The Table House

Name The Table House

Herrhausen Society, Berlin, Germany as part of the Urban Exchanger Program 2016

Location Philippi, Cape Town
Status Ongoing

The Table House was designed to provide shack dwellers with a permanent low-cost structure, which can be extended laterally and vertically. The permanent structure acts as infrastructure that enables the dwellers to improve their houses gradually and to develop skilled labour and local building culture. The Table House is archetypal architecture – a minimal provision of posts and beams which provides a solid base from which to start. It is the structural expression of exactly the stability which life in the informal settlements lacks.

The project is based on a module that measures 3.6 x 3.6 x 3.2m. Concrete is used for foundations, columns and slabs, while PVC pipes, steel rebars and stirrups, steel beams, prefabricated ribs and blocks, mild steel joints, fire retardant paint, and diverse infill materials make up the rest of the materials used in this project.

The state’s inability to match supply with demand has led to the illegal construction of large informal settlements throughout the country that are poorly built and without services. The number of settlements has grown from 300 to over 2600 in the last fifteen years. Technical skills are in short supply – the reasons for this extend back to apartheid days and the hated Job Reservation Act which prevented Black people from performing skilled jobs which created a huge pool of unskilled workers in the country. The skillset is improving but it will take time before people are sufficiently skilled to build homes of the kind of quality that one would find in informal settlements in countries such as Brazil.

In the short term, urgent work is needed to upgrade these settlements as they will neither disappear nor be replaced by government-sponsored housing given the size of the housing deficit. Research in Cape Town has shown that many shack dwellers exist in a state of helpless temporariness – helpless because they don’t possess the technical skills to improve their homes and temporary because they hope that the state will replace the shack with a permanent house. Anger has reached a boiling point in many settlements as people have begun to realize that the state cannot provide houses for all – the time is ripe for action.  The Urban Exchanger Programme funded by the Herrhausen Society in Berlin enabled Noero Architects and Rainer Hehl Bureau from Berlin to address some of these issues. Out of this grew the idea of the Table House designed to provide shack dwellers with a permanent structure which can be made locally and inexpensively and can be easily extended. In this way, the structure can transform the condition of helpless temporariness into a form of permanence.  One of the key principles that formed part of the project was that people become the centre of all housing initiatives which the Table House satisfied as it is not a completed work but simply acts as an initiator. It is important to understand that the Table House is not a universal solution but it should be seen as one of many opportunities that are available.

The Table House can be built at a very low cost of approximately R7500. The repayment for a Table House over a fifteen-year period would be of the order of R37.50 per month. As the minimum working wage is set at R3500 per month, the cost of the Table House would be no more than 1% of monthly income, which is affordable. The construction takes two working days with an additional three days for the concrete to set and it can be built using local unskilled labour. Local NGOs can set-up social businesses to construct the Table Houses as well as a host of add-ons such as stair-cases and wall panels. The financing can be linked with a bank which could offer affordable low-interest long term loans underwritten by the state or trade unions and employers. Business opportunities to benefit local people can be created and homeowners will have permanent structures that can be added to easily. Most importantly the home will become the site of a family’s cultural and social life and not viewed as a shack with no value.

The Table House is not going to solve South Africa’s housing problems – it is a very specific strategy designed to meet specific site and social needs and most importantly is targeted at families who are in formal employment. The Table House is a trigger to stimulate and empower people to take charge of their own housing and to transform the housing into homes that have meaning and value to them and their families.