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Double Story Shacks: Four Vignettes

Urban Think Tank

Informal urban development. Exploring the rare double-story shack in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.


The coastal city of Cape Town is the second-most populous urban area in South Africa. It has been named the best place in the world to visit by the New York Times and British Daily Telegraph. Less recognized, however, is the expansive Cape Flats situated on the southeast periphery of Cape Town. The Cape Flats have been home to much of the population of Greater Cape Town since the 1950's when the government, fueled by discrimination, passed legislation that caused non-white residents to be displaced from the central urban areas.

Urban Think Tank (U-TT) produced this film to peek into the lives of four residents of Khayelitsha, a partially informal township in the Cape Flats. Despite claims from the ruling party that living conditions have markedly improved, about 70% of residents still live in shacks and one in three people must walk 200 meters or further to access water. The film gives life to these statistics by revealing some faces, voices, and stories behind them.

Not only does U-TT use this film to reveal the difficulties and problems of Khayelitsha, but they explore a method that a few residents are using to improve their conditions: extending the shack to a second story. These grassroots architectural experimentations are rare but they could potentially help many of the residents of the Cape Flats. U-TT are using this knowledge to fuel their Empower Shack project, an interdisciplinary research and design project that hopes to develop a new system of housing in the informal settlements in South Africa. They aim to create a system that allows residents, the private sector, and government authorities to realize better housing for every South African. The Double-Story Shack films originally appeared in the exhibition, "Empower Shack" at the Eva Presenhuber Gallery in Zürich, and have subsequently been shown in galleries and universities around the world.

Meet Anita, Zamile, William and Nonceba, and Mzukisi. Let them show you their homes in Khayelitsha and how they created their rare double-story shacks.

(Story by Stephen Scabora, The Architecture Player)

Authors icon Credits

Producer: Alfredo Brillembourg, Hubert Klumpner
Director, cinematographer, editor: Daniel Schwartz
Location: Cape Town, South Africa

Switzerland 2016
Duration: 25'27''