Title: Radical Re-Use. Intersections of migrant agency and modernist space in Johannesburg
Authors: Herbots, Paulien ×
Lenaerts, Thomas
Verhaegen, Annick
LeRoux, Hannah
De Meulder, Bruno
Heynen, Hilde #
Issue Date: Sep-2012
Publisher: Luca Sampo
Series Title: Boundaries issue:5 pages:72-77
Abstract: “Jeppe” is the name given to a shopping area in the centre of the historic Central Business District of Johannesburg, South Africa. From the early 1990s onwards, South Africans from the townships and rural areas, as well as African migrants, among others Ethiopians, moved into the former Whites-only CBD, looking for shelter and livelihoods. This Pan-African community has built a retail and service empire on the fringes of formality by reusing the largely abandoned Modernist high rise buildings from the apartheid era. An important motive for the location of Jeppe is the vicinity of several public transport facilities, which remains the main transportation mode for the majority of South African urban dwellers. Jeppe is situated on the edge of the main public transport ‘hot spot’, which generates a massive amount of people every day.
Nowadays Jeppe attracts traders and customers from all over Johannesburg, the province and even abroad. Shops, restaurants and religious centres are stacked up to the fifth floor and rentals on ground level are estimated to exceed those in the renewed Airport Mall of Johannesburg’s main international airport (LeRoux 2009). This paper, based upon students’ field work and designerly research, unravels which architectural and urban potentials of the area give rise to this intense reuse.
Both the generic grid of the city plan and the rational structure of concrete frame of the Modernist designs allow for a hybrid porosity. The high rise buildings provide neutral containers; objects which have a certain degree of indeterminacy which made it fairly easy to change the uses of these buildings. While the Modernist period up until the 1980’s saw the consolidation of the small city stands of 15x15m to much larger parcels, the contemporary reuse of the city goes in the opposite direction. The ongoing physical process in Jeppe is the re-fragmentation of the existing fabric, from big to smaller compartments, within the rectangular matrix of the grid and plots. In the mid 1990s, trading occurred on the streets and somewhat later shops on ground level reopened. With the increasing market appeal of informal street trading and shops on ground level, the concept of a vertical market was introduced by a Chinese landlord. Nowadays, shops go up to the fifth floor and since there is still an extreme demand for street level retail space, new projects try to maximize the amount of shops by cutting through building blocks to exploit their inner areas.
Jeppe demonstrates how reuse unfolds as both a physical process and as the trace of emerging social agency. On the streets and in the buildings, a lively constellation of micro-practices established itself, more or less at the scale of individuals working in collaboration or independently. One’s gaze is captured by the diverse social patterns of Jeppe’s street life. The dense moving crowd consists of an intense mixture of people, a variety of rhythms, cultures and activities. Beside the independent use of space of the various actors, the interwoven activities of the retail process generate some interesting recurring patterns: very small shops on the ground floor, somewhat larger shops higher up, stocking areas still higher up, with informal restaurants and coffee shops interspersed between them, all served by a variety of actors. These patterns in turn suggest strategies for institutionalized reuse, which are explored through designerly research.
ISSN: 2239-0332
VABB publication type: VABB-1
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IT
Appears in Collections:Research Group Urbanity & Architecture (OSA) (-)
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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