighting, and improved pedestrian circulation.

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The design proposal seeks to amend issues of security and the lack of identity through the implementation of an urban scale intervention that provides public space, uses less severe boundaries, improved lighting, and improved pedestrian circulation. Rather than focusing solely on one community center the goal of this project seeks to find a more universal solution that incorporates all the community centers and schools within the precinct. In order for this project to be successful it is very important to understand how to create safe outdoor public spaces. This can be accomplished through increased visibility. The walls around the precinct create a very harsh barrier between the interior and exterior of the precinct. A potential solution would be to create more permeable barriers that improve visibility but still maintain security within the precinct. Another issue that needs to be addressed is lighting; well-lit spaces can make outdoor areas accessible after dark because this improves the user’s visibility when it is dark. Lastly, a park will be designed into the empty lot to provide space for a marketplace and a place where people can hang out and watch their children play in a safe environment.


the site: the youth precinct The Youth Precinct in Alexandra, has the potential of being a hub for communal interaction. There are three community centers located on site (Thusong, 3-Square, and eNtokozweni) as well as a primary school and two secondary schools. However, the precinct is under-used because people feel unsafe on site, and the system of circulation was poorly designed. Thusong and 3-Square are blocked off from the main access point on London Rd. In order for someone to go to one of these community centers they would have to walk around the entire site. Along with access issues, visibility is a huge concern. The harsh barriers that are currently maintained drastically reduce visibility; which is a huge proponent in feeling safe. Combined with the poor lighting scheme, the precinct is a place where it is very difficult for people to feel safe later in the day.

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Existing site conditions. 13


Existing cultural nodes.

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boundary diagram. currently the security is maintaned through walls which greatly reduces visibility making a place more unsafe.

circulation diagram. the current boundaries cause poor circulation paths that become safety hazards for children.

current boundary condition on 12th street.


design intentions: Considering all the constraints given by the site, it became very important to address the three main concerns: visibility, lighting, and access. Visibility within the precinct means addressing the boundary condition in a new way. By creating a new set of permeable boundaries, visibility can be addressed in different ways depending on the program behind the barrier. Also, addressing the issue of lighting is extremely important, lighting and visibility go hand-in-hand because lighting addresses visibility after hours. In order to improve safety after hours, it is necessary to make sure all spaces are well-lit. Access between all community centers and schools need to be addressed, such that each of the community centers would gain more usage. Being able to access all community centers within the precinct is extremely important, so that children don’t have to walk so much to be able to play. Also incorporating a series of nodes and gathering points to bring eyes to the street will give the precinct more life and community engagement. By creating these nodes, and a park that can be used by the community centers and by neighboring families, this park could potentially become a new hub of community interaction.

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transforming this area into an urban park incorporating safe and comfortable walkways

better access, and more inviting, try to maintain security while still being open

design intentions.


program: In this urban scheme for the Youth Precinct, two main programmatic elements were added. The park which is located on the existing empty lot on site. Second, are these nodes that are placed in various areas throughout the site. The park incorporates a water feature that collects water that can be used on-site by the community center and by residents in the neighboring areas. This fountain becomes an icon for the site, and thus creating an identity for the site.

park program diagram.

The main purpose for the nodes, is to put eyes on the street. Currently, the youth precinct has these women who sell food to children during lunch time. These nodes provides an area for these ladies to sell their goods, and incorporates a space where people can hang out in a covered pavilion. Here parents can hang out and watch their children play, or conversations can happen between friends.

node diagram.

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park rendering: mural art wall fountain park space


barriers: The heart of this proposal are these new permeable barriers. These address different constraints given by different program pieces within the precinct. Each addresses visibility and access in a different way.

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program school

needs • • • •

security visibility play space secure access points

what it does • • • •

provide secure play space open but still secure very limited access engages playspace and vendors on london st

12th street corridor

• visibility • feel open; not closed off

• mural / identity • open so that you see your surroundings, but access is limited • improves visibility


• retail space • better access

• creates awning for table space • access during certain days/ times • open to nursery / residential area

• privacy • visibility

• provides privacy while maintaining visibility



london rd barrier: The barrier on London Rd is an undulating wall that creates a series of coves on either side of the wall. On the London Rd side, it creates an opportunity for vending space without interrupting the sidewalk. On the opposite side it creates shaded areas for kids to play in for the schools. It gives the precinct more visual interest and will draw people into the youth precinct. It is built with bricks and put together through a system of corbeling.

