18:00 SAST

18:00  SAST

[Re]Claiming Our City

Envisioning Independent Infrastructures for the Waste-Pickers of South Africa

Brittany Van Der Westhuizen

BArch Hons 2022

Unit Leader: Gregory Katz
Unit Tutor: Jaco Jonker
Unit Assistant: Senzo Mamba

Making... A Difference 2022


“[Re)claiming our city” is a project that envisions a future where plastic is no longer viewed as a pollutant, but rather valued as a rare commodity that could be mined for. In this same future, dignity is restored to the hard-working community of waste-pickers who are responsible for saving our government over R750 million in landfill costs annually.

In 2022 Unit 17 set out to reintroduce function, program, context and users to a series of defunct office parks in the general region of Johannesburg, most of which were left desolate after the Covid-19 pandemic inspired a ‘work-from-home’ culture, leaving commercial developers with their hands in their hair.

Providing a recycling and redistribution center in the heart of Halfway House, Midrand seemed to be an obvious solution to mediate the sustainable reuse of currently redundant building stock and creating a self-sufficient micro-economy for the multitude of waste-pickers surrounding the site of choice.

However, after spending time with these waste-pickers, getting to know their routes, their schedules and some of the challenges they face daily, it became evident that infrastructures which have historically served as catalysts for fast transportation between major cities (e.g. bridges and highways) often pose as obstructions for waste-pickers by barricading access to adjoining suburbs.

The project adopted a thinking-through-making methodology in which electronic waste was modified and recalibrated to develop a transportation intervention that could reduce safety risks created when waste-pickers and impatient motorists are expected to coordinate movements.

The project challenges the warped mentality of government institutions and private developers that the informal waste-picking sector is not worth investing in, by showing that a little time and effort can go a long way in introducing value to seemingly worthless objects.

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