OSA Review: Jhono Bennet - A Post-Post-Apartheid Urban Praxis

Praxis: The process by which a theory is embodied, enacted, or realised.

Jhono Bennet is an architect based in Johannesburg, South Africa, specialising in place-based approaches to architecture and urban planning. He visited Brookes in October, sitting in on Unit D's Crits before presenting his work on spatial narratives and urbanism as part of OxArch's In Conversation With... Series.

Jhono Bennet works primarily in the cities of Durban and Johannesburg; dense, diverse cities in one of the most continuously human-occupied areas of the world. Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, a "city of contradictions", which is constantly being re-imagined. Bennet discussed the idea of a Post-Post city as a technical precedent, using design and critical reasoning. This idea started as an initiative for Masters' students in 2010 - originally the brief was to design houses, but it later evolved into designing a community centre to support inclusivity, integration, and empowerment.

He also discussed his social enterprise 1TO1, of which he is the co-founder and co-director. 1TO1 is a knowledge sharing practice system, with a multiple practice approach, and has been running for 9 years. In that time, it has worked with 500 students and 4,000 people across 40 projects. 1TO1 seeks to encourage engagement between informal settlement communities, academics, and government bodies, encouraging human-centric thinking and design which ultimately aims to create more spatially equal and pro-active cities and neighbourhoods. You can find more on 1TO1 here.

Bennet is currently working towards his PhD on Spatial Narratives, exploring the role of design-led development and how cross-disciplinary approaches to urban design helps to bring people together and create stronger communities. He encouraged us to ask