South Africa: Architecture Students Build New Creche for Community

Nelson Mandela University students are cutting their teeth creating a multiuse building for residents of the Airport Valley shack settlement.

A new creche built by architecture students aims to improve the drab living conditions of children currently crowded into a dark shack with no floor. The children live in Airport Valley, a shack settlement in Nelson Mandela Bay that has slowly developed over the past 24 years and now extends to the airport fence.

Although it is just 6km from the city centre, there is no sign of modern development in the hot and dusty area. About 2 209 families live here in shacks with very few trees or tarred roads, no vegetation and few municipal services apart from a few scattered taps. The area has used the bucket system since residents began moving in.

Residents have established creches in Airport Valley and the neighbouring Walmer shack settlement, sometimes with the support of non-profit organisations such as the Walmer Angel Project. These creches are mainly housed in long, rectangular shacks with low ceilings and small windows, although some are in donated Wendy houses.

There is a creche in a formal building, but it is at the other end of the Walmer settlement. It was opened in June 2019 and cost R250 000, which was raised through the private sector.

New building

A new creche valued at R330 000 and earmarked for Airport Valley will be completed by the end of the year. Known as Creche X3, because it will replace Creche 13 (the 13th creche built in the area), the centre is being built by about 35 Nelson Mandela University students as part of the Studio Make project.

Studio Make is run by the university for second-year architecture students. Project leader and architecture lecturer John Andrews says the project is part of "a quest to be of service to society". It introduces students to the process of working in partnership with communities to design and build structures that are socially useful.

"It has been very intense, mind blowing really, trying to pull this off in one year," says Andrews. He approached community leaders last year to offer a potential building for the area. After consultations, Airport Valley's Zama Mona said residents agreed the students could design a replacement building for the creche.

While Airport Valley shack settlement has been underdeveloped for decades, in April this year Deputy Minister for Human Settlements Zou Kota-Fredericks announced a new R261 million housing project for the area. "We had to then make the creche completely portable in case it needs to be moved once the new housing is built," says Andrews.

There is no space to build at Airport Valley, where 57 children attend Creche 13. Creche X3 is being built on a field at the university. It will be fully assembled for testing and then dismantled and transported to the site. To fulfil the wishes of the community for a multipurpose building, the creche is 70 square metres and is situated between two recycled shipping containers.

This space has a platform floor, a high ceiling with several skylights and six massive sliding doors along the length of both walls. During the week, it can be partitioned into three classrooms using cupboards on wheels. On weekends, it will also serve as a meeting hall or church. The two refurbished containers on either end will house the kitchen, storage areas and reading nooks for the children.

To compensate for the lack of municipal services, the building has a water catchment tank. Funds have been raised for waterless, composting toilets to be installed outside.

Mona says the creche is very necessary. "We have a large number of parents who are working [during] the day and have no one to care for their children and that is why we decided to open this creche. I think it will make a big difference."

Student commitment

The students working on the project volunteer their time. They give up their holidays to get the building done. "We are deviating from the norm of just drawing on paper," says student Tavonga Gure, 21. "Knowing that I am affecting someone's life, and that some kids might grow up thinking that nice things can happen to them was the biggest thing for me. As an architect, you are stuck in an office while someone else builds your design, but now we feel like we really know and respect builders."

Asiphe Manzi, 28, says her motivation is the knowledge that she will "see the kids smile". "We know the community. They are a beautiful community and they come to site to check how the build is going from time to time. Helping to make a difference in kids' lives is quite amazing," she says.

Megan Waterson, 20, says working on the creche had helped the students grow as architects and to recognise the amount of work that goes into producing a finished building. Other parts of the build - steelwork, welding and electrical wiring - were done voluntarily by locals Marius Nortje and businessperson Bennie Scheffer.

It took a lot of effort to raise the R330 000 needed for the project, and it is not enough to cover all the costs. The containers still need to be insulated. "Our budget is very tight," says Andrews. "We still need someone who works in trucking [to] move the creche to Airport Valley pro bono for us."

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