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detail drawings of london rd wall.


12th street barrier: The barrier on 12th street is a permeable fence. It maintains visibility between both schools, and incorporates greenery as well. The piers between each of the fences incorporates street lighting.

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detail drawings of 12th street wall.


3-square barrier: The barrier for 3-Square incorporates openings that will improve access to the field. It uses a hydraulic strut that opens a panel upward to create an awning. This awning could potentially creates vending opportunities.

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detail drawings of athletic corridor wall.


residential barrier: The residential barrier uses a screen that maintains privacy while still maintaining visibility. Since privacy is extremely important to the current residents, it creates a semi-transparent barrier that makes both parties happy.

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detail drawings of residential corridor wall.


conclusion: After careful considerations of all the site’s constraints the incorporation of these permeable barriers will not only help improve visibility but circulation as well. These boundaries will vary at different places depending on the program, and they’ll have multiple functions. Some walls will incorporate lighting and others will create vending spaces. Along with these new barriers there will be a series of programmed nodes that bring eyes to the street and will encourage users to come inside the precinct. These two elements together will help the precinct feel safer, and it will help the community centers become more inviting. Also the community will be able to have a safe space where they can congregate, and for their children to play.

fountain/water collection


mural wall

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footnotes: 1


The Christian Science Monitor. "South Africa's revitalization to start in Alexandra." The Christian Science Monitor. (April 21, 2014). Poku, Nana K., Neil Renwick, and Jaoa Gomes Porto. "Human Security and Development in Africa." International Affairs 83, no. 6 (2007): 1155-1170. (April 21, 2014).


"Alexandra: A Case Study." SARPN 1 (2003): 1-57. (accessed April 21, 2014).


Ugur, Lauren Kate. "Violent Crime Prevention." Aesop 00 (2012): 1-22.


Urbanized. Film. Directed by Gary Hustwit. New York: Plexifilm, 2011.


" - Separ(n)ation by Alex Opper." Artslink. contentID=34153 (accessed April 21, 2014).

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works cited: "Alex 100 - Press Release." Alex 100. What%20is%20Alex%20100.pdf (accessed April 21, 2014). "Alexandra Urban Renewal." UNHabitat 1 (2009). docs/9128_29666_AURSubmission.pdf (April 21, 2014). Guardian News and Media. "Alexandra township in Johannesburg in pictures." nesburg-pictures#/?picture=421310998&index=19 (April 21, 2014). "Alexandra: A Case Study." SARPN 1 (2003): 1-57. (accessed April 21, 2014). " - Separ(n)ation by Alex Opper." Artslink. contentID=34153 (April 21, 2014). "Awakening Alexandra: sleeping giant of the north.” “South African Tourism. http://www.southafrica. net/za/en/articles/entry/ (April 21, 2014). "D6 as a National Heritage Site." District Six Museum. About/NationalHeritageSite/index.php (April 21, 2014). Kaplan, Lucy. "Skills Development for Tourism in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg." Urban Forum 15 (2004): 380-398. Masha, Lebofsa. "" Mandela Centre for Alexandra. dela/mandelacentre-alexandra.htm#.Uunsa2SwLds (April 21, 2014). Poku, Nana K., Neil Renwick, and Jaoa Gomes Porto. "Human Security and Development in Africa." International Affairs 83, no. 6 (2007): 1155-1170. (April 21, 2014). The Christian Science Monitor. "South Africa's revitalization to start in Alexandra." The Christian Science Monitor. (April 21, 2014). Ugur, Lauren Kate. "Violent Crime Prevention." Aesop 00 (2012): 1-22. Urbanized. Film. Directed by Gary Hustwit. New York: Plexifilm, 2011.


appendix: process.

3-square barrier:

12th street barrier:

london rd barrier: 36 | kanji | 2014

Process of how each wall type changed throughout the semester. Residential wall type and the park were later design ideas. 37

Finding Alexandra  

A study of the lack of identity and security condition in Alexandra, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa