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a COMMUNITY and HEALTH Centre in South Africa by Stan Field and Jess Field

DESIGNING UBUNTU by Field Architecture OFFICE 455 Lambert Ave. Palo Alto, CA 94306 p. 650.462.9554 EDITING, DESIGN & LAYOUT Jess Field Christina F. Stevenson PHOTOGRAPHY Carlie Norval Vance Jacobs Richard Mills Jess Field TRANSCRIPTION Carol Field CONTRIBUTORS TO THE TEXT Stan Field and Jess Field Jacob Lief Jana Zindell Jordan Levy Lisa Findley The staff of Ubuntu Education Fund Desmond Tutu

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be produced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission in writing from the author.

Contents Bulali’s Poem - A building that speaks A Window for Action Acknowledgements - I am because You are Voices


realms of impact

1. Ubuntu?: Desmond Tutu 2. The politics of Space: Lisa Findley 3. A Building that Belongs: Stan Field


what kind of a shape is this?

1. From Townships to Towns 2. Architecture’s Role: Community Development 3. Material for Per manence: Concrete


from the inside out

1. Voices will rise: Ubuntu Hall

2. Connected for life: HIV/TB Clinic

4. Making it happen: Ubuntu Staff Offices

5. Skills for Life: Empower ment Centre

3. Infected, Affected: Community Outreach

6. Space to Grow: Public and Rooftop Gardens


a place to go through

1. Walls: Dissolving Borders

2. Revealing Ubuntu: Visible Manifestation of Life

3. Independent Volumes: Mutual Suppor t

4. Using What Exists: Adaptations of Necessity

4. Capturing Space: Community of Par ts


a finer grain

1. Scales of Change: Productions of Social Space

2. Sustainability in Zwide: Human Decency


A Building That Speaks

Believe me when I Say The walls talk The building speaks The deaf could hear and the blind could see Mother Zwide giving birth to the centre of dreams The centre of opportunities The pride of the township As Zwide’s soil is enriched with the wise material A building that discovers the hidden identity of you Hear the walls say I AM BECAUSE YOU ARE Listen to the building speak I am because of the Ubuntu that walks within me Healing the deep wounds entailed within you Helping a crippled heart that wishes to find peace. Constructing small voices to mature Making the unheard voices heard For black and white voices to unify into one voice For the children of South Africa and the world’s to come To be fulfilled As each heard dreams of finding stability. -By Bulali Kyakopu

A window for Action The black townships of South Africa sit on the periphery of every major city. The townships were consciously designed, by architects and planners serving the apartheid regime, to be underserved communities and are in many ways a crippling urban reminder of the Apartheid era. Although the forced separation ingrained a deep sense of hopelessness within the township population, the struggle and necessity to overcome it also left traces of an informal bottom-up urban network spurring a unique, vibrant culture. Overlaid in the dusty earth, as a part of this network, is an organic system of pedestrian pathways. It bends and winds its way between every urban and cultural amenity and is in many ways the connective fabric of the community. These living diagrams give shape to the township’s circulation pattern, and have the potential to shape its architecture too. The Ubuntu Centre in Zwide is one of South Africa’s first physical manifestations of this new and urgently needed model of development. This new model is generated by the uncovering of underlying sentiments embedded in these living diagrams.

A unique, but brief, opportunity exists for harnessing the enduring vitality of these urban networks before they are lost. A “Town-Architecture” aiming to preserve these diagrams of communal life could continue to grow the same remarkable vitality that emerged in Zwide. It revealed the very ethos of the township communities. The remarkable outcome that resulted in the township of Zwide was manifested as a direct result of this bottom-up phenomenon. The goal here, is to capture this window of opportunity before it disappears and guide further developments of the like so that the townships can contribute to the long-term prosperity of a thriving and united South Africa.

Acknowledgements I am because You are

Our thanks to the many people who collaborated on this project and voiced their stories, needs and experiences to make this phenomenon a reality. And to the hard working professionals who contributed to the realization and construction of the Ubuntu Centre.


Team Leader

Ubuntu, you know, it means a lot of things. It’s something that comes from your background, the way that you were raised by your people, your parents, where you are coming from. That place alone. How you behave shows your understanding of Ubuntu, you know? It’s not easy to just take someone and say,

“Hey, from tomorrow, I want to see you. I want you to show Ubuntu.” With adults, it’s not really easy. It’s better with kids. We become their parents, and definitely they end up understanding the meaning of Ubuntu.


Deputy President

First of all, Ubuntu is a way of life. It’s not a philosophy or a theory. It’s how people live.


Programs Manager

For me, Ubuntu now is really not that different from the natural Xhosa. Ubuntu means, I am because I’m feeding into society. I don’t achieve things or I don’t make it without the influence of other people. So in our language, Xhosa, Ubuntu means, I am because I survive within the sphere of influence of other people. In a household, there’s a mom, there’s an auntie, there’s a brother, there’s a sister. And then we take it out to the outside world, to the neighbors and into the community. So it means, I am because of other people. The influence they have on me, it has shaped me to what I am. We are existing in this society, this community of Zwide, not in isolation. We are part of this community. We are co-existing.

I think that Ubuntu is not only from Xhosa people, but I think Xhosa people owned it and maybe need it more. If you look even in other vernaculars like Sothu or Tswana, they still have that word, “Ubuntu.” But I think what has happened is that Xhosa people maybe tend to show it more than other tribes or cultures. I think it’s more of a sub Saharan vernacular, because if you go like Swaziland or Lesotho, they still practice it. If for some reason the parents have passed on, that kid will be raised by the village. I haven’t studied the other cultures, but the Xhosa people feel like they own Ubuntu and need to keep it alive.

We Africans speak of Ubuntu...what it means to be truly human, to know that you are bound up with others in the bundle of life, for a person is only a person through other people. -Archbishop Desmond Tutu Ubuntu Education Fund Patron


realms of impact



Desmond Tutu

“Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, “Yu, u nobuntu”; “Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.” Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other persons.” It is not “I think therefore I am.” It says rather: “I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.” A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper selfassurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and

is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.” (Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness 31)

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Garden and Feeding Program

Initially when we said, “I’m from Zwide,” people from town never knew where you were from exactly. But today if you say, “I’m from Ubuntu Education Fund,” they say, “Oh, it’s that organization that is building - I’ve seen that building!” Now I guess Ubuntu Centre is going to be known because of this. They’re being attracted because this building has been in papers or magazines. Everywhere is the Ubuntu story. This is going to make a strong statement

that, we don’t just preach to the people that we’ll do this and we don’t show. This is going to say, Ubuntu has done the impossible. No one has seen that before around here. This is a new concept. This building is going to say that nothing is impossible. It’s going to inspire a lot of people.


Ubuntu Staff

This building, it is going to communicate. That is the building’s nature. It’s there to contribute the positive, which means this building is also campaigning for us. You see? Everyone knows us because of this building. It’s a magnet, you see.


President and Founder

“There was this idea, you know. ‘Banks, we need to put something up. We need to do this.’ I didn’t know Stan. I didn’t know anyone! But there was this idea that we needed to put up something. I understood, but I was looking at the old building and thinking that it was going to be enough. Until one day when Stan came on his first trip here and sat with us. What I like about the meetings that we had is the listening, you know? Stan listened to us. He has an understanding with us. That’s what we established this organization to do: that we will listen to our people, you know, we will listen. And Stan did exactly what we do. He listens to people. He never came in and said,

“I think this building is going to look like this and that,” but he was sifting through all the ideas, all the information from all the people that were sitting around him in those meetings. There were groups of five, ten people, and we were getting messages from all these people. What I always say about the meetings that he had with us is how strongly this came out. And then we started to fly!”

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above looking back at the old building through the gum pole screen


the Politics of Space Lisa Findley

REALMS OF IMPACT: The Ubuntu Education Center and the Politics of Space By Lisa Findley In the South African township called Zwide a new building is literally stopping traffic. The overcrowded minibuses, known as combis, slow to a crawl as they pass by. People hang out the window, grinning and laughing and pointing. The building is like nothing they have ever seen. It looks like a cluster of smaller buildings, grouped together to make up a kind of compound with no enclosure. Each piece of the building is made of heavy concrete walls that emerge from the red clay, wrap up and over to become the roof before plunging back to the ground to complete the loop. Huge expanses of glass shaded by horizontally placed gum poles enclose the ends. The tallest of these squared off concrete tubes is three times as tall as the nearby houses. And the biggest surprise is that almost none of the walls are straight up and down, and none of the roofs are level. Instead, the walls tilt and the roofs slope like a child’s drawing. It is funny, yet its materials are substantial and permanent and its construction quality excellent. So it is also serious. And clearly expensive. Some kids standing on the sidewalk

shake their heads expressing what is on a lot of people’s minds: this building doesn’t belong here in Zwide… belongs in town. “Town” to these people is the old downtown of Port Elizabeth, seven kilometers away, where there are many substantial buildings: a town hall, a library, a theater, office buildings, tourist hotels and so on. Town is where serious, expensive buildings are built. Nobody builds buildings like this in the townships. Yet, here it is: the new home for the Zwide-based Ubuntu Education Fund, a non-profit that has been working in Zwide for 12 years. The people of Zwide recognize this building as a significant work of architecture and they are right—perhaps more than they know. In 2009, even before it was built, the design of the building won the coveted Progressive Architecture award in the United States and was featured on the cover of USbased Architect magazine. Now that it is complete, it is sure to appear in architecture, design and general interest publications around the world. In all corners of the world NGOs and non-profits are doing heroic work in impoverished communities. They provide urgently needed food, medical care and disease prevention, access to clean water, agricultural support, technical training,

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above aerial views of South Africa’s ubiquitous divided urban plan


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craft development, and education where governments are unable or unwilling. Often, these organizations also build buildings for their activities to take place in. Every cent counts when you are a nonprofit. Particularly now, in the midst of a global economic downturn, it is a constant challenge to find the most efficient and effective ways to leverage hard-earned limited funds. In this environment of making the most of a little, how much should be invested in a building to house the on-site work of a non-profit? Afterall, one way to look at it is that the building is just a shelter, simply a container, and when money is so tight, almost any container will do as long as it doesn’t leak. However, most non-profits are not quite so utilitarian in their approach. Most who work with people in poverty know that a decent, well-maintained facility lends vital dignity to their work and inspires hope. Its sets an example to aspire to, it provides a well-kept environment for those who are sick or scared or abandoned. In other words, the building has cultural, social and emotional value that contributes to the mission of the non-profit organization. And the people who it serves crave beautiful surroundings as necessary. As a result, most on-site buildings for nonprofits are straightforward, clean and wellbuilt with local materials and construction technology. This makes sense in a narrow way: when needs are urgent and funds limited, the buildings have a role, but should not absorb any more resources than necessary.


Over the past decade a scattering of building projects for non-profits have garnered international attention for inventive and humane solutions and for using local building technologies in lovely and surprising ways. Among these are an elementary school in Bangladesh, a women’s center in Senegal and a recreation facility in one of Rio’s worst favelas. However, the Ubuntu Education Fund goes far beyond this level of understanding of the role architecture, as a cultural product beyond simply good building, can play in its mission. Ubuntu believes that the building is, in and of itself, deeply valuable to their work. Not only is it aiming to lift the spirits of the people it serves and employs, it is sending a clear message to the rest of Port Elizabeth, South Africa and the world. It is the message at the very heart of Ubuntu’s mission: these people, these residents of this former black township who struggle just to survive, deserve the best the world has to offer. This includes architecture as well as medical care, education, job training, and more. It is a visionary and radical demonstration of a potent and potentially transformative idea: not just the people of Zwide, but all people, deserve this excellence. By hiring talented architects who developed a robust strategy and illustrated a poetic vision for the project, the Ubuntu Education Fund was able to go to its donors and raise the $6 million dollars specifically targeted to pay for the building. And this investment in its

mission is already paying dividends. The people of Zwide are gradually waking up to the realization that they might, just might, indeed deserve great architecture and, by extension, the best contemporary South Africa has to offer. The radical implication of this transformative truth, and the reason the people of Zwide are still learning to embrace it, is embedded in the last century of South Africa’s history. In 1994, when South Africans gained their new constitution and Nelson Mandela was elected President, there was widespread relief: apartheid had ended! The celebration, it turned out, was premature. While it is true that the debilitating racist legal structure of the former government had been disbanded, the effects of decades under its auspices persist in myriad ways. Apartheid’s limits on economic, cultural, social and educational opportunity for the vast majority of the population have resulted in a steep climb out of poverty. And the recent prosperity of the nation has created a scattering of wealth for formerly oppressed black and colored citizens, while the leaving millions in almost exactly the same position they were in prior to 1994. This raw fact is particularly visible today in the former black townships of the nation. The black townships of South Africa were consciously designed by architects and planners serving the apartheid regime to be underserved bedroom communities. These were always located on undesirable land, often on sandy unstable soil or marshy flood-prone ground. Commercial activity was legally restricted

and erratically controlled. Factories located nearby to take advantage of captive labor contributed to unhealthy environmental quality. Transportation to jobs in the white city was inconvenient and expensive. Schools were heartless barracks where purposely substandard education was delivered. Health care was severely limited. While there were some exceptions, townships were also characterized by single story sprawl and limited water and sewer service. It almost did not matter that the roads were so poor because few could afford a car and everyone walked everywhere. Yet, despite all of this, the townships were vibrant communities and many were the locus of the sophisticated political maneuvering that led, after years of struggle, to the end of the apartheid system. Racial restrictions during apartheid meant that the townships were not typical places of poverty for they also contained educated and professional blacks: doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers and so on. And even those in poverty labored to make their houses, even if the poorest shacks, into neat and well-kept homes. So what has happened to these places in the sixteen years since apartheid was dismantled? The sad answer is, for most townships, very little—except that many in the middle class have pulledup stakes and moved to the former white city. Flying over South Africa it is easy to see that the double landscape of apartheid--here the white town, there the black township—persists. From the vast stretches of Soweto, scaled to the size of Johannesburg, the big city that

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it serves, to the parched dusty grid of shacks a kilometer away from a small country town, the physical results of the debilitating racist legal structure of apartheid continue to shape the daily lives of millions. Most of the over one million units of housing the government have been built since 1994 are located within existing townships or, as in the Cape Flats, in the marginal landscape on far edges of them. This pattern replicates the isolation of the residents from jobs and transportation. However, local commercial activity has emerged and the government has invested in some civic structures such as scattered libraries and schools, and an occasional transit hub.

rest of the streets, if they have ever seen pavement at all, are potholed with ragged edges and no sidewalks.

Zwide is, in most ways, a typical township: a sprawling landscape of single story houses, each on its own postage stamp lot. This is punctuated with a handful of industrial buildings, a couple of dormitories for use of transient workers, a scattering of commercial and institutional structures and laced with open lots. These lots are not fenced and some host pick-up soccer games or a few grazing goats. However, these unkempt fields could never be mistaken for public space. They are, instead, no-man’s land where rules do not apply and where safety is not guaranteed. There are no parks, only the barren playground at the local school. Planted at regular intervals across the township are enormously tall light standards who high wattage lights flood the township with a yellow-orange glare after sundown. Threading through all this are a few wide, well-paved roads. The

Indeed, a primary need in undoing the spatial legacy of apartheid, is re-making townships into towns---with robust and affordable public transportation, commercial activity, public space and civic institutions. The role of good design--not just housing a function, but making a cultural and visual contribution, reorganizing and rescaling space—is certainly recognized in South Africa as it reshapes the townships. Governments, from the national to the local level, have sponsored projects in the townships in the first steps of the vast undertaking of transforming the landscape into something resembling a real town.

Everyone is South Africa knows how politics and space interact. They know that architecture—as opposed to building-is a cultural product usually reserved for those with power. Those with power, the kids of Zwide know, make this kind of architecture in towns, not townships. Put another way, one of the things that make a town is an investment in buildings that serve cultural purposes, buildings where the building itself is a cultural contribution, a demonstration of craft, an investment in the future.

In the past ten or twelve years, a number of architects have built architecturally significant buildings in the former townships—primarily those near cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port

above the building Ubuntu has outgrown, to be preserved and used for solar energy production Des ig n in g Ub u n tu 11

Elizabeth. In the ramshackle Kliptown area of Soweto a vast new commercial center, transportation hub and public plaza called Walter Sisulu Square was completed in 2005. The bold, wellexecuted complex has been slow to settle in to the fabric of daily life in Kliptown, the site of the famous 1955 Freedom Charter march and gathering. The result of an international competition, the project was designed by Pierre Swanepoel of Johannesburg. At an opposite scale and on the other side of Johannesburg in one of the country’s oldest townships, Alexandra, is a tiny, resourceful project by Johannesburg-based Peter Rich. The Alexandra Interpretation Centre serves multiple functions: community center, training facility and interpretation center for Mandela’s Yard: the small house across the road where Nelson Mandela lived in his years working in Johannesburg. Yet the construction is robust, poetic and creates a place within Alex by linking the two little corner lots it occupies with a bridge spanning over the street and claiming outdoor space. The bridge becomes a marker and a gateway, the little plazas rare public outdoor places in the township. The Cape Town region is spatially organized differently from other cities in South Africa. The sandy windswept area east of the headland and Table Mountain became the dumping ground for “blacks” and “coloreds” during apartheid. Known collectively as the Cape Flats, this area contains dozens of townships, including Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, and Langa, along with the Cape Town International Airport


and hundreds of industrial installations. The Flats are dotted with inspiring projects by local Cape Town architects— they include infrastructure like bus stops and transit stations, schools from private pre-schools to public high schools, recreational facilities, and some housing. To date, however, these are a tiny drop in the vast ocean of single story housing in various states of repair the sprawl over the flats. The townships of the Cape Flats have a long way to go to become even the semblance of towns and the efforts to do so are hampered by their physical and economic isolation from the center of Cape Town. Port Elizabeth, positioned on the southeastern coast of the country, was one of the first places in South Africa to reorganize its local governments at the end of apartheid. In 2001 the city merged with the various townships and other outlying areas into the Mandela Municipality. Since then the Municipality has been relatively active in beginning to reshape apartheid space, particularly in the realm of infrastructure. One of the other townships in the Port Elizabeth area is New Brighton, home of Govan Mbecki and other visionary leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1998, with the urging of these men, the Municipality sponsored a competition for the design of a cultural precinct for New Brighton. The ambitious competition brief called for a library, a theater, a marketplace, an arts complex and a museum commemorating the struggle against apartheid. In other words, it

called for the key economic and cultural amenities that help define a town. The competition was won by Noero Wolff Architects of Cape Town, who have also done significant work in the Cape Flats. After various delays, the first phase of the project, the Red Location Museum, was opened to critical acclaim in 2006. The project was published widely in the international architectural press and was awarded the 2006 Lubetkin Prize, a high honor from the Royal Institute of British Architects. The Municipality continues to support the completion of the precinct with the arts center and library currently under construction.

The Ubuntu Education Centre, just a few kilometers from the New Brighton project, joins this list of notable buildings in helping to transform the monotonous landscape of the townships. Clearly, this is a significant building—for the people of Zwide and South Africa, as well as for architects and architecture. But it does even more than that: it challenges non-profits all over the world to expand their thinking about the contributions architecture can make to their missions.

above Ubuntu Center amidst walled homes on Queque Street

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Director of Empowerment

This building is making a statement. Its saying, “Look, these communities are here to stay.” This building symbolizes that. It’s says that if you can fast forward a hundred years from now, these communities are going to be here. We are building something that’s going to symbolize not only the efforts of everybody who cares about the community, but something that’s going to change the way people view the


township, in general. This building is going to help ignite that. It’s going to help ignite us. In fact, it’s going to be the beginning of a revolution. I can tell you right now. And just imagine now, when this thing is here, what will that say to other people around. Now you can build anything. Now you can develop the township.

Health Education Counselor

Who could have come up with this idea during apartheid years? I mean, these are people who didn’t care about black people. Now, this is something that was initiated by people who live through themselves the spirit of Ubuntu. An American guy and a South African guy who initiated this whole thing. So from the point of view of South Africa, I don’t think that there


could have ever been something like this. There was not such a thing like this before. To be honest with you, I think for me it’s the first time having this. Honestly, it’s the first time having this thing, a quality cultural centre. It is the embodiment of everything that is comprised of a good value system. You know, it’s profound.

Ubuntu Staff

I’m saying now, Mr. Stan, his mind and his heart are transparent. And there’s one thing, my friend, I can tell you: this Centre is a legacy for the future. This building is a strong foundation. Deep and lasting, of warmth and tenderness. Emotion of devotion. This building, if ever you are there, it starts to change your mind and heart and your feeling inside. It makes you feel happy. It makes you feel great. And it makes us feel proud. And it’s not only us. The people who are working here in this building, even the community, the people around this building feel it. This building, it improves their infrastructure in the area, which means that people, if ever they are talking about

this building, if they are talking about Ubuntu, they are talking about Zwide township, it also includes them. Which means they are benefiting because they are close to Ubuntu. They know that if ever they need help, they can go there. Which improves lots of things, you see? This is the first time you will find a building like this in a township. Because this building, it’s unique. It’s really unique. People are convening, you see? This building speaks louder than us. You see? Everybody knows us through this building.

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above home across from Red Location Museum in neighboring New Brighton


A Building that Belongs Stan Field

The new liberated South Africa finds itself in the dichotomous situation of straddling the new world of information and technology together with the old infrastructure and remaining ‘scar tissue’ of the apartheid era. Major strides have already been made in laying the robust and enlightened foundations of justice and reconciliation, where the wisest, most acute minds were drawn from both the recognized halls and institutions together with the collective wisdom that was forged though the crucible of the people’s struggle. In contrast, however - and possibly drowned out by the euphoria that was inevitably felt in the aftermath of the momentous rebirth of the ‘Rainbow’ nation - was the same vision conceived in the realm of its physical counterpart: the built environment. The saying, “Show me your cities and I will tell you of its people,” would have applied perfectly to the previous era. So now what if these cities, towns and townships no longer “tell of its people.” If their face and heart don’t speak of the Rainbow Spirit: the spirit of Ubuntu. The traces of that code, undefined by any city or municipal code, can still be deciphered and felt in the footpaths of every township.

Truth and reconciliation were played out in the theatre of justice and forgiveness, and to a large degree helped the painful process of letting go of the past and healing. Now the tangible results and collective consequences of that process are calling out for an overhauled mindset. One that is intrinsically African, and points a way forward for South Africans, as well as helping South Africa find its place in the global community. Ubuntu, the practice of humaneness based in the connection between people, can become a template for this shift in mindset, and a template for sustainability for the emerging environments of the new South Africa. “When a Xhosa headman was asked on one occasion in the nineteenth century why it was that, if cattle trampled the corn in the gardens of a tribesman, he would make no claim for damages against the owner of the beasts, his reply was: “we don’t know why; we came into the world finding the custom already in existence…” He was of course speaking of Ubuntu— humanness. Ubuntu was common practice then, and is highly relevant for our times - on a personal and on a global scale. It reflects the collective consciousness of a world defined by unprecedented

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global connection and the resurgence of local, community based organization. It provides a timely and practical template for sustainability on a societal as well as an environmental level, through which common bonds are fostered and difference is celebrated. Ubuntu both defines and creates community. As a practice that flows from the indigenous offerings of South Africa, Ubuntu provides a potent and practical model for realizing the enlightened promises of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Beyond Zwide, Ubuntu is an effective model for communitybased design and development, in which local resources and sensibilities are constructively expressed in ways that resonate with the people of a given place. The ethos of Ubuntu is directly premised on sustaining individuals as a community whole, and as a process in which every step forward is a measure of success - its expectations scalable. Designing the Ubuntu Centre was a challenge to translate this idea in to a working structure that changes the local mindset about what people in the township can achieve, as well as international assumptions of what children in the developing world deserve. My last day of High School was memorable. All was more or less said and done, and my Afrikaans teacher went around the class asking each boy what he was going to be. “Arnold Bayes”, he called. A “genius,” Arnold responded with confidence.


“Scientist!” the boy who sat in the front row proclaimed. And so it went on until my name was called… “Field!”. ”Architect”, I responded. ”What!” Exclaimed the teacher. “Jy sal vrek van die honger!” Literally translated from Afrikaans, “You will die of hunger!” And so began my architectural career. I do see architecture as a noble profession, so affected by the times, yet equally capable of affecting them in turn. And so, to return to this same place - just a few miles from where I spent that memorable last day of school - in these times, feels as if the way has been cleared, and this new time ready to be defined. Unlike science and even art, architecture is not inspired by the future nor by trying to predict it. Architecture is about the obvious that’s never been stated. It is about the recognizable that’s never been seen. The beat we all know, that’s never been taught. It’s like coming home!

above Ubuntu Centre arising from Zwide

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‘what kind


of a shape is this?’ PART ONE Stan: I have grappled my entire architectural career – and so have Jess and I together – with trying to define the difference between form and shape . And here in Zwide, along came Tsepo with the answer: “You know,” he says, “this shape, I have never seen something like this before. It’s so unique that when people who are passing by here, they look at the building and say ‘What kind of a shape is this?’ And even in the centre of town, there is no building like this. So the uniqueness of it, that’s the first thing that attracts your attention. On top of it will be gardening - such things are very unique. You will never find them anywhere. It is the embodiment of everything that comprises a good value system, you know - it’s profound.” Right there, Tsepo had explained to us that he was describing Form – a “kind” of shape. So when Jake approached us and said that he wanted a building that did not exist, we heard him saying that this typology, or Form, did not exist. Its form had to be conceived first; and thereafter given shape through its materials and spaces. We need to create new form, inspired by people and place and appropriate for this time. Otherwise we will continue to have to borrow from past form, and miss the opportunity of redefining our own time. If some of the best things in life are free,

then the making of architecture could do well by enlisting light and space as primary generators in its formation. Space has no shape or purpose, until light comes into play. While light has direction and color waiting to be unlocked, only when something interrupts light’s path, as it moves through space, do we perceive what it is that light is reflecting. These material interruptions reflect light to deliver the experience of the structures we inhabit. The question, “What kind of a shape is this?” can be understood as, “What purpose does this shape have?” Thick concrete walls grow from the ground and leap across before returning to the ground. Their roofs are sloping, their walls angled towards one another. The sides are open - with no walls there - just expansive windows, draped with screens of wooden gum poles. Each one of these structures is like an independent building that belongs to a family of buildings which rely on one another for support. As the light changes throughout the day, the shape seems to move. Light which enters between the structures, drawing people into the deep, luminous spaces. This is a living building, which people know and use daily.

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above and right walls in Zwide are ubiquitous and aim to provide a sense of security to even the smallest of the townships’ homes. 24

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Deputy President

This building is really unusual in this particular community. Its going to engage you immediately, and then make you inquisitive as to what this building is - what’s going on? Ubuntu in this way makes you inquisitive. And when it makes you inquisitive, it makes you want to talk. You cannot actually deal with it on your own. You have to talk to somebody. You need somebody to support you, to tell you actually what this is. So that is Ubuntu. You’ll be on the journey to get to understand what this building is. In the journey to understand the building, you talk to people. You know, by talking to other people, they give you support. They give

you Ubuntu. Humanity. You get closer to other people. The Centre is a kind of design that needs more than only one person. You look at it, but you won’t be satisfied with what you think about it. You need another person. You need the next person - it’s sort of continuous. So it’s a building that says, “Go and interact with other people.” All that talking to people respectfully, getting to understand them and getting the wisdom of other people, that’s Ubuntu. You know? The building captures that.

Groveer Louwrens It has been quite a talking point and quite a lot of the other architects and consultants that we’re working with. They’ve been asking about it, and quite a lot of them have actually gone to the trouble of coming out here and having a look at the building and asking all sorts of funny questions. They ask a lot of questions about the

Jacob, Jana


actual design and why it looks this way, and why is this material used, and that sort of thing, which obviously we don’t have answers to. It’s not the kind of questions we can answer. But most certainly they are very impressed, you know. Especially something like this in the middle of this area. So we’re still hearing a lot about it.

President and Founder, Director of Programs

Jana. People in the community stop. People who were driving in cars and taxis stop, literally stop to see what is going on. Kids walking home from school, adults walking with their kids, they stop to see what is going on. Before the building was here, they’d stop to look at the picture, and that in itself says something to us, because people didn’t always stop when they walked past us before. Jake. You know, when we first put that billboard of the building to come out there, there was a group of kids looking at it. I asked, “What are you looking at?” And they said, “The museum.” And I thought, “Well, that says a lot.” I liked it, because to them the museum was a word that was something so grand. Do you

know what I’m saying? I thought it was cool that it was that word that they used. Grand. But also, to be honest with you, I don’t think that people, I’m talking about our staff, I’m talking about Jana and myself, I don’t think we really understand it yet. I don’t think we can understand the potential yet. The impact, the implications. I mean, I think its going to have such a profound impact on our community. And I just think, I’m hoping, I’m confident, that it’s going to have impact and some ripples that we won’t understand for a long time to come.

