Recently, the field of urban development has witnessed a renewed attention for the core-housing concept. The rationale is to re-establish incremental housing as a proactive strategy for satisfying housing demand in rapidly urbanising cities and as an alternative to slum upgrading. As the concept has swung back into the attention of practitioners, it is crucial to integrate "what was learnt last time around". To avoid a strong sense of `déjà-vu' about the way the concept was understood in the 1970s, it would help to engage in a quest for more effective implementation and to link the concept to contemporary debates on urban development. An interesting way to refine the thinking may come from the field of architecture, where open building approaches are gaining importance and leading to designs with the potential to change over time. Currently, the field is still divided in two largely disconnected disciplines, architecture and urban development (comprising housing related studies). Evaluations and conclusions are consequently also fragmented. In this thesis I explore the potential of a crosspollination of disciplines: could an open building approach lead to more effective core-housing implementation for low-income households living in rapidly urbanising contexts? To answer this question, in this thesis three key elements of `effective core housing' - sustainable, adequate and legitimate are identified and then simplified into a workable tool which allows for assessing the trade-offs made in the implementation process. Thereby the assessment of effectiveness intentionally takes a longer term perspective. Particularly promising as a starting point for this exploration are several common denominators in the paradigms of the "people's housing process" and of "open building approaches" - respectively in Turner (1979) and Habraken (1998). These common denominators centre around a discourse of `users', `building control', `autonomy' and seeing `the act of building' in the light of the temporal dimension. The analysis starts with a discussion on the application of (modern) open building systems to the residential sector, though the outcome is rather disenchanting. Perceived pragmatic advantages along with ideological motivations suit the context of origin Europe, North America and Japan - best, while not answering to the specific opportunities and limitations of rapidly urbanizing contexts and the stringent affordability criteria of low-income households. Since no core house is implemented in a vacuum, the case study method is used to get an understanding of the consolidation process over time and "on the ground". The core-housing implemented in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, in 1983 a settlement occupied in 1985 - offers a unique opportunity to analyse consolidate on over more than 25 years as well as understanding a project from its embedding in a tight land- and housing system. For the fieldwork, 25 plots are intentionally selected, primarily on the basis of the level of physical consolidation of the plot. Several visits to the plot, including semi-structured interviews and open conversations, as well as photography, are used to identify trends in the consolidation process over time. Triangulation with 1996 aerial photography and expert validation is used to verify findings and interpretations, as well as a focus group discussion with key informants and close cooperation with a local CBO. Five trends are identified through the case study analysis, followed by a discussion of considerations for future core-housing implementation. Possibly the most sobering finding is that, from a time perspective, the plot potential not so much the superstructure - has been the most flexible element of the `core-housing concept'; and it's size allowed for a variety of forms of densification. If indeed the plot is the prime enabler, the inevitable implication is that core-housing concept requires considerable rethinking. Practitioners must engage in thoughtful consideration of the concepts' sustainability aspect in relation to plot sizes, balancing negative consequences of low-density (commonly referred to as "inefficient land-use") and their direct impact on low-income households with the need to prepare room for future densification. During the analysis of extension "trails" (e.g. the timing and material use of subsequent extensions), another interesting trend was found. There has been a steady shift away from the use of impermanent material towards the use of conventional material - mainly brick or block, based on a strong intrinsic motivation of low-income households to "achieve" these "higher level" extensions. In the light of progressive realisation of adequate housing, inherent to the core-housing concept, there is a need for a sensitive pro-active approach by municipalities that moves away from perceiving impermanent extensions as "slummification" but instead guides towards a more safe and resilient "product". A key challenge to the initial core house is the attempt to least constrain conventional material extensions through reducing the costs and time involved in achieving such safer and more resilient extensions. This pragmatic approach is grounded firstly in the realisation that the temporal dimension had rendered many of the intentionally enabling aspects of the initially provided superstructure unrecognisable and possibly irrelevant, whilst the main constraint of extending amongst households themselves was found in their very stringent affordability criteria. The open building approach is brought back into the scene, not as a building concept, but through the principle of zeggenschap - or distributed decision making in building control. It is argued that Zeggenschap may serve as a fruitful principle (or "way of seeing" the built environment) to articulate thinking on core housing towards more effective implementation, whereby different stakeholders play different roles at different levels of the building through time. This exploratory and qualitative research provides several indicators and considerations that may give direction for further studies and implementations towards more effective core-housing to its targeted beneficiaries. The conceptual framework of the thesis offers a useful tool to help assess the inevitable trade-offs between sustainability, legitimacy and adequacy made during the implementation process. If anything, this research leads to the conclusion that a longer-term study on the effectiveness of core-housing must jointly focus on the plot and the household(s) that lives or lived on it. A serious challenge for future implementations is to give targeted beneficiaries a level playing field in decision making as early as possible in the housing process so that they take ownership of the core-housing concept. Keywords: core-housing, low-cost housing implementation, open building approach, pre-fabrication / building systems, incremental housing.

Ayala, A.
Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies

Breimer, T. (Tikvah). (2011, November). Open building as an approach for more effective core-housing implementation? An exploration. Retrieved from