Exploring shared knowledge in a design-build project A story from Hangberg, Hout Bay


This case study tells the story of a design-build project in Hangberg, Hout Bay, South Africa during the first week of November 2014. The project was initiated through the Design Build Research Studio (DBRS) of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

This ongoing research focuses on undergraduate students in their second year of a National Diploma in Architectural Technology. In this year the students do work place based learning. They spend ten months working in an architect’s office and attend a number of academic block weeks on campus. One of these is dedicated to an ‘inhabitable full-scale investigation’ (Christenson & Srivastava, 2005).

The overarching aim of this research is to explore what the students learned from collaborating with the various actors in the project, as ‘actors construct knowledge but not under conditions or in ways entirely of their own making, and not entirely alone. Rather, knowledge is about something other than itself, draws on existing knowledge, and is produced by socially situated actors’. (Maton, 2014: 10)

As part of the data gathering, students were asked to reflect in structured diaries (Zimmerman & Wieder, 1977). The diary required daily reflection, including drawings, observational notes and structured questions related to their learning and experience.

The project was done in collaboration with design activists Stephen Lamb and Andrew Lord; it entailed an access deck and a vertical food garden as an addition to the Light House. The Light House is an alternative form of low cost housing that Stephen and Andrew had designed for the client, Mr Xoma Ayob (Hoffman, 2014).

Xoma had to move from his original informal dwelling to make way for development. The City of Cape Town provides temporary relocation homes for people displaced like this. Such a home would not allow Xoma to keep his livestock or continue with his productive food garden. Stephen was approached by the City to assist with an alternative solution. Stephen used the budget allowed for a relocation home to design and build an insulated dwelling with a vertical food garden and place for livestock.

This short, intense project, orchestrated in part by tutors (preliminary consultation, funding and sourcing of materials), had as its main academic objectives the collaborative design (Erdman, Weddle & Mical, 2002) of technology (Abdullah, 2011), collaborative construction (Rice-Woytowick, 2011) and learning about alternative practice (Tovivich, 2009), as ‘based in an ethical commitment to others’. (Canizaro, 2012: 24).

To facilitate these outcomes, only a very specific palette and quantity of materials was available. Also, the completion of what was intended to be built would not be the main priority. Rather, the focus would be on the quality of technical design resolution, participation and collaboration and, should some aspect not be completed, the client, along with Stephen and possibly students in their own time, would do so. This resonates with Foote (Foote, 2012: 52), who writes that ‘once the notion of completion is removed from its customary ties with the end of a project, the typical linearity from idea to execution is thrown open for chiasmic revisions and reconsiderations’.

Day 1 saw the group of 20 students meeting Xoma and Stephen on site. They also did an off-site collaborative design exercise. The exercise focused on the technical design of the timber framed deck and vertical garden through drawing and model making.

On day 2 students went directly to site and organised themselves into groups. Two additional projects were identified in conversation with the client. These were the construction of exterior concrete stairs and interior timber shelving. Found and re-cycled materials were to be used. Each group took control of the design of their building component. There was constant interaction with the client, who himself is a knowledgeable builder and maker.

On day 3 teams were well established and only the shelving team were experiencing difficulty in communicating and finding a working rhythm. The concrete team had the most difficult physical work, the wind was blowing and the mixed concrete had to be carried up a steep slope to the stair team.

Day 4 was originally intended as the final day, but progress was slow. On this Thursday the temperatures soared to over 30 degrees Celsius, which slowed down work a little. The decking team were moving steadily forward and the long awaited large diameter pipes for the vertical food garden was delivered. All teams were convinced that they would complete their tasks by lunch on Friday.

Day 5, Friday, turned out to be even hotter. Progress was so good that an additional small chicken coop was designed and built before lunch. The local brass band gave a performance to thank the students. After a rather reluctant final clean-up of the site, a traditional South African ‘worsbraai’ (sausage barbeque) was held for all the participants.

Most of the intended work was completed. The original deck had been extended in scope after consultation with the client, who accepted that with the available materials it would remain 80% complete. The scope of the work had also been extended, with the addition of the stairs and the shelving, both which were completed. An additional chicken coop on the final day completed the list of small building projects.

In reflecting on what students learned from each other, they wrote mostly about the importance of effective communication, collaboration and group work.

“Building doesn’t have to be boring, stereotypical slave labour” (Diary entry, student 4 2014)

Some of what they learned from the academic staff includes understanding of construction, administration around tool management, health and safety aspects, guidance and patience, advice on timber construction, advice on studies, different ways of problem solving, perfectionism, clarity of understanding the brief.

