eNews asked Michael Louw, project leader, architect and lecturer at the University of Cape Town about the Imizamo Yethu Water Platform, a World Design Capital 2014 recognised project improving local access to water.

Q: Tell us about the Imizamo Yethu Water Platforms project. When and how did this project get started? 

This project started in 2010 to address access to water services in Capetown’s Imizamo Yethu settlement, where an estimated 9 464 households use shared toilets and taps. According to a survey by the Solid Waste Department of the City of Cape Town in May 2011, Imizamo Yethu is one of the two most poorly serviced settlements in Cape Town. The service ratio is an average of 61.1 households per toilet and a staggering 394.3 households per tap. To help address this lack of services, about 20 second year architecture students from the University of Cape Town, together with a few key staff members, have been designing and building water platforms in Imizamo Yethu during their June vacations over the past five years. It started in consultation with local community members who helped to identify key positions for potential water platforms.

We also work with structural engineers; a number of private sector companies who sponsor materials, and Lalela an art project for local students.

Q: What is a water platform? 

The water platforms are essentially robust concrete platforms (either cast in-situ or made up of concrete pavers made by students and community members), which can include seating, washtops, basins, water points, and shading structures. The water platforms are a way of providing additional services, more dignified places for water collection, spaces for the washing of clothes and the integration of these with shared toilet facilities where these are in close proximity. The platforms also serve as social gathering spaces and cleaner areas for children to play. The first four platforms were primarily focused on washing facilities, while this year, a much-needed water point and seating area was provided at the new Imizamo Yethu football field.

Q: What were the benefits of being a World Design Capital 2014 recognised project?

Primarily increased exposure, both online and as part of exhibitions such as the Open Design Week in Cape Town,,which helps us to obtain funding and sponsorships. The platforms are funded entirely by donations from the private sector (and our departmental picnic fund!). This project is at once design-focused and educational, teaching both students and local community members new skills that can potentially help with future employment opportunities.

Q: What are some of the largest challenges you face trying to bring clean water to the areas?

Getting the actual service connections from the municipal supply points, and a tight timeframe to build the platforms (two weeks during the winter rainy season).

Q: Have you noticed a change in the residents’ behaviour? 

That’s difficult to answer and it would have required a study of the particular areas for some time prior to the intervention, which we didn’t have an opportunity to do. Some things we have noticed:

  • The platforms are very well used.
  • Most of the areas where the platforms are located were previously in a bad state and people used them as dumping grounds for their waste. Local residents would come to fetch water, do their washing and children would play in areas that were quite filthy and unsafe. Once the project was in place, we found that the local area residents took ownership and the areas are generally well looked after, despite the heavy traffic.
  • Some of the platforms are used for other functions in addition to washing, which is encouraging: we’ve been told that some are being used for community gatherings and even church services, since there are not many other formalised public spaces.

Q: What is the next step or future for a project such as this?

At present we are aiming to build a few more platforms if we can continue to obtain funding, but the future is probably to start linking up a few of the platforms, so that a more formalised pedestrian network can be established. This could also help to claim public space, to preserve the sense of space and to retain some of the unique outside spaces that have been created by the local community.

To find out more about this project, visit: www.wdccapetown2014.com


About Michael Louw
Mike Louw completed his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Pretoria in 1998. He attended the Glenn Murcutt Master Class in Australia in 2005 and he also completed an MPhil degree in Sustainable Development Planning and Management at the University of Stellenbosch. Mike currently teaches second year Technology and third year Design & Theory at the University of Cape Town’s School of Architecture, Planning & Geomatics.

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