South Africa

People are naturally drawn to cities for jobs and a social culture that doesn’t exist in outlying villages, but most people who move to the cities often cannot afford to rent apartments or buy homes there. Many people move into the outskirts into communities that exist solely by the will of the people. The areas around Johannesburg (known as Gauteng) and around Cape Town (Crossroads, Phola Park/ Waterfront, Tambo Square, etc.) are considered by the state of South Africa ‘informal housing settlements.’ These settlements are groups of shacks governed by community leaders who reside in them. What is unique about these areas compared to other similar places in the world is the culture of the people and the decoration of the spaces.


Despite of their unfortunate situation, the people who live here are proud of their space. The call it home and thus make the most of what they have. The people are also bound by a mutual respect for their neighbors and many times sacrifice their own resources to help someone they barely even know. It is a communal culture, where everyone exists for the benefit of someone else and all are struggling to live.

South Africa Scan-3

Residents build their homes with whatever scraps they can manage to buy or find. Common materials are wooden planks, corrugated iron or steel sheets, cardboard, plastic sheets, industrial tarpaulin, canvas, and even surplus advertising material. The interior or spaces is often covered in iconography from the South African commercial market because the material can be obtained for free or very cheaply. This type of “wallpaper” makes the spaces dynamic and colorful while at the same time hiding the imperfections of the self-built structures.

South Africa Scan-2

Generally, each shack is one or two rooms with most or all of the belongings in the main living area. Cooking, cleaning, and sleeping generally all occur within 15 square meters of space. Sometimes, residents will divide the space into two rooms, the second containing a small bed and personal belongings that separates the sleeping from the living space.

South Africa Scan-4

To conserve space, furniture is pushed against the wall and used for storage as much as possible. Often, a storage cabinet has no doors or drawers and is instead a series of open shelves sometimes with curtains as a visual barrier. This type of furniture makes the space easy to use as well as limits the expense on furniture pieces. You can tell from these images that the people here make the most of what they have and attempt to make the space as pleasant as possible through the arrangement of everyday items, decorations, and furniture.

South Africa Scan-1South Africa Sketch

This is a partial plan of the shack above. It shows the general layout of furniture within the simple space. Generally, a space like this can cost about 1500 kroner for four walls and a roof. This does not include floors, doors, windows, or a foundation – all of which the residents build themselves. Overall, the people of these shack settlements are proud of what they have in their homes and in their community. The bonds are strong between neighbors and every effort is made to create a complete and pleasing place to reside with a rich assortment of textures and color.

All of the images and information for this post were taken from Shack Chic by Craig Fraser and Doyle Design. 


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