Grabouw Housing

ACG Architects & Development Planners as Architects

The physical planning responds to physical environment through careful consideration of orientation, topography, views and natural features to ‘fit’ the landscape, create variety and establish the first footprints of distinctive places, with the capacity to develop, growing asset and use value.


Vehicular and pedestrian routes have been ordered into 4 distinct categories –


1- The Primary mobility roads that bisect the settlement carry well located public transport nodes in easy walking distance of each local neighbourhood, accessed by pedestrian ways and backed by informal market stands. These routes are flanked by public facility / commercial sites and treated as Avenues overlooked by Duplex linings with various vistas onto the green belts, the koppie and the open space system of the school sites. At their crossing, provision is made for a higher order Commercial complex, central to the new housing area. 2- A secondary network of access roads establishes a distributive grid across the site with varying built character, changing scale and reflecting the built/natural relationships they pass through – edge conditions are ‘externalised’, look out over natural features, internal parks, waterways, gateways and open space to provide security surveillance and a positive aspect. 3- A third order of semi-public space is carefully developed. Accessed off the secondary network, but de-linked as throughways, these places and spaces are expressed as Play-streets, Urban Courts and squares or green kickabouts with small Playgrounds, throated entries and varying road reserves lined by overlooking houses, forming ‘safe’ semi-public environments that provide identity and soft collective recreational ‘hearts’ to local neighbourhoods. 4- A fourth order of pedestrian linkage develops walkways / NMT routes alongside greenbelt canals and strategic routes, linking courts, local neighbourhoods and public transport nodes.


Social, recreational, educational and service facilities are located within walking distance of homes, while opportunities for different scales of local economic activities are integrated at the level of the house and local neighbourhood with side and midblock space to extend micro-enterprises and rentals rooms. Trading stands have been located at public transport interchanges and neighbourhood centres, while intermediate and larger commercial sites have been designated to take emerging and formal enterprises.


A range of extendable house types, including duplex, row, semi-detached and freestanding types effect densification on limited land resources, meet different needs and (with extension) provide for extended families while providing the building blocks of urban narratives with greater variety and complexity than tight suburban sprawl.


Passive thermal control and energy efficient design considerations include efficiencies of shape and orientation, materials choices for thermal mass, acoustic control, insulation and water/energy saving measures. With bedrock close to the surface, roads are planned to work with the topography, effecting appropriate piping gradients on sewer lines with a minimum of blasting, while storm-water is run in surface channels to natural watercourses which are treated as landscaped natural features. From a materials and building systems perspective, the strategy is to utilise locally available conventional materials and building systems (blocks + mortar etc) to enhance replicability, extendability and ‘fit’ with vocational training exercises and local materials production initiatives.


A consultative design approach engaged beneficiaries and stakeholders in defining planning outcomes from the scoping exercise with its integrated Community forum which gathered problems and issues, work-shopped ways forward and popularised sustainability issues to detailed planning consultations with ward counsellors and public consultative meetings with beneficiaries.


Design challenges


While medium density housing on smaller private plots enables and requires a more generous treatment of public space to accommodate parking and collective social activities, resources don’t stretch to the constructed definition of plot boundaries, public/private interfaces and the development of semi-public space, effecting the coherence and legibility of the spatial systems and encouraging haphazard, opportunist privatisation of collective space by residents. Similarly over-generous servitudes, parking requirements and road reserve norms can diffuse the ‘tighter definition’ and modulation of public space, losing some of the intimacy of scale that could be achieved with more appropriate norms.

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Genève, Switzerland - Build completed in 2013
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