HAPPITECTURE PAPER : BIENNALE SPAZIO PUBLICO, ROMA
Happitecture : Zen, Otherwhere, and Space Design in eThekwini, South Africa
by Jonathan Edkins, Professional Architect and Project Manager, Vusa Collaborative, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, SA.
1. Research and identify the primary physical and traditional design elements which have been found universally to contribute to characterisation of spaces, places and buildings as “happy”; and extend the hypothesis to include attention to the metaphysical qualities and values which affect our emotional responses;
2. Suggest an alternative methodology for planning and design of public and private spaces of South African cities, which includes broader participatory processes, a people-centred approach showing respect for cultural and heritage related responses, to determine the nature of shared public space, including the Zulu principles of “Ubuntu”;
3. Propose a new professional discipline to be applied within shared space design and place making towards a “happy” environment. To be called “Jabulanitecture”, this can be translated as “Happitecture” (English), “Felicitecture” (Italian) and “Bonheurtecture” (French);
4. Draw a link between “Happitecture” and “Otherwhere” (the mythical space within which great architecture and city design occurs, freed of the constraints of time, place and the need for physical realisation).
5. Bring a smile to the lips of readers. After all, we are talking about happiness here!
“Happy” for the purposes of this essay, is defined as the emotion which makes one want to dance or sing joyously (whether one is capable or not). It is not to be confused, under any circumstances, with the dry technical terms of “satisfied”, or “comfortable”.
“Happitecture” is therefore the result of carefully considered and people-centred design, which makes those exposed to it want to “dance or sing joyously”. Generally though, in this English version, considerable restraint is shown, (almost to the point of bashfulness) and those afflicted will most probably only twitch their limbs spasmodically, shuffle their feet, or hum gently.
“Felicitecture” is the Italian version of “Happitecture”, which is generally greeted with joyful exclamations using words ending in “o”, expansive gesticulation and fluent dancing of a slightly suggestive nature, beautifully and elegantly executed.
“Bonheurtecture” constitutes the French equivalent of “Happitecture”, which incorporates both happiness and well-being. The result is a pot-pouerri of positive emotions, expressed through declarations of love, general bon-homie and sometimes tears.
“Jabulanitecture” is “Happitecture” in the isiZulu translation; which is by its nature a far louder, more liberated and expressive version, in which those affected or afflicted actually do dance and sing joyously, and demonstrate immense capability and affinity. Ululation and the art of Toyi-Toyi often result.
“Ubuntu” is an ancient Zulu philosophical concept, defined for the purposes of this paper, as the “capacity of people to express compassion, justice, reciprocity, dignity, harmony and humanity in the interests of building, maintaining and strengthening the community… it recognises a person’s status as a human being, entitled to unconditional respect, dignity, value and acceptance from the members of the community”.
(Justice Jajbhay J, in City of Johannesburg v Rand Properties (pty) Ltd and others, 2006, (60 BLCR728 (W)).
Propose a more creative philosophical methodology for Urban Planning, Urban Design and City Architecture in South Africa, which draws from an inclusive, people-centred, cultural, emotional, intuitive, mythological and metaphysical approach, to shape and fashion shared public places which make people “happy”. This is in direct contrast and opposition to top-down planning and design, which leads to classical or overtly romantic theming and “master planning” processes. Such practices are currently followed by Town Planners, Geographers, and other built environment professionals in most South African cities, leading to many “unhappy”, desolate, inappropriate and rapidly degenerating public spaces.
Applying a metaphysical “third way” starting point to the design of spaces, and thus enabling a new multi-disciplinary and consultative approach which is led by specific Human mythology, heritage, religion, memory and emotion, whilst excluding neither romantic and subjective ideologies nor classic, objective and functional concerns:
1. Researching and critiquing some examples of “universal rules” currently applied in the search for “satisfying” shared places and communities.
2. Reviewing some past processes and attempts to engage stakeholders in realisation of improved public spaces in eThekwini, South Africa, and the outcomes.
3. Initiating an urban laboratory process on an inner city university campus, to explore the perceptions, emotions and dreams affecting individual responses to shared spaces, and to conceptualise “Happitecture” as a discipline which taps into the mythical and subconscious realm to guide design and development of high quality spaces and buildings which evoke “happiness”.
