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Placemaking as a catalyst for the development of a healing architecture in a south African township: a proposed holistic community health centre in Umlazi.

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As a result of the Group Areas Act No. 41 of 1950 (Republic of South African, 1950) and the apartheid city planning that followed, ethnic groups in South Africa were allocated specific areas in which they could live. One such allocation was the township area, exclusively demarcated for Black African, Coloured and Indian persons, located on the outskirts of the city, vast distances from employment opportunities (Smith, 1992:27). Townships were dormitory ghettos, under-serviced and overpopulated at their inception and they remaincontexts with substantial inequalities, lack of public spaces, services and infrastructure (Darity Jr, 2008: 4979; Murray, 2007:51). Inadequate health facilities are a conspicuous feature of township areas. Indeed, at present, the majority of clinics and hospitals that exist in townships were built during the apartheid era (1948-1993) and were conceived under an apartheid development framework that strategically enforced social and spatial segregation through the built environment (Kautzky & Tollman, 2008:20) that still presently affects these areas. Furthermore, the approach to the design of the health facilities lacks meaningful engagement with their surroundings. Therefore, the provision of community health centres in township locations is of particular relevance to these communities. These facilities are the coal face of the KwaZulu-Natal health care system, as they are the first point of contact for individuals and directly impact one’s wellbeing (Department of Health, 2018/19 – 2020/21:2). When one considers that the majority of government healthcare facilities exist within township environments, there is an even greater responsibility given to those undertaking projects of this nature as they are critical points of engagement for persons who historically have been disadvantaged. Clinics and health facilities, in general, can re-instil confidence, pride, and trust in communities (Lawson, 2004:95). In order to address the needs and opportunities of the Umlazi health sector appropriately, Placemaking will be adopted as a theoretical lens. Placemaking encourages holistic community engagement that provides a framework for redressing apartheid urban planning ills that are commonplace in Umlazi. Placemaking recognizes that people are a city’s greatest attraction and thus prioritizes engagement with those people, to facilitate community upliftment and the long-term success of the proposed community health centre (Gehl, 2010:6, Hamdi, 2010:91-92). Through the theoretical lens of Placemaking, the researcher seeks to engage with the multifaceted dynamics at play in the township context, to investigate how this context can inform the development of an urban and architectural response suited to the area, in the form of a holistic community health centre. Data will be collected using various secondary and primary means and analyse comparatively to extract meaning that will inform the community health centre design. Placing value on the importance of these facilities conveys the importance of the user and people and their connection with public spaces. These buildings can be places of liberation and form part of the development of sustainable, restorative spaces (Lawson, 2004:95). Of particular focus will be the development of architectural solutions and spaces of a civic nature that foster collective engagement by providing upliftment and empowerment through community health care within Umlazi, the largest township in the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality (Durban) and the fourth largest in South Africa (Department of Economic Development, 2008). Finally, the dissertation has revealed the extent to which effective placemaking, through the provision of healing community architecture in an urban environment that fosters community, can develop a healing community architecture that is holistic in its approach. In an environment of severe historical marginalization, sustainable transformation is possible. Through a strategic and considered approach communities can begin to redress townships’ historical social and spatial inequities for the benefit of future generations.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.