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From Townships to Towns


When the struggle for freedom in South Africa was finally realized, possibly the most crippling remnant of that era was laid bare - the Townships. Existing on the periphery of almost every city in South Africa no matter what scale, the township was the neglected counterpart to the town which it served. While this forced separation of the black population, sowed the seeds of hopelessness, it also spawned a vibrant, bottom-up network of self sustaining community structure that has endured. This network of informal pedestrian pathways - a hallmark of the Townships - are overlaid on the strictly ordered vehicular pattern of streets left over from Apartheid planning. The incidental pathways pay little heed to the orthogonal layout and result in pedestrian routes that have come to define township life. Drawing on this living ‘diagram’ that registers the intensity and purpose for daily pedestrian travel, the physical manifestations of new and urgently needed models of development can begin to emerge at the intersection of planning and building design. As these Townships abandon the ‘ships’ and transform into Towns, a unique, but brief, opportunity exists for harnessing the enduring vitality of these manifestations of urban life before they are lost. A bottom-up ‘Town Architecture,’ as opposed to a topdown civic architecture, could become a remarkable and integral approach, part of a locally responsive and continuous urban fabric.

Town Architecture usually comes about through a collective need. Traditionally this has rarely happened successfully through a planned process, but rather through a more organic evolution over time. The townships of South Africa were planned from above, but re-organized from below. “Separate” agendas coinciding in the same place! The unintended yet remarkable outcome of this could become wholly community designed, self-sustaining Towns. The generating force of these new Towns should be about uncovering and revealing the “ethos” of the township and its people – that underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs and practices that determine the character and disposition of the community, and all the people who comprise it. Ubuntu Centre is one of the first direct expressions manifesting people’s enduring vitality through this bottom-up phenomenon.

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0.0' el

-3.0' el


0.0' el 5

-3.0' el

-3.0' el 0.0' el 0.0' el


above pedestrian routes through Zwide centre





















5 6

2 4



above major public facilities 1 the ubuntu center 2 childrens playground 3 middle school 4 street market and future shopping 5 public library 6 fifa grass roots soccer field Des ig n in g Ub u n tu 31

Architecture’s Role in Community Development


above Ubuntu founders Jacob Lief and Banks Gwaxula Architects Stan Field and Jess Field

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Material for Permanence Concrete

above Zwide’s first rooftop garden


above Banks, running his hands over the concrete, remarking, “Is’s so soft” Des ig n in g Ub u n tu 35


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above superintendent Toya sets up a ladder to the roof 38

from the inside out PART TWO

In the same way that Ubuntu Education Fund designed their programs through a deep engagement with the community, the design of the Ubuntu Centre rose through early, and deep conversation with the community. This dialogue, which began barely 5 years into the life of Ubuntu Education Fund, meant that the design of the Centre began to inform the development of Ubuntu’s programs, just as the programs informed the design of the new Centre. Driven by a vision for the future of the children of Zwide, and dedicated to realizing that vision. In contrast with the conventional model of programs being defined by necessity and resources alone, here, the form of the building together with Ubuntu’s programs began to define one another. In this way, the building became an increasingly direct expression of the programs themselves. As Ubuntu Education Fund’s programs were growing, and the building design presented opportunities, the two began to effect one another - each propelling the other to be more effective, reach deeper into a child’s life, uplift.

thoughts and experiences. Implicit in a return to these daily negotiations of the township walking routes by the people of Zwide is a recognition of the often overlooked resources of the community itself that are reinvested here through local networks of communication and support. The programs of Ubuntu Education Fund represent a communitybased response to the needs of Zwide today. They reflect and support the resourcefulness and resilience of its residents. The work of Ubuntu represents a deep and lasting investment in the vitality of the township that will sustain the community for generations to come, and the architecture not only reinforces this for future growth, but sends a clear message to the world beyond the townships.

The architecture of Ubuntu Centre intensifies the existing township infrastructures of social and cultural exchange. It grows from, and is shaped by the pedestrian routes through the township - along which people walk, talk, and share their

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above Ubuntu Centre in elevation, from concept to realization. Des ig n in g Ub u n tu 41



Deputy President

When we empower people in this organization, we look at their qualifications and also their capabilities. We also look at, does one have Ubuntu vibe? What we call Ubuntu vibe. And then we take them on the site. We take them on the site whilst we are doing our interviews. Part of the

induction is to take the person on the site, give them the history of this organization, and give them the history of, you know, what this is. So they know who the architect is, how he did it. We give them that information. We make it a point.


Programs Manager

You can’t move away from the philosophy of Ubuntu. All of these ideas are the same thing. The building. The programs. It is the same thing. It’s speaks to the Ubuntu philosophy. There is no contrast. I see it working and I see it bringing even more hope to the people that are providing the services.


Director of Empowerment

If you trace the path of a person, they will trace it back to the Ubuntu Centre and say, “This is where I got enlightened. This is where I got knowledge.” And a kid now who is at university, or who has now passed with distinction, cum laude, or PhD, will come back and say, “It all started at this Centre. I was from this side, and this is who I am.” When it comes to the philosophy of Ubuntu, that’s what it’s all about. The people around you make a complete picture

of what you are. I am because you are. I am because there’s this one, and this supports me from another. And that’s beautiful. I definitely love it. Currently as the world is trying to find solutions to some of its challenges, I’ve always said to people, “A lot of answers lie on just allowing people to open their mouths and talk and support each other.” And Ubuntu, that’s what it’s all about.

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above daylight penetrating deep into all interior spaces 44

above natural light bringing out subtle textures in each material and surface Des ig n in g Ub u n tu 45

above paved walkways peeling up to provide places to rest and windows into the eastern cape’s native flora 46

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• Non-congestive extension of pedestrian footpaths • Connect major public facilities • Accessible 24 hours

• Training space for schools, clinics and NGOs • Meeting space for 250 people • Theatre for after-school programming, holiday camps, and performances • Cafeteria with catering facilities

• HIV & TB testing site and laboratory • HIV management and support facility • Family and child-friendly counselling rooms

above diagram of the different components that make up the Ubuntu Centre





• • • •

• • • •

• Shaded pedestrian promenade “Avenue of 1000 trees” • Seasonal rooftop vegetable garden

Office space for up to 250 staff Conference rooms and workshop space Handicap accessible Adequate parking

Multimedia research room Computer laboratory Group study areas Career guidance and bursary administration facility

• Psychosocial Counselling Facility

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Voices will Rise Ubuntu Hall

Music and performance have long sustained Zwide, providing the means for creative expression and cultural continuity. The Community Theater and Mutli-Purpose Hall provides a space for the cathartic story telling and restorative communion in the heart of Zwide. The acoustics of the theater are calibrated for a richness and depth of sound that assures these stories will be heard with vibrance and clarity. The generous vertical volume of the Hall allows voices to rise and fill the space, resonating in the hearts of the people throughout the township. The Hall serves the complementary need for an open and flexible gathering space for up to 250 people for community meetings, career fairs, training workshops for teachers and NGO’s, and after-school functions for students. The Hall is adjacent to kitchen facilities, which provide needed nutrition for Zwide’s children and catering for community events. The flexible nature of the building volume supports the need for a large scale space for shelter and impromptu organization in response to extreme weather conditions or unforeseen adversity within the community. In a place where the assembly of a group of more than several people was seen as a threat to the established apartheid system, the right to gather and associate is now seen as a source of strength, representing the very heart of the democratic ideal. The space now exists for the community’s stories to persist and evolve in the Centre of Zwide.

above the completed Hall entrance 50

above rendering of the Hall entrance at night Des ig n in g Ub u n tu 51

above Stan describing the quality of light that will play on the acoustic gum pole screen 52

above the much anticipated light does its dance

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above Hugh Masekela plays the first note in the Hall


above a place for voices to rise, where the human spirit is placed at center stage to be celebrated Des ig n in g Ub u n tu 57



Team Leader

I can see myself in the new building. I can. And most of all, I can’t wait because there are many things that we’ll be able to do. It’s going to have enough counseling rooms. There’ll be privacy. And secondly, now when we are doing tests, testing for HIV, we’ll be able to do that without being delayed by the outside clinics. So there is a gap that has been closed. Now we’re able to provide complete services.

start working with us even though they’re not employed by Ubuntu. You know, we empower them. They are like ambassadors, you know? They help us now to spread the word to empower the community. In a few years to come, as much as the community now is totally different, there will be an even bigger difference. Because it’s not only about Ubuntu, but because of Ubuntu, the community members themselves are now able to make a change in the community.

Now, because of the positive attitude that people now have, they have begun to


President and Founder

The language of the building, and how it speaks, it’s real. It’s not just poetry, it’s not just words. That’s what I think we didn’t understand in the beginning. Stan is an eloquent speaker, he speaks in poetry, but it’s more than that. He is actually getting at something much


deeper. You know, when I got back in January I just went into the Hall. I always remember my biggest fear was that that the Hall wasn’t going to be right. I couldn’t envision it. But when I walked in there, the ceilings are huge and the windows were big, and it was amazing.

