A new vernacular architectural language informed by the use of space in informal settlements: selected case studies in the Ethekwini Municipality, South Africa.
Ojo-Aromokudu, Judith Tinuke.
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Informal settlements are home to over 60% of urban poor in developing nations. They present a unique character in urban areas, making them easily identifiable. Nevertheless, they are often conceptualised in negative terms emphasising the illegality and non-conformity to building standards, arguably due to the limited understanding of the spaces created and meaning to the residents. The negative connotation of informality often directly or indirectly influences the upgrading interventions. This study sets out to gain an understanding of the use of space in informal dwelling environments, which could inform appropriate response and interventions to informal settlement upgrading programs, towards creating self-reliant and sustainable communities. It also intends to conceptualise a new vernacular architecture that incorporates the evolving character of dwelling spaces in the informal settlements. This research seeks to reconsider the informal dwellings in an objective light through the lenses of the residents. It reinterprets the self-built dwellings in relation to vernacular architecture. To do this, the key research questions raised are - What are the nature and characteristics of dwelling spaces in informal settlements that could inform appropriate response and interventions to upgrading programs? How can this be theorized into a “new vernacular architectural language?” The research applies a qualitative research methodology in three case studies in eThekwini municipality. The findings show that the settlements, as a whole, are an integral part of the dwelling experience and is affected by prevailing context, which includes accessibility to land (serviced or un-serviced) and accessibility to recycled materials for building purposes. This is also related to social ties often emanating from original homes, and leadership structures that are unrecognised by local authorities. A multi-layered dwelling pattern has been identified and categorised as simple, complex and multi-dwellings. These patterns show similarities to the vernacular language, particularly in the extensive use of outdoor spaces. The research concludes that the informal dwellings provide residents with experimental, existential, and aspirational meanings, as residents navigate their way into the city, and that the 21st century vernacular language is therefore trans-positional across rural-urban context.