In addition to primary survey and research work undertaken in the city of eThekwini (Durban), South Africa, in 2010, this paper draws on two principle sources :
- “Otherwhere” theme and legacy of the 25th UIA (Union of International Architects) Congress, which took place in Durban, South Africa, in August 2014;
- Robert Pirsig’s seminal work : “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (Pirsig, 1999, original 1974).
“Architecture Otherwhere” was coined by the organisers as the word to describe the overall theme of the 25th Congress of the Union of International Architects, held in Durban in August 2014. Not to be confused with “Architecture Underwear” (which is a different exhibition altogether), the idea of “Architecture Otherwhere” is open to individual interpretation. It describes the mythical experience of the in-between world which we usually neither see nor consider. It is the space occupied by elements we take for granted, but which may be holding our society together; such as the informal contributions of street-traders into a formalised business society; the forgotten and neglected pockets of the city which lack care; the public spaces which are full of promise, but need focus and attention to tie them to our equally neglected heritage and culture which is neither understood nor effectively represented in the city.
Robert Persig questions the need for a decision to be made between academically classical and romantic views. He suggests a “third way”, which excludes neither, but enables metaphysical elements to prevail in coming to a new understanding of “reason”, “value” and “quality”.
He questions the basis of our understanding of technological solutions and the underlying classical “science” upon which it relies. There are simply too many phenomena which cannot be explained through our scientific knowledge, which is based purely on a rational reality determined by Aristotelians. We have tended to neglect the power of indigenous mythologies and non-western philosophy. A change of thinking is needed, as illustrated in the following extract :
“What’s wrong with technology is that it’s not connected in any real way with matters of the spirit and the heart. And so it does blind, ugly things quite by accident and gets hated for that…… the solution to the problem isn't that you abandon rationality but that you expand the nature of rationality so that its capable of coming up with a solution…… Newton invented a new form of reason….. What is needed now is a similar expansion of reason to handle technological ugliness. ”
(Pirsig, 1999, original 1974).
To begin the “expansion of reason”, there first has to be an acknowledgement of the “universal rules”, as follows:
1. Primary elements of Urban Space Happiness
Literature abounds as to what postulates the favoured ingredients for baking a successful “urban space cake”. A desktop study reveals correlations across countries and nationalities, with general agreement on the elements leading to “satisfactory” spaces, and suggestions about processes for successful “place making”. This paper does not intend to critique these ideas at all, but offers an alternative focus and starting point to develop emotionally responsive public shared spaces, which may lead to different outcomes in different areas.
Many studies allude to the need for shared spaces to be “owned” by their users, and for place making to be an activity undertaken by communities, often at their own costs, and for their own benefit. A treasure trove of such studies exists in the web page1 of the “On The Commons” organisation, which has very usefully coagulated a number of short papers into a single journal. The desired characteristics and functional attributes of such spaces are uniform, and deal with the physical realm, but do not capture the spirit of the place or the “genus loci”. The commons approach is certainly a great way of building community cohesion, but does not necessarily directly address the role of public space as a retainer of community heritage, identity and mythology, which appear to be essential components of “happy” places.
The gist of the consensus information about successful public shared spaces is contained in the following list compiled by Jan Gehl2:
“TWELVE STEPS TO CREATING A COMMUNITY COMMONS:
1 Protection from traffic
2 Protection from crime
3 Protection from the elements
4 A place to walk
5 A place to stop and stand
6 A place to sit
7 Things to see
8 Opportunities for conversations
9 Opportunities for play
10 Human-scale size and sensibility
11 Opportunities to enjoy good weather
12 Aesthetic quality”
and this insight, adapted from a presentation by Jay Walljasper, Senior Fellow at On The Commons:
“Place-making is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces Put simply, it involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work, and play in a particular space to discover their needs and aspirations. This information is then used to create a common vision for that place. The vision can evolve quickly into an implementation strategy, beginning with small-scale, do-able improvements that can immediately bring benefits to public spaces and the people who use them….. unfortunately the way our communities are built today has become so institutionalised that community stakeholders seldom have a chance to voice ideas and aspirations about the places they inhabit. Place-making breaks through this by showing planners, designers, and engineers how to move beyond their habit of looking at communities through the narrow lens of single-minded goals or rigid professional disciplines. The first step is listening to the best experts in the field—the people who live, work, and play in a place.”3
This gives us some clues about the prevailing concerns about the design of public spaces, and different ways of going about improving them. There are many references to the need for stakeholder engagement and involvement of affected people in the development of shared spaces. However, there is very little which touches on the need for cultural heritage to be articulated within public space, nor are any linkages drawn between specific cultural distinctions and the potential for mythologies and less tangible elements of “quality” and “value” to guide the shaping of space.
The “Campus Laboratory” process, described in Section (3) below, proposes a way to address and include these elements in the palette for place designs. There will be no similar “universal solutions” as each design process must be, by definition, location and community specific.
Firstly, a specific case study from South Africa:
2. Reviewing stakeholder engagement for improved public space in eThekwini, South Africa.
eThekwini is a metropolitan city of over 3,5m inhabitants, situated on the warm, sub-tropical east coast of South Africa, embracing the Indian Ocean. It is a harbour and holiday city, consisting of vibrant and diverse cultures. Like all South African cities, eThekwini suffered from apartheid planning, and is trying to knit back the torn fabric of society, both physically and emotionally. Despite this, Durban (eThekwini) has been named in the Mercer Survey as the South African City with the highest quality of life, is designated as a “New 7 Wonders Site” and is number 7 on the New York Times’ list of 52 Places to Go in 20154.
Focussed urban design based studies were conducted by the eThekwini Municipality into Public Open Space (Parks) in 2009, and more general surveys were undertaken by the South African Council for Scientific Research (CSIR) in 2010 into the use and response to parks within the municipal area. There is generally no participation from users or other stakeholders in the location, or development of these places; and consequently a low degree of “ownership” by communities. This may well be the reason for many public parks having degenerated into wastelands, threatening security and wellbeing, which sometimes results in local residents calling for them to be eradicated. In fact 55,4% of respondents* were calling for existing public parks to be fenced off. The very opposite of a “happy”, shared, accessible and welcoming public space!
Bulwer Park Pilot Project
Arising from the surveys, a pilot initiative was undertaken by the Architecture Department of the eThekwini Municipality at Bulwer Park in 2011. Bulwer Park is a well established, but under-utilised public park within a middle-income residential suburb close to the city centre. Residents, park users, local businesses, specialist interest groups, politicians, schools, clubs and churches were invited to a series of open public meetings, and participated in joint visioning exercises for improving the nature of their park. Ownership of the space by the “people” was stressed during the engagements, and all were encouraged to think creatively to contribute to the “Community Brief”. A “blank paper” approach was taken, much to the surprise of participants, whom were more used to being told by government what they were getting, than being asked what they wanted!
The result was very positive, and started to demonstrate to other residents, city officials and politicians that shared space, creatively geared, can add immensely to the quality of life as well as social cohesion within neighbourhoods. This approach has started to address the question of inclusivity and “people-centred” design in eThekwini, as well as establishing stronger community ownership of public spaces. However, the project did not look beyond the obvious physical components and interventions needed to modify the place to meet the needs and aspirations of the local community, and gave no thought to the intangible elements which could be incorporated to improve social cohesion and extend ownership of the space to a broader range of residents. This is where “Otherwhere” opened new doors.
Legacy projects developed for the 25th UIA Durban Congress were specifically aimed at increasing social cohesion, and “taking back the streets”. This was guided by the concept of “otherwhere”, which started to apply culture and heritage and individual emotions within street level interventions sponsored by the program. This shift was facilitated in some part by the new relationships formed between actors, musicians, artists, architects, poets, economists and engineers in the city, towards generation of shared spaces of high quality, which would appeal to the souls of our architectural visitors, as much as to their aesthetic sensibilities.
Works commissioned in the city’s shared spaces ranged from massive murals painted on the pillars of freeway fly-overs, to painting electrical control boxes and individual inspection covers with depictions of rural african settings and a proliferation of “pocket parks” and sculptures within every neglected corner of the city. Whole districts of the city changed character almost overnight, as people began to feel the reality of the ownership of the main streets, the parks, the beachfronts, and the spaces between buildings which had previously been dominated by cars, or subtly reserved by one group or another. Barriers were broken down through this event.
The inner city environment has never been as happy as during the week of the congress in August 2014. This gave some impetus to initiatives to change the planning methodologies for the city.
3. Proposing an Alternative Planning Methodology
The Durban University of Technology Campus Laboratory (DUT) : Blue-Skies Program 2015
The Urban Futures Centre (UFC) of DUT has established an opportunity for the existing “Campus Masterplan" to be reviewed and critiqued through experiments to find a new way of multi-disciplinary involvement for a sustainable future environment.
Locally based Vusa Collaborative, which works in City Architecture and Urban Development, has proposed a new and creative approach. The initiative provides opportunities for students and other stakeholders to express their desires, dreams and emotions to guide new inter-relationships between buildings, spaces, systems and landscape. This is to guide the realisation of “high quality” or “happy” spaces on the Campus. Videos, poetry, theatre and games are used to establish non-threatening communications to extract answers beyond the superficial. Respondents are encouraged to draw on aspects of fantasy, dreams, legends, mythology, cultural identity, symbolism and their own heritage in their answers.
Responses will be analysed and processed to provide a Space Happiness Index5. This index will relate the metaphysical experience to physical elements, structures, layouts and systems.
The Campus Laboratory opens doors for discussion of symbolism, mysticism and heritage within the city environment, and for introduction of characteristics relating to specifics of place, culture, religion, tradition and emotion, to help guide built environment design professionals working in the city in finding a physical realisation of the environment best suited to the well-being of those living, working, studying and playing within the city.
This initiative goes well beyond planning and design, and starts to integrate people from a variety of traditionally differentiated professions, life-stages and social conditions, within an endeavour to understand and record the keys to creating and evolving “happy spaces”, in an imaginative place contextualised as “otherwhere”, and a new discipline, which to be called “Happitecture”.
“Jabulani” is the isiZulu word encompassing “happiness”. Most public spaces in South Africa are sadly neglected, and anything but happy. There are the exceptions, but these are largely the preserve of more affluent visitors or citizens. This does not contribute to social cohesion, nor improve the general quality of life of all South Africans.
eThekwini, has adopted the vision to become, by 2030, “the most caring and liveable city”. This cannot be achieved within unhappy public spaces.
South African cities and public spaces could do with an injection of “Jabulanitecture”.
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- Urban Design Parks Survey Report 2009-10 prepared for City Architects, eThekwini Municipality, Eureka Market research Specialists, Durban, 2010.
1. Jay Walljasper & On the Commons provide a wealth of information in the website www.onthecommons.org on “How to Design our World for Happiness”; the commons guide to place-making, public space, and enjoying a convivial life.
2. List compiled by Jan Gehl, Architect and the founding Partner of Gehl Associates, Copenhagen.
3. Adapted from the website of Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit planning, design, and educational organisation dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities. www.onthecommons.org.
4. traveller24.news24.com : Read “Surprise SA inclusion on NY Times annual travel list” (12-01-2015), and “Durban gets New7Wonders Cities nod” (08-12-2014); also uk.mercer.com “Mercer 2015 Quality of Living Survey” (4-03-2015).
5. The “Space Happiness Index” (or “Happitecture Index”) is still to be compiled. It will vary from location to location, and between projects, but is very loosely based on the “Gross National Happiness” index pioneered in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan in the 1970s. It provides a method for briefing and objective measuring of results.
Conway, E. (2009) 50 Economic Ideas You Really Need to Know. United Kingdom: Quercus.
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, SA. (2010) Park Survey - eThekwini, unpublished.
Eureka Market Research Specialists. (2010), Urban Design Parks Survey Report 2009-10 prepared for City Architects, eThekwini, unpublished.
Gehl, J. (2010), Cities For people, Island Press, Washington
o’Leary, B. Personal correspondence, 13-04-2015.
Pirsig, R. M. (1999) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. London: Vintage. (First published in 1974 by The Bodey Head, Great Britain).
Jonathan C Edkins (Professional Architect, Professional Project Manager)
Vusa Collaborative, eThekwini, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Postal : Postnet Suite 304, Private Bag x10, Musgrave, 4062
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Happitecture : Zen, Otherwhere, and Space Design in eThekwini, South Africa
by Jonathan Edkins, Professional Architect and Project Manager. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, SA.