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Learning From Our Own Backyard (Panel 2)



New models of affordable housing

Research conducted into backyard rental since 2002 for amongst others the GDoH and the NDoH
Lone Poulsen and Melinda Silverman

The backyard room is receiving increasing attention from South African policy makers and design professionals as a potential solution to some of South Africa's most pressing housing problems - excessively low densities, a shortage of affordable rental housing, housing units designed only for nuclear families.

Informed by these theories and observations of organically developed backyard rooms, architects and urban designers have started to develop housing models that anticipate and make provision for backyard additions. These new housing prototypes harness the advantages of backyard accommodation while seeking to mitigate the disadvantages associated with unplanned, unanticipated densification.

These new models are characterised by:

Reduced plot sizes. This ensures that urban land - an increasingly scarce resource - is used more efficiently.
Narrow street frontages. This reduces the amount of road space and pipe runs needed to serve individual plots. This results in significant savings in both the capital and operating costs of services.
Unorthodox siting of the starter unit. Rather than locating the house in the middle of the plot, as per conventional suburban housing, the starter unit is located near the front of the site and along one of the side boundaries. This immediately creates an identifiable street edge, allows for street-related commercial activities like
spazas, maximises the amount of useable outdoor space, and ensures that adequate space is available at the back of the site for the incremental addition of backyard rooms.

Building the starter unit as a double storey. This ensures that the building footprint is reduced maximising the amount of outdoor space.
The advantages of these new housing models are manifold:
They increase densities and therefore make more effective use of infrastructure;
They can be developed incrementally as the primary homeowner acquires more capital;
They harness the entrepreneurial talents of the community and provide jobs for small contractors;
They disperse political risk amongst a large number of small landlords;
They accommodate a wide variety of living arrangements on the same plot - multiple households, home-based enterprises, a mix of freehold and rental tenure.

These principles have already been realised in a number of exemplary projects across the country:
In the PELIP project in Nelson Mandela Bay, Noero Wolff developed a row house typology with two and three storey units. Each unit was conceptualised as a starter house, designed to allow beneficiaries to customise their housing in accordance with their own requirements. Units are narrow and built right up against the street edge, allowing for flexible space in the back yard to accommodate additions or rentable rooms.

In the Far East Bank project in Alexandra, in Johannesburg, ASA Architects developed clusters of six to eight units with a mix of double storey main houses and single storey rental rooms. Some beneficiaries are renting out the rooms to tenants and some are using the rooms to operate small businesses. The road space within each cluster functions as a contained courtyard proViding a safe space for children to play.

In the 10x10 project in Freedom Park, a suburb in Cape Town, MMNLuyanda Mpahlwa architects developed two-story timber frame and sandbag infill row houses, designed and built with community involvement. The houses are placed close to one another on the street edge, immediately contributing to a sense of urbanity.

In Lufhereng, in Mogale City, 26°10 South and Peter Rich Architects created row-houses comprising single and double-storey units which afford a sense a variety. The houses are built close to the street edge with private gardens at the back. The use of smaller-than-usual stands has helped increase residential densities and some residents have already converted rooms into tuck-shops and hairdressing salons.

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