From Stephen students learned enthusiasm, political science and insight, time scheduling, the importance being on time, technical knowledge and purpose of low-tech high impact sustainable systems, acting professional, passion for community work, costing of building work.

From Mr Xoma Ayob students learned being positive, communication skills, how to present ideas to a client, what it means to live a basic life of quality, political insight.

 “Xoma taught me that passion and vision are key to reaching your dream along with hard work. That you don’t need much money to build your dream.” (Diary entry student 5 2014)

This concludes the story of the design-build project at Hangberg. We have not attempted to analyse or interpret the data, or draw any conclusions; rather, this is the beginning of the journey to legitimise the extent of learning and knowledge gained by and through each of the actors in this design-build project.


Abdullah, Z.B. 2011. Getting Their Hands Dirty: Qualitative Study on Hands-on Learning for Architectural Students in Design-build Course. Journal of Design and Built Environment. 8(1).

Canizaro, V.B. 2012. Design-build in architectural education : motivations , practices , challenges , successes and failures. International Journal of Architectural Research. 6(3):20–36.

Christenson, M. & Srivastava, M. 2005. A Proposal for a Cross-Disciplinary Design Pedagogy: Generative Full-Scale Investigations. International Conference on Design Education:. (95):231–238.

Erdman, J., Weddle, R. & Mical, T. 2002. Designing/building/learning. Journal of Architectural Education. 55(3):174–179.

Foote, J. 2012. Design‐Build:: Build‐Design. Journal of Architectural Education. 65(2):52–58.

Hoffman, P. 2014. Truly accommodating homes. Cape Times (Cape Town). 25 March: 9.

Maton, K. 2014. Knowledge and Knowers. 1st ed. New York, New York, USA: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Rice-Woytowick, P. 2011. Academic design/build programs as mechanisms for community development. Manhattan Kansas.

Tovivich, S. 2009. Learning from Informal Settlements: the New “Professionalism” for Architectural Practice. CEBE Transactions. 6(1):62–85.

Zimmerman, D.H. & Wieder, D.L. 1977.

Hermie Deplore-Voulgarelis

Hermie Delport-Voulgarelis is a qualified architect and senior lecturer at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She is studying the design-build project in architectural education and the activist design-build practitioner as part of her doctoral studies at CPUT and in 2011 established the Design-Build Research Studio (DBRS) with Rudolf Perold. She also has a keen interest in and love of natural and alternative building. She is further involved in curriculum work and general research into architectural education. Department of Architectural Technology and Interior Design Faculty of Informatics and Design Cape Peninsula University of Technology South Africa Room 10.20, Tenth Floor, Media City Building c/o Heerengracht St and Hertzog Blvd, Foreshore, Cape Town 8000 Tel: 021 440 2229/083 2857 253 voulgarelish@cput.ac.za voulgarelish@gmail.com

Rudolph Perold

Rudolf Perold combines research, teaching and practice as doctoral researcher at the Hasselt University in Belgium and is a senior lecturer at the Department of Architectural Technology at Cape Peninsula University of Technology. His research focus is on spatial capacity building, and investigates how architects can engage in more socially significant work (specifically in situ informal settlement upgrading). Since 2011 he has been coordinating the Design-Build Research Studio (DBRS) together with Hermie Delport-Voulgarelis, the DBRS facilitates real-life, hands-on building experience for their students. Department of Architectural Technology and Interior Design Faculty of Informatics and Design Cape Peninsula University of Technology South Africa Room 10.22, Tenth Floor, Media City Building c/o Heerengracht St and Hertzog Blvd, Foreshore, Cape Town 8000 Tel: 084 484 4484, Fax: 086 607 4484 peroldr@cput.ac.za studio@rudolfperold.co.za

June Jordaan

June Jordaan is a qualified architect and has worked in the fields of architecture, urban design and interior design in practices in Amsterdam, Mauritius and Cape Town. She has been conducting research and lecturing Architectural Theory and Design at the Department of Architectural Technology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology since 2010. She recently submitted her PhD in Architecture at the University of Pretoria. Her research interests include phenomenology, place-making, haptic and multisensory design. Department of Architectural Technology and Interior Design Faculty of Informatics and Design Cape Peninsula University of Technology South Africa Room 10.25, Tenth Floor, Media City Building c/o Heerengracht St and Hertzog Blvd, Foreshore, Cape Town 8000 Tel: 076 041 0809/021 440 2231 jordaanju@cput.ac.za june.jordaan@gmail.com

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