Alfredo Brillembourg is the rebellious architect tackling South Africa’s housing crisis

Alfredo Brillembourg has designed and built the Empower Shack, an innovative, urban design solution to the housing crisis in South Africa’s townships.

Alfredo Brillembourg, an architect and the co-founder of Urban-Think Tank (U-TT), believes that realisable micro-projects can have a major impact on the people living in rapidly urbanising cities. Through U-TT, Brillembourg is implementing design innovations for rapid and incremental informal settlement upgrades in the global South and, most recently, South Africa’s townships.

Following the end of apartheid, the South African government promised to improve the quality of housing and despite their efforts, there has been little noticeable change in many of South Africa's townships. Approximately 7.5 million South Africans remain informally housed in 2 700 squatter camps and urban slums scattered across the country.

Brillembourg conceived the idea for Empower Shack after visiting Cape Town in 2012 and speaking at that year's Design Indaba Conference as U-TT. The Empower Shack is an immediate, incremental solution to the housing problems that many South Africans face. Directed by U-TT, Cape Town-based NGO Ikhayalami Development Services and associated local and international partners like Design Space Africa, the Empower Shack is an interdisciplinary and participatory housing prototype built in the BT-Section of Khayelitsha.

“I’m bridging a hybrid between formal and informal housing,” says Brillembourg. Built for community leader Phumezo Tsibanto, and his family, the first iteration of the Empower Shack featured a two-storey metal-clad modular wood frame structure that is economical for the residents and can be self-built.

The second iteration, currently under construction, is a different configuration of the prototype. The latest Empower Shack model combines brick and corrugated iron in its construction and is adaptable to the needs of different residents, extending up to three storeys when necessary.

His is an architectural model imbued with a deep social concern despite the limits in regards to land, money and time.

The Empower Shack is an on-going pilot focused on a cluster of 68 houses within the BT-Section of Khayelitsha. Through an innovative an realisable design models, the project aims to develop a comprehensive and sustainable informal settlement upgrading strategy by the end of 2017. 

Alfredo Brillembourg will be speaking at Design Indaba Conference 2016. Book now.


Watch the Talk with Alfredo Brillembourg