Mosaic Artist

I need some undertones of alienation, you know, because most people that are going through AIDS experience, being infected with AIDS means being kind of alienated from the collective. I’d love to convey that feeling, but not in a figurative manner. I want people to find their own individual, independent path to interpret it. Travel their own path into the artwork and interpret it the way it suits them. That’s why I want to make a more subtle kind of atmospheric feeling.

work of this. So I’m not doing anything figurative. I want to give feel of certain feelings, but I want to keep that feel working with ethnic colors. Because you’d have this as it is. No paint, no white. I think ethnic colors would go more. And then I’ll have stuff like this, and some figures, and some other elements overlapping that line. So it won’t be prejudiced by a certain border. It will come in and outside. And you can see it against the sky. I wanted that light kind of feel.

I’m also planning to use ethnic colors. I will come up with a full color drawing, you know, a rough

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Connected for life HIV/TB Clinic

Residents of Zwide often arrive at the HIV/TB Clinic when they are at their most vulnerable. Building trust between the clinic staff and patients establishes the support network that will sustain them through their lives. The architecture of the clinic facilitates this critical process by providing the discretion and privacy needed for personal reflection, while maintaining the social connections that are necessary for long term care. Integrating the testing and treatment of HIV/ AIDS into the everyday activity of the Centre de-stigmatizes an experience that has become an everyday reality for so many of its residents. Ubuntu Education Fund’s approach to the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and TB is a holistic one that addresses the particular needs of the Zwide community. HIV education outreach, testing and treatment of the illness, status awareness, transmission reduction and the counseling process comprise equally critical components of a multifaceted, community-based model of care. The clinic supports these efforts through incorporating a state of the art medical facility housed in approachable and familiar spaces. These spaces encourage the sustained care and commitment needed to contend with the medical and social challenges of the AIDS epidemic in Zwide. above mosaic artist Dolla Sapela describing his vision for a mosaic wrapping the walls of the clinic 60

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above materials and textures conflated by light

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above Ubuntu’s outreach program spans generations


Infected, Affected

Community Outreach

Much of Ubuntu Education Fund’s work takes place beyond the interior spaces of Ubuntu Centre. The porous nature of the architecture supports the outreach work of the organization by allowing it to operate not just within, but as a reciprocal part of the community. As a deeply embedded part of the Zwide, the Centre both reinforces and utilizes the pedestrian infrastructure on which the design is based. As the pathways that run through the Centre draw the community into the Centre, they simultaneously function as the arms of the organization, linking Ubuntu’s staff to the families they serve each day. Through this mutual exchange, Ubuntu Centre is both defined by and affects life in Zwide. The range of Ubuntu’s outreach programs constitute a holistic approach to HIV prevention and educational enrichment. Programs such as Men as Partners, Lifeskills and La’ita Peer Education, community HIV prevention workshops and condom distribution all function as a comprehensive foundation of support for Zwide’s children. Ubuntu staff spend much of their time outside of the Centre in local schools and homes, talking to and caring for children and their families. It is this continuum of support and sustained engagement with the community that is creating not only an unprecedented sense of opportunity and hope for the children of Zwide, but the means for it to be realized.

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above community outreach programs in Zwide


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above Banks Gwaxula, leader and role model


Making it happen Ubuntu Staff Offices

The Administrative Offices of Ubuntu Centre brings the staff into close proximity with the programs housed in the Centre and the community at large, with the space for the recuperation needed for the demands of the work. The staff of Ubuntu Education Fund is tied directly to the community through their daily interactions, and the design of the administrative offices are intended to facilitate the intimate bonds that are formed through their outreach work. Workshop and conference rooms support the ongoing evolution of Ubuntu, and the sharing of experience that is so critical to the empowerment, care and education of the community.

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skills for life

Empowerment Centre

Through Ubuntu Education Fund, the children of Zwide acquire the skills they need for academic enrichment and job training as well as the lifeskills and confidence building that will sustain them for many years to come. The Empowerment Wing of Ubuntu Centre is equipped with a multimedia resource Centre, including a computer lab and library, that support the educational tutoring, career counseling and life mentorship offered by the Resource Centre staff. Ubuntu Education Fund has already supported the education and lives of thousands of children and adults in Zwide, training and aiding them with internships, bursary assistance for higher education and job placements. It is these skills that create unprecedented opportunities for the children of Zwide and the inspiring guidance that will nurture the next generation of leaders in the community. Ubuntu Education Fund began with and continues to engage in a process of deep listening to the people that they serve, enabling the staff to respond to immediate needs of individual children. The Empowerment Wing provides the space for this critical dialogue and the means for meeting the unique needs of each child. The resources of the Empowerment Centre, combined with staff mentorship, provide the stability and confidence needed for the realization of the distinct potential of each child in Zwide.

right children of Zwide learning skills for life 70

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Tembagazi Even now, every day, from the time I started up until now, I feel very different, you know? I feel proud. It seems like now I live Ubuntu. As a result, sometimes my friends will say to me, “Hey, you’re not on duty!” You know? I don’t know what makes us like that. It’s not only me. If you work for Ubuntu for some time, for a long time, you happen to live what you’re doing. You get my point? And your clients, you don’t regard them as clients anymore. I came to the office last week and we were talking about the matric results. I was thinking of one boy, because he’s not only my client. I was thinking of him, because he was a very troublesome boy. And I struggled even to get him back to school, you know? I had to really struggle, you know? And there was no support from home, you know? Then one of my colleagues said he passed. I said, “Oh, he passed!” I said, “Oh my God, is that true? Yes. I don’t believe this!” I wanted to go to his home, you know? I almost cried, because of his background. At first there was a lot of business surrounding him that made him who is now. Misbehaving, you know? So for me, the fact that he passed for matric, it was an achievement. I saw him when he was crossing the road, and it happened that he was also coming to see me. I saw him coming and he was running to me and I nearly cried. I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t believe it! He said thanks, thanks, thanks. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked at him. And he said, “Okay, then what’s next?” I was so relieved to hear that question, because it means he’s ready, you know? Now that he’s passed matric, he wants to go on with his studies to the university. Now he’s motivated. Now he’s motivated. And yet his aunt told me, “You’re wasting your time.” There was no support. He had no support


Team Leader

from the family. His mother passed on. He has no parents. He has a sister who’s doing grade six. So there was no hope at home, and anyway they didn’t care. They told me that you’re wasting your time. In January, I went back to the school where he was supposed to do grade twelve. I came in with him and the principal said, “Oh, what is he doing here?” She said, “I never want to see you in my office.” I said, “Okay, I’m in trouble here.” I asked him to wait for us outside. You know, I wanted to get her attention. The principal said, “If you came here to talk to me about this boy, forget it.” So I knew that I’m in for it, but I was going to do my best, because I want that boy back in class. I had to convince her, and she didn’t want to discuss it. She gave me all the feedback about him, and everything she was telling me were really bad things, you know? He was behaving in a very bad manner. And then he said, “You know what? I’m going to call one teacher.” He looked outside and called one child and said to call any teacher that she could find. Then a teacher came in and the principal said, “Okay, Miss Soand-So, sorry to disturb you, but I want you to tell Miss Nshwachu about this boy.” And she said, “Oh, if you call me about him, I don’t have time for that.” I was waiting for some lightning to burst, but I said, “Okay, can I schedule a meeting with you guys in the absence of this boy?” The principal said, “Yes, it’s fine. It’s fine.” So we had a meeting the following week, and I had to convince her about him. I said, “Okay, let’s look at the bigger picture here. Let’s look at the results of what might become of that boy if you don’t allow him to come back to school. He might end up being a criminal. Because he will try to get something for himself, to support himself,

so he will become a criminal and go to jail and everything. You never know, and I don’t think you want us - and when I say us, because we are his parents - I don’t think you want us to be blamed one day. How would you feel one day when you find out that he’s in jail for twenty years because he has done something. It’s not like I don’t believe everything you have been through with him, but you’ve no idea what we’ve being going through. Can you please give him a second chance? You are talking about a second chance but we’ve been giving him many chances. Let’s say this is the last chance.” Later he was in here wearing white shorts , and I said, “Okay, we’ve got to talk about getting back to school.” I’m went to the office to see if there’s a way to get him a uniform. I spoke to Jana, and Jana signed, and I bought him a full uniform. He went back to school, and then it was February, I think it was on the 16th. I remember very well. I was sitting here and I received a phone call. “Is that Tembagazi?” “Yes.” “Of Ubuntu?” “Yes.” It was not even the principal. It was just one of the teachers at the school, who went to the principal to talk about the boy. The principal gave him my number, and said I was the person that

you are supposed to talk to. He was calling to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. What have you done? What have you done? This boy is totally different.” And since then, I’ve had constant counseling sessions with him. I called him to the office to thank him. Remember, most of the time teachers, what they do is they emphasize what you’re not doing. They say, “What you’re supposed to be doing, you’re not doing that.” They forget to thank kids for the good they’ve done. They forget to embrace kids for what they’ve done, and say well done, you know? They don’t know that kids also deserve that, and that it can make a difference, you know? So those are the things that’s make you feel like waking up and coming to work. You feel like you’re making a difference. Those are the things that make you feel good.

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above youth in Zwide coming together in the Ubuntu Center to learn and grow their skills Des ig n in g Ub u n tu 75

Space to Grow

Public and Rooftop Gardens right one of many gardens now growing in the once barren Zwide

The Rooftop Gardens of Ubuntu Centre are part of a larger network of community gardens that are creating new life throughout Zwide. These gardens provide nutritional, financial and emotional sustenance for Zwide’s residents and will have a transformative effect on the township landscape. Vegetables grown in the gardens supplement the nutritional content of daily lunches provided by Ubuntu, and further cultivate the potential of locally based resources for Zwide. The gardens, which are managed by a co-op of previously unemployed parents, contribute both food to schools and families as well as much needed income from sales of the produce. The gardens, beyond providing nourishment for Zwide, foster self-sufficiency, a sense of participation in the community upliftment and profound connection to the earth.


