Poor living conditions in informal settlements may be attributed mostly, though not exclusively, to the lack of basic
services. Informal settlements, which also go by the name of squatter camps, are volatile by nature. Even within
relatively fixed settlement boundaries, change in urban fabric continually manifests through altering dwelling configurations.
Deemed unstable and unsafe by formal criteria, these environments disclose schizophrenic characteristics:
beyond the dirt, grime and smog, exist relatively functional societies capable of survival and self-regulation.
Public and private sector investment within informal settlements is restricted as a result of their illegal status.
Inhabitants have no incentive to invest their own resources where they have no formal tenure over the land. Due
to a rather backward approach to informality in South Africa, innovation in dealing with these settlements has
been limited. Despite the fact that the rhetoric has sometimes changed from eradication to upgrading, little has
been done with regards to alternative forms of settlement development that has relevance in terms of improving
the lives of informal settlement dwellers.
With rising anger in poverty-stricken areas and on the peripheries of cities, what is needed is improved service
delivery through immediate solutions. This article suggests a service delivery core, an architectural catalyst,
rooted to the 'energy' of the public realm, stimulating growth of infrastructure networks. This catalyst core aims to
instigate the amelioration of the surrounding environment.
The concept presented is that of a dynamic service core – universal in principle – while also being contextually-
driven by responding to a specific environment and needs of a specific community. A generic architectural
solution is thus presented to providing basic services and infrastructure within informal settlements, with focussed
consideration for the unique situation of an informal settlement in Mamelodi, Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa. It
is important to realise that there is no final product, but rather an organic architecture that adapts in a process
of continuous and progressive change.
Keywords: South Africa, informal settlements, progressive change, service delivery, architectural catalyst interven.
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