In the heady days after the end of apartheid, the South African government promised to build millions of new houses. These houses would make “informal settlements”—communities of squatters living in deplorable conditions they are unable to change given their lack of legal ownership— a memory. But the national government has delivered two million fewer houses than promised; meanwhile the population of Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg, has increased 30 percent in the last 10 years. Informal settlements have not been eliminated—they’ve grown.
Thorsten Deckler and Anne Graupner, of the Johannesburg firm 26’10 South Architects, together with Alex Opper, who directs the master’s architecture program at the University of Johannesburg, have been focusing attention on one of those settlements, Marlboro South. Despite its genteel sounding name, it is, in their words, “a squatted industrial no-man’s land” and a former apartheid buffer, with an estimated 1,545 households.