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above gardens in Zwide are sparse, at the Ubuntu Center the community come to learn gardening skills to grow produce on their own 78

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Garden and Feeding Program

You know, Ubuntu is doing the community work here, right when people get inside that door, at the reception. We give the people the impression that it’s going to make you feel free if you came here with your problems, whatever is pressing on the shoulder, by that smile you get at the door. We make you feel welcome and give you a cup of coffee. People ask them some questions. “Are you happy here? This is your Ubuntu.” So people are getting that kind of a message all over. Ubuntu is not about one person who is inside here, but Ubuntu is about the


community. The organization is owned by the community. Even from outside, you know, at the gardens, I make sure that people understand that those gardens are not owned by Ubuntu, but by the community. So when people get a sense of ownership, nothing will happen to that project, because they know it’s their project. It benefits them. So I guess that this building is going to be safe here, because people are going to know that this is for us. And you cannot spoil what is yours. You take care.

Garden and Feeding Program

You need to make the foundation strong, and the foundation in our life is here with the community. So being involved in these food gardens here, providing to the community, especially to the needy, it gives me a sense of purpose in life. I guess all of us here, we’re here on purpose. No one is here by mistake or is here just to spend time. We’re here on purpose. And every time that we do something that we enjoy, that we are passionate about, we think,“I’m on the right track with my purpose.” So I guess by making sure that people are having these vegetables fresh from the garden to the soup and the spoon clinic and everything, it’s part of my purpose.

to get a good breakfast. No matter if you don’t get your quality life, in the morning you’ve got to have a quality breakfast. So I guess by Ubuntu transferring the gardening skills to the community, we are participating in making sure that there is food circulating this country. Having food security is better health. It’s like a healthy nation that will lead to life well lived for people. Because we want to make sure that people live life to the fullest. So I guess we’re laying a very big road here.

I guess the important thing is, you cannot do anything on an empty stomach. In the morning you’ve got

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above Mava and staff from the Garden and Feeding program 82

above Ubuntu Centre rooftop gardens

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place to go through The design of Ubuntu Centre begins with the red earth of Zwide township and the traces of the stories it holds. In Zwide, each footprint on the land marks an opportunistic act. The architecture of Ubuntu Centre emerges from these everyday assertions and the potential that they hold, marking a more humane path forward for the community of Zwide. Ubuntu Centre is designed as a place to go through. The maintenance of the original footpaths across the site allows township life to flow into and through the space of the Centre, providing a measure of discretion for those making the often difficult journey to the clinic for HIV/AIDS testing and treatment. As an integral and approachable component of township life, the layout of the Centre affirms the identity and those living with HIV/AIDS and fosters the open dialogue necessary for community support networks. The spaces created by the footpaths through the buildings further supports the vital work of Ubuntu Centre by creating opportunities for chance encounters, promoting social exchange, the sharing of information and the strengthening of relationships. The proximity of the clinic to the other programmatic functions within the Centre further normalizes the prevention and treatment process, while maintaining the private space needed for healing. Situating Ubuntu Centre on this site in Zwide township represents a significant shift in perspective and approach to building design. Initiated on Zwide’s own terms, the design process begins with an honest reckoning with the embedded complexities of the site’s history and how it functions within the community today. While preserving this infrastructure, the architectural form of the Centre emerges from this network, utilizing the latent potential for exchange and collective renewal inherent in the site. Des ig n in g Ub u n tu 85




allowing passage of people and light

informal paths connect the disparate spaces and programs

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Director of Empowerment

The pathways all come in and they cross. They cross inside the Centre. Hopefully the Centre will finally be the statement of what a typical township building or institution should look like. There should be no separate segments. There should be a free-flow within.


Health Education Counselor

The building is accessible to all. Having that accessibility, that Ubuntu spirit, it means, “Welcome all. We embrace you. Come. Come.”


Programs Manager

We do workshops and we meet people as they’re walking. We talk with the people. Maybe Tsepo will be going to the clinic and see four people on his way. And they start engaging with them and talking to them. He’ll find out where they are going, like to the clinic or the post office. And then he will start a dialogue with them and see how much they know about HIV. That would be the start of a discussion until he gets to the clinic and they go to where they’re going. We don’t want people to see it as if they have arrived and there’s nowhere that they’re going after it.

Ubuntu should be seen as a gateway to wherever you are supposed to be going. The people shouldn’t feel like all their answers are at Ubuntu, because then they will depend on us. We want to see people getting independent and not depend on Ubuntu for everything. They should walk through Ubuntu to where they are going.

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Dissolving Borders

As the barriers imposed by apartheid began to fall, concrete walls and fences began to arise in white towns as well as black townships across South Africa. Counter to the spirit of cooperation and dialogue advanced by the new South African Constitution, property lines are increasingly defined by cinder block walls, barbed wire and video cameras. This self-imposed system of separation arose in response to an increasing sense of vulnerability and insecurity brought on by the ingrained mistrust between and within population groups, compounded by the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS and the destabilizing effects of increased violence and crime. Ironically, the increasing separation between public and private space represents a de facto system of restricted movement, sanctioned not through the repressive measures of government, but through the physical manifestation of postapartheid trauma. Even as significant and deeply transformative progress has been made in the political and social realms, the lingering effect of this territorial delineation threatens to hamper the full realization of the enlightened and visionary intent of the new Constitution’s words. Architects are increasingly called to consider the psychological impact of the built environment and dissolve the obstacles to free expression and opportunity that many buildings once represented. As with the open gesture of Ubuntu, architecture can serve to confront


the fearful response to a fragile social condition by fostering a more humane environment for healing and reconciliation through the courageous embrace of the most vulnerable. An early ambition of the design of Ubuntu Centre was to invert the imminent effects of this crippling dynamic. The walls that formerly defined the hardened edge of the street are now transformed as the civic space of the community, just as the concrete walls that once surrounded Ubuntu Centre’s site are reconstituted through the form of the Centre into a place of gathering. What once excluded and enclosed, now invites and comforts. The assembly of buildings of Ubuntu Centre assume an open and inviting posture, providing desperately needed access to the health and healing care, educational mentoring, and the means for creative expression. As a succinct expression of the Ubuntu ethos, Ubuntu Centre projects a dignified, yet unassuming presence in the midst of Zwide. By dissolving the border between exterior and interior, the Centre promotes a sense of unrestricted access to, and collective ownership of the site. A reciprocal exchange between the public and private realms is created as the pathways thread in and through the building volumes, allowing for both the unimpeded flow of movement as well as moments of repose for healing and reflection.

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above brackets were designed so that each pole can be simply fixed using the lower brackets as a ladder 92

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Garden and Feeding Program

Yah, division, you know? You cannot see your neighbor. We are imprisoning ourselves against our neighbors. Here is the new concept. Once you do something unique and inspiring, you will see, even in our society, those walls will be down. Those walls will be down. I’m telling you.

Sometimes we say that by fencing you are safe. But in most cases you are victimized while you are fenced. But with this building, without any fence, is going to change the mindset. Let it free flow.


Deputy President

This building is actually the community’s building. People will definitely feel like they own it. It’s theirs. I’ve seen many buildings being built with boundary walls, and they’re taking power from the people. It’s a provocation. The openness of this building says, “This is yours. No restriction. You are free.”


Director of Empowerment

The building is a symbol of hope that cuts through very strong stereotypes that exist in the townships. The stereotype says, “If you build anything in these communities, you must have a very strong boundary wall, with lockable gates. When will that mentality change?” When you look into the way this building is built, it’s glass. I

don’t see locks and gates, I see nice gumpoles. It symbolizes hope. This Centre is a symbol of openness. Someone else believes in us. Someone believes that we can be trusted with something this beautiful and wonderful.

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Revealing Ubuntu Visible Manifestation of Life

Architecture translates the ephemeral infrastructures of everyday activity into structures that support and promote these momentary interactions. Ubuntu Centre gives itself over to these daily exchanges, communicating a sense of suspended animation and possibility. Ubuntu Centre is designed with an unfiltered sensibility, reflecting the lives of the people of Zwide through the form and function of the buildings. The architecture of the Centre is acutely attuned to the way in which Zwide operates, beyond the more apparent topographical and infrastructural characteristics of its landscape. The pathways crossing Zwide represent an informal but not random expression of life in Zwide. The trace of this movement, sketched on the ground through the footpaths, serves as a living record of communal intent and connection. The architecture of Ubuntu Centre reveals these otherwise invisible marks and converts them into a visible manifestation of township life.


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above architecture of necessity


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Ubuntu Staff

I know this place. I used to pass through here. Before this building was here, there was nothing here. It was a piece of space. It was a land. But now, this guy has designed a building in that space. Stan, he didn’t build only walls, he built a space. Because that building is so spacious. And as much as it is so spacious, the atmosphere you can inhale in there. It’s pure and it’s natural. And the comfortability of the space, we know that, everyone does know that the space is very important in this way. You see? The designer

that was designing that building noticed that and designed the spatial comfortability. Even though it is so spacious, you are comfortable. You see? That’s one thing I’ve noticed. And that building, it’s so unique. I don’t want to lie about that. In scale of one to ten, if heaven is number ten, we are number nine. We are so close. We are feeling so great to have that building. It speaks a lot about us.


President and Founder

The history, it’s a nice history about this land, this was a post office, you know it was built with prefabs, so in 1976 everything that belonged to the government was burnt down, and this post office was serving the people of Zwide and it was burnt down.


