This urban-design-scale research, sponsored by Carnegie Corporation and the University of Cape Town Research Office, engages with the question of what a situated Afro-centric design and making epistemology could mean. The UN-Habitat State of the World Cities Report (2010/2011) projects unprecedented levels of urban growth with much of this expansion happening in Africa – mainly under conditions that continue to defy and elude orthodox top-down interventions. For the ethical university, this prognosis demands applied context-responsive research to gain deeper insights into the African city and to explore innovative responses. This research aims to make a contribution by engaging with the embryonic field of design epistemology through the participatory design and construction of a small public space in a Cape Town informal settlement. Using a transdisciplinary approach, the research cross-pollinates academics' and professionals' abstract knowledge with selected participants' more tacit knowledge as a way of tapping into the distributed know-how of the city inhabitant.
Grounding the research in a real project does not only serve practical ends but also, and more importantly, enables academic engagement with design as a field of knowing. Significantly therefore, this research engages with the question of what an epistemology of participatory design could entail. Simultaneously, the research investigates the viability of participatory design and making as a possible synergetic umbrella for efforts by the general public, governments institutions, professionals, civil society, the private sector, and academics aimed at realistically facing up to the challenges of the African city.
Key participants in this research project are Drs Tom Sanya & Nic Coetzer, Senior Lecturers with the UCT School of Architecture; Mr Fadly Isaacs & Ms Doreen Kyosimire, Lecturers & PhD students at UCT School of Architecture and Makerere University respectively; Dr Carol Dralega, Senior Researcher, Western Norway Research Institute, Norway; Mr Luis Mira, an Architect based in Cape Town; Dr Bob Osano and Mrs Chao Mulenga of the University of Cape Town