Counterspace - South Africa
Drawings, plans, elevations
“Boundary is one of the most primary functions of the wall.It demonstrates a basic act to differentiate.” -Shiuan-Wen Chu As a practice, our studio is involved in looking at the city forensically. By its very contexture, Johannesburg is an amalgam of many spatial blind-spots. We look at the rituals and the furniture of the city.We dissect and analyse,and we reassemble and reimagine. Many have thought of Johannesburg as elusive, but the way that we read the city has more to do with understanding its assemblage of spatial languages than with elusivity. Some of these hiddens are hidden in plain sight, in broad daylight – they are here, if you care to read them. #FencesMustFall We started this hashtag while Fees Must Fall student protests were happening.The debate was around access. We understand that we can’t get rid of walls completely, at least not on a large scale in the short term. But perhaps there is a medium. How can we bring together these interesting moments? What do you get if you have a China Mall condition with an informal gym?A great deal of Johannesburg’s existences are made up too of counter-existences which work despite limitations and what is recognised as the nominal city; structures formed and designed for survival against economic and spatial deprivation, in the leftovers, slippages and loopholes of the city, which we recognise as the city. Through our projects, we are prototyping the idea of a Fat Wall. A wall with programme, thicker than just a dividing line. We are interested in gaps, fissures, cracks in the wall. An active edge. A burglar bar used as a display mechanism for an informal trader. A day-time gate used as a playscape for children. This is already happening in Joburg. Streets are turned inside out. A street arcade in a building. A neighbourhood tea party on a series of balconies. A city in a building. How can we learn from these conditions and contradictions? What do we get when we put them together? How can an edge become a space? This is not a new idea. But we are finding new form and programme for it everywhere in our city. How do we walk the city? Joburg walkers are funambulists. We walk tightropes, boundary conditions, suspended between class, race, money divides. How do we capitalise on drive-through moments? Mobile services? Why do so few of us see these as architectures waiting to happen? What makes people gather? Food? Ritual? Cultural groupings? How do we collapse these? We are interested in developing new formal explorations through our fat walls. Sometimes, a solid line on plan perforates to become a space. We want these moments to be more intentionally formal, more intently designed. In its current form, on varying scales, from macro to micro urban, much of Johannesburg is characterised by the same condition of interstices, leftovers, and islands. In each of these conditions, old farmlands, parking lots, large strip mall districts next to highways, abandoned mine dumps, islands between roads, and abandoned infrastructure plants; there are interesting spatial constructs present which are producing new urbanities.