Deputy President

This particular piece of land has been always, in a sense, it had this potential to bring people together. We used to have a post office, way back, this was an open space and there was a post office which was actually built here. And the post office was serving quite a number of things. First, during pension, social grant, people would actually converge over here for their social grant. And obviously, during that time of actually getting their pensions, people interact, people talk. People, they share their achievements, they share everything. People learn from each other at that point in time. People, they support one another at that point in time,

you know? And after that, the post office was actually burned down 1976, during the uprising. Again, once when we have a Centre here, people will always come here, you know? Again, it’s an opportunity for people to interact, where people actually share quite a number of things. People introducing each other to another one, you know? That has been happening again here.

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Independent Volumes Mutual Support

The architecture of Ubuntu Centre arises as an integral component of Zwide township, embodying the heart of the Ubuntu ideal, “I am because you are.� The potential of the Ubuntu philosophy in an architectural context is to expose and reconcile the particular history of a community, reflecting back to the community their collective past as well as their hopes and aspirations. Architecture emanates from a source, translating through its programmatic organization, material expression and cognitive effect, the complexities of the site’s narrative and the expression of a possible future. Through a process of extracting the essential meaning of the landscape, informed by the daily negotiations of it by the people who live there, Ubuntu Centre harnesses the latent potential of the site, and transforms it into an architectural form evoking collective desires of the people of Zwide. The independent building volumes of Ubuntu Centre stand in mutual support of each other, each expressing the discrete programs housed within them, while constituting a collective whole. The distributed plan echoes the distributed urban network at an architectural scale. The organization of the programmatic elements throughout the buildings comprises a holistic approach to the development of each child in the community, providing spaces that uplift and programs that empower. As an expression of the Ubuntu spirit, the dynamic interplay between the building elements function as a seamless extension of the surrounding community. Arising from the pedestrian routes interwoven throughout the township, the Centre exists as an integral component of its context, without superficially mimicking the material and formal logic local building practices. The architecture provides a distinct identity to a place and population that was previously denied visibility. As a now fixed entity within Zwide, Ubuntu Centre projects an enduring commitment to the needs of the community, providing reassurance that they will not be abandoned.


above the distributed forms of Ubuntu Centre

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B2 A1 B1






above folded concrete walls and gum pole assembly


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Capturing Space Community of Parts

The architecture of Ubuntu Centre employs a simple yet deliberate method of capturing space, born from the existing footpaths across the site. The forms of the buildings are lifted vertically from and woven through these pathways, imparting a sense of the collective ownership by enlisting the public space of the site. The resulting volumes embrace these spaces of exchange, providing a place to congregate for the people of Zwide. Once the organizing principle of the pathways were traced on the site, the fashioning of space enclosure was achieved by setting out an unfolded pattern of enclosing surfaces. The folded concrete planes are partially self supporting, and with the lateral buttressing of the adjacent form, the ensemble of distributed form attains a collective structural integrity. This folded plate system of self-supporting walls and roofs liberates the remaining two exterior surfaces to transmit light and ventilation, free from structural responsibility. The resulting sense of support and interdependence of the parts helps to transmit an early objective we had: one in which the building itself is a community of parts acting in support of one another, transmitting the essence of the Ubuntu philosophy.

above constructing the in situ concrete walls







above exploded diagram of concrete and gum pole facades 1 folded concrete shell 2 steel truss glazing support 3 vertical steel mullions 4 glazing 5 gum pole screen

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Construction Site Supervisor

We call it a concrete pour, or lift. I think we had seven or eight of them, and needed to prop this wall, because the engineers said, “It won’t stand.” In between the walls there were so many props and stuff, you couldn’t walk there. Now imagine all the scaffolding that had to go up there to carry the roof with all the tensioning and everything. And when that

was done, we couldn’t strip it, because that wall hangs on this roof. This roof hangs on that wall. And this whole wall, and this whole building, hangs on that building there. That building leans over this way, and that other one pushes back. So, this one had to wait for that one, that one had to wait for that one, and each one of them was needed to support the other one.


Deputy President

Whenever I bring in people to look at the building, I always have a chat with the site manager. I see him looking at the drawings, and he says, “You know, this one it keeps me thinking all the time. I leave here, I go back home, I sleep, I can see it in my mind. I dream it. I can see it!” I guess what is actually very difficult is the sloping of the walls and also getting to the structure. I think he could see the ultimate, but how you get there, that’s another story.

Grove Louwrens I must be honest, in the beginning we saw sketches of the building, but we didn’t realize the degree of difficulty in actually building it, which I must say was quite difficult. One of the most difficult things that we had to do is that we normally – the structure that you build, you know, is built on its own, and eventually it gets covered, either with (finishes?) in between or a roof that’s on top of it. But because of the shape of the building, the slope of the walls, and the angles, one of the big problems was that when you hold the one thing, you cannot forget about all the


other things that need to tie into it. And this is probably the most difficult thing about the building. You couldn’t build and call it a single wall, a single room, a single unit, without taking into account at least the other three or four walls that tie into it.

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Using What Exists Adaptations of Necessity

In the broader context of the global warming crisis, amplified by the demands on resources by the rapid influx of people to urban centres, a brief opportunity now exists to establish a more sustainable model for urban redevelopment. In Zwide, resource conservation and distribution is implemented into the fiber of the built environment at both an urban and architectural scale. Investment in the pedestrian networks of places like Zwide has very real implications for the retention of indigenous modes of cultural exchange, but also the literal reduction of the carbon footprint of the residential and commercial developments that spring up around them. The consolidation of diverse programmatic functions into localized centres precludes the need for resource intensive vehicular travel. Established systems of mass transportation in Zwide simultaneously mitigates energy consumption for longer range excursions beyond the township’s edge. At the building scale, the material constitution of independent dwellings in Zwide is often improvised through found and recycled material, hung on the remnants of the NE 51/9 framework. While this practice is on many levels the result of the repressive external pressures of economic deprivation and the lasting impacts of apartheid, it also suggests the possibility of a resource efficient approach to urban development that is more responsive to local needs. Building strategies


in Zwide are often adaptations of necessity, yet communicate the specific cultural history and perspective of the place. Without romanticizing the aesthetics of poverty and the debilitating circumstances that produce it, Ubuntu Centre provides the community of Zwide with a state of the art facility that reflects a recognizable spatial and material sensibility. The architecture of the Centre is made up of familiar local building materials, reconstituted in innovative ways that convey the existing potential of the township itself. The concrete shell of the building form, a material conventionally used for the laying of infrastructural networks, is pulled up from the ground and folded over the resulting space, suggesting a sense of permanence and lasting commitment to the people of the community. The hard concrete is contrasted with the soft quality of the gumpoles, woven together between the apertures as a permeable opening for the introduction of light and air throughout the building. Summer heat is shaded through horizontal gumpole slats for the hottest times of the day while allowing the low winter sun to penetrate. The sensuous interplay between these material elements provides a dynamic relationship between the interior and exterior of the buildings as well as a direct connection between the activity of the Centre and the surrounding community.

above Ubuntu’s gum pole screen inspired by familiar local thatch craft

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above making the gum pole screen


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Garden and Feeding Program

Those izibondas keep the African flavor. Sometimes, to my point of view, people are chopping down trees because they don’t know the value of the tree. But when they see a tree used in this kind of state of the art building, they will tend to value a tree. Because it’s integrated, and something they will respect. So from now on people are going to respect whatever is made from a tree. They won’t see a pole and say it’s just a pole, they will see a pole that can be used for a great

Banks Gcobani

idea, I think. Stan: Where did we hear such an interpretation? We have to come here, you see. Mava, Where did you learn all of your wisdom from? Mava: The name “Mava,” you know what it means? Stan: No. What? Mava: Wisdom.

President and Founder

You know, whenever I talk to people that come here, you know, I talk about the love that we have for this building. You know, talking about the hard, and softness, you know? A smooth surface, like a baby’s face. I also talk about, you know, Stan’s personality. What makes us also so proud about this thing is that he is from here.

Deputy President

You know, when you look at the building, while it’s a shell, I always, you know, have this feeling. It’s going to make an echo, you know? It looks as if it’s going to make an echo. But once you get into it, you hear the quietness, you know? You don’t hear the loud noise. There’s no loud noise. When you look at it, you know, it’s so huge. So it’s going to echo. But once you start walking inside, talking to people, there’s a feeling that will fill the quietness. I don’t know what is the right way in English to express the feeling. The calmness, you know? You know, it is a gigantic building. It’s concrete,

so it’s looks like it is going to echo. But once you get closer, it changes your thinking. You walk inside and you get another, a different feeling. At a distance and as you move closer and closer, it sends different messages to you, you know? It’s talking to you. It’s a talking building. It’s just a shell, and what makes up the heart of it is Ubuntu.

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above gum pole shading screen inspired by woven thatch craft


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a finer grain

The built environment, the very medium through which we materialize our ambitions and understand ourselves in relationship to others, has as yet been an underappreciated and underutilized aspect of recovery and renewal in postapartheid South Africa. At an urban scale, the residual byproducts of apartheid planning continue to coerce and restrict access to the most basic resources and means of upliftment for those left the wake of apartheid. Townships remain on the periphery, circumscribed and increasingly severed by investment in the existing modes of commerce, further entrenching the lines that once bisected town and township. A fleeting opportunity now exists to reestablish and re-imagine the future of life in the former township based in the existing vitality of township life expressed through the pedestrian footpaths. The pathways, subject to the dissipating effects of wind and bulldozers, ironically represent the more enduring aspect of township relations and social exchange. The very real potential for these marks of daily life to be swept away by the looming civic pressures of planning and development within a matter of days adds to the urgency of this unique situation. A return to a capillary network of pedestrian pathways from an arterial system of vehicular movement, necessarily implies a more sustainable means of travel, both environmentally and in terms of the cultural sustenance engendered through social encounters and exchange. The

essence of a place resides as much in how one moves between two points and the social intercourse that is instigated along the way than what lies between them. The broad strokes of conventional planning methods have neglected the productive gaps and slippages that result from the irregularities between infrastructures and building form at a more human scale. A finer grain of movement informed by the shadow network of pedestrian pathways that run parallel to and across the commuterdriven system of vehicular traffic provides increased opportunities for congregation, conversation and the sharing of stories. It is these spaces that contain and sustain the essence of cultural expression. Ubuntu Centre is designed to instigate and support this vital exchange.

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above small gum pole screens are used in many homes in Zwide, at the Ubuntu Centre a feeling of home resonates through its materials 124

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Director of Empowerment

The concept behind Ubuntu is that a quality service does not have to be in the posh area, because the people that need the quality service are the poor. In fact, ideally the best hospital should be here. The best schools should be here. Because this is where the poorest of the poor are. I mean, if I have ten rand, a typical kid who’s got ten rand, or a parent who’s got ten rand, and have to make a choice to giving that money to a kid as taxi fare to attend a school in town, or taking that kid to a local school and buying food for that kid with that ten rand, I’m going to buy bread and let my kid

go to the local school. So what we are saying is that local schools, local community institutions have to be of the high quality standard. Invest where there are the vast majority of the poor people. South Africa is still dominantly poor. And unfortunately, it’s been like that for quite some time. This Centre is saying, “Bring quality service to where it’s needed. So that is what this Centre is helping us to do. In fact, it allows us to make that statement.

Mava Gcobani

Garden and Feeding Program

This building is inspiring all of the people. They dream about this building in a very positive and hoping way. And hope is everything. Hope is not going to bring you something tangible, but if you have hope, it takes you from today to tomorrow, and tomorrow to the next day.

Deputy President

Saki Matozon. He actually built a double story house here. We were in a meeting with Saki Matozon, and we asked him, “Saki, most people, they are moving from the townships to the suburbs. Those who can afford it are actually getting big houses there.” And then he said, “You know what? Ubuntu, your building, the building that has been built by

Ubuntu, has given me such confidence. He actually said to me, “Why do you have to run miles away, rather than actually developing where you are?” You know? Come back. Come back. And then he started building here. It has inspired people in a big way. It has really inspired people in a big way. It’s really exciting.

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Scales of Change Production of Social Space

The architecture of Ubuntu Centre is situated within a global zeitgeist in which locally driven development projects are recognized as a sustainable model for community development. As the medium through which local culture is expressed and economic, political and social exchange is enacted, architecture has a critical role in not only the implementation, but the formulation of progressive models of development. As such, architecture has the potential to promote a more sympathetic merging of local culture with economic principles of development, fully aware of the pitfalls associated with preconceived ideological frameworks and imported notions of progress imposed upon the landscape. It is here that architecture can actively reassert its role in the production of social space, as a principled and progressive voice for change. Ubuntu Centre operates on multiple scales of change. It simultaneously supports the urban and architectural scales of inhabitation, bringing together the mediums of exchange that have conventionally functioned in opposition to one another. At an architectural scale, the Centre facilitates the communal relationships that are central to the mission of Ubuntu Education Fund, as well as the intimate exchange and enduring sense of connection that is vital


to any community. The architecture of the Centre promotes a sense of belonging through the uncontrived translation of a contextual circumstance appropriate to the unique needs of the place. Grounded in the roots of the Ubuntu philosophy, the approach to the design of Ubuntu Centre represents a progressive new model for sustainable urban development that responds directly to both the needs and desires of a community. The relevance of this locally driven approach beyond Zwide is in its potential to enact the Ubuntu spirit through an active yet uncontrived translation of a contextual circumstance, entirely appropriate to the needs of a specific place.

above Ubuntu Centre open to the people of Zwide

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above power and symbol of school uniforms resonate the Ubuntu ideal


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Sustainability in Zwide Human Decency

The ability to see one’s own life reflected in and through the lives of others is the true meaning of sustainability, in which the essential dignity of human life is respected and nurtured beyond the feeble tokens of individual exploit. Ubuntu represents a distinct form of resilience, where the instinct to transcend hardship and contention is based in the recognition that individual well being is dependent on nothing other than communal well being. The sense of ease and assurance embodied in the Xhosa spirit is drawn not from a prescriptive code, but from an enduring confidence in the fundamental decency of humanity and collective renewal. The essence of Ubuntu is marked with each footstep on the ground of Zwide. The footpaths trace the lines of the Xhosa social structure, based in communal connection and support. These social structures, expressed through the informal physical structure of Zwide township, retain the essence of cultural identity: the exchange of ideas and stories. The oral traditions of the Xhosa people have sustained its culture throughout generations. Over the course of migration across the natural, and later, urban landscapes, the controlled environments of apartheid planning and the subsequent restructuring of township life during the post-apartheid era, the Xhosa community has retained a sense of cultural coherence and integrity regardless of physical context. While the outward manifestation of Xhosa life has remained mutable, it is the quality of interconnectedness and flexibility of the Ubuntu spirit that has allowed the heart of the Xhosa spirit to endure


hardship and inevitable change. There now exists a short lived opportunity to embed the enlightened tenets of the Ubuntu philosophy into the built environment of the former townships. Sustainability in Zwide has very different connotations than the popular conception of it in the developed world. The lingering effects of apartheid on the physical and economic landscape of township life has challenged Zwide’s ability to access even the most basic necessities of nourishment, education and economic welfare. The destructive effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic has further stressed and destabilized the foundations of family and community life. The programs of Ubuntu Education Fund serve these fundamental needs as well as the more intangible, but equally critical, needs of educational opportunity and self empowerment. The architecture of Ubuntu Centre is intended to house the essential programs of the organization as well as reflect the immaterial aspects of its mission, assuring each resident of Zwide of their place in the world and the enduring depth of potential within Zwide itself. Beyond the quantifiable units of energy usage, material efficiency and thermal comfort, an expanded notion of sustainability now needs to include a qualitative gauge of communal and cultural well being. Architecture can support the physical infrastructures of economic and political agency through access to the most basic means of education and healthcare, but also the intangible aspects of cultural cohesion and expression.

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above labor of love, massive mahogany doors hand carved using a spoon chisel 136

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Programs Manager

Generally people understand the word Ubuntu, but I think it varies how we interpret it and how we implement it. I would say that in the past, I’d say between twenty to twenty five years ago, even before I was born, we heard the stories from our grandfathers and our great grandfathers about how they used to exist in the past. If we were staying in the village and the kids were not raised by their household, the kid belonged to that village. People had an understanding. But unfortunately, with the evolution of society and industrialization, moving from where we stayed in the villages and into where we are now, survival is the only thing.

As an organization, our existence tries to re-fertilize and remake Ubuntu, so people know that it still exists. We provide the services to our child, we take the kids to the institutions that they never thought that they would go to, and expect nothing back from them. Hence, Ubuntu. The times are pushing people, but we still need, even if its just a little, to go back to Ubutu and not diminish ourselves. Ubuntu was and still is a great philosophy that we can live on.


Garden and Feeding Program

The word sustainability to me, it’s when you do your homework in planning A to Z. You prepare everything that is needed to kick-start a project that is going to be there for a life time or for a longer. I guess because a lot has been done in our society, we know the strength of the society, we know the weaknesses of the society. The way this building has been designed is going to contribute to the longer lifetime of this building being used and utilized by this society.


Ubuntu Staff

If there’s one thing I know, if ever you are feeling sad or feeling happy, your face, it does show that. And I’m telling you about this building in this place: it’s so unique, it’s one of a kind, it’s special. And each and every one, they’re starting to see this building, to immediately look at this building. Their facial expression is starting to change. That person is going to smile because that person is seeing a beautiful thing in front of them. Let’s say there’s another person passing,

which is seeing this person smiling and that person might assume this person is smiling at them, you see? Which means that person is supposed to return that thing. In returning the smile, they are aware of that person. And that person is going to smile, which means it is a rolling smile. You see?

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Designing Ubuntu reveals the design and philosophy behind the award winning Ubuntu Centre, and the role of architecture in the transformation of a South African Township. The book unveils the inspiring, challenging, and fascinating development of a “TownshipArchitecture”. Field Architecture won the Progressive Architecture Award for their innovative design of the Ubuntu Centre in 2009. The building went on to win the American Institute of Architects Award, the South African Institute of Architects Award, as well as the prestigious Fulton Award in 2011. Beautifully photographed by renowned photographer Vance Jacobs (Time Life Books, National Geographic) the book traces the architects’ creative process with the vividly illustrated renderings, working drawings, and sketches that brought the Ubuntu Centre to life. In addition to an opening essay by Lisa Findley (Building Change, Routledge Press), are essays by the architects Stan Field and Jess Field together with Ubuntu Education Fund’s leaders, and “voices” - the lyrical insights of the people of Zwide township whose lives were changed by Ubuntu.

FIELD ARCHITECTURE T. 650 462 9554 F. 650 462 1473 455 Lambert Ave. Palo Alto, CA 94306

Designing Ubuntu  

DESIGNING a COMMUNITY and HEALTH Centre in South Africa by Stan Field and Jess Field EDITING, DESIGN & LAYOUT Jess Field Christina F. St...

Designing Ubuntu  

DESIGNING a COMMUNITY and HEALTH Centre in South Africa by Stan Field and Jess Field EDITING, DESIGN & LAYOUT Jess Field Christina F. St...