by Dante Piras

Gate-way to development

Students uplift poorer communities

Gates Foundation develops communities
Informal settlements improved

A system developed by postgraduate Stellenbosch University (SU) students to improve the living conditions of residents of informal settlements, is going to be scaled up with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The grant will cover a two-year pilot project in Enkanini, Stellenbosch. The success of this will determine a roll out of the system to the rest of the country and beyond. Between 40 and 100 shacks will either be built or retrofitted with a basic solar energy system and insulated with disused Tetra Pak containers and cardboard boxes to protect residents from extreme temperatures.

The iShack system is the result of a transdisciplinary research project by SUs TsamaHub and the Sustainability Institute (SI) at Lynedoch outside Stellenbosch, in collaboration with the Stellenbosch Municipality. The 'i' stands for 'improved', and entails cost-effective and sustainable modifications to the basic corrugated iron shack commonly found in developing countries the world over.

“The problem with the existing policy of in-situ upgrading is that people wait a long time for the energy and water grids to arrive, and thereafter for housing to be constructed,” says Professor Mark Swilling, co-ordinator of the Sustainable Development Programme at SUs School of Public Leadership, and project leader of the TsamaHub.

“Research shows that this can take eight years. What happens in the meantime? Do shack dwellers just wait, or are there things that can be done immediately? The iShack project is about demonstrating what organised communities can achieve in a short space of time.” 

Where possible, shacks are re-oriented to face north and will be provided with a roof overhang – for maximum heat from the sun in winter and cool shade in summer. Inside the shack, a clay wall along one of the sides provides thermal mass for passive temperature control.

“Given that all the technologies are mature and proven, the real learning during the pilot phase will be determining what social, institutional and financial arrangements would be required to make the system viable in the long run,” Swilling says.

A series of how-to training manuals will be developed and training courses presented during the pilot programme. The grant agreement states that the “knowledge gained during the project” must be “promptly and broadly disseminated”, and that the refined iShack system must be “made available and accessible at reasonable cost to people most in need in developing countries”.

The TsamaHub, working in partnership with the SI, serves as a focal point at SU for studies in transdisciplinarity, sustainability and complexity. It forms part of SUs HOPE Project, a university-wide initiative through which the institution is using academic excellence and cutting-edge research in the search for solutions to seemingly intractable challenges in society.

SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Russel Botman, the newly appointed board chairperson of the Cape Town World Design Capital 2014 Implementation company, has cited the iShack as an example of “design to transform lives”.

There will be a presentation on the iShack during a day-long launch workshop 'Sustainable Stellenbosch – Opening Dialogues' which will take place on 30 November 2012. 

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Issue 58