Empower Shack in Khayelitsha Nominated For Prestigious British Architecture Award

Jan Ras

For the past 180 years, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has recognised and celebrated excellence in architectural accomplishments around the world. This year, however, there were a few unusual international nominations on the list. Proving that the most impactful designs are sometimes found in the most unlikely places, the Empower Shack in Khayelitsha has been nominated for the prestigious British Architecture Award.

Empower Shack in Khayelitsha Nominated For Prestigious British Architecture Award

Empower Shack from Urban-Think Tank on Vimeo.

With the use of low-cost building materials, and the mission of challenging current housing policies that exclude many South Africans, the Empower Shack serves as a potential model for upgrading informal settlements. In the process, it's changing the lives of millions of people. The interdisciplinary design firm Urban Think Tank, along with several other key stakeholders, including Design Space Africa, built the first four prototypes back in 2015. The construction of another 16 Empower Shack units began last year.

The simple two-storey structure is made of corrugated iron, plywood and hollow-core bricks. The second floor of the Empower Shack aims to free up space that could otherwise be used for basic necessities such as sanitation or emergency services access. Another major element of the design is the presence of private bathroom and sanitation facilities, which would negate risks involved in walking to shared toilets or ablution spaces.

The prize will be awarded to the project that not only displays excellence in design but also has a significant social impact. While this is exciting news for South Africans, there is a small wait, as the winner of the prize will be announced only in December 2018.

Community leaders have expressed their desire for more units to be built and for the Empower Shack to be the start of something bigger that could be launched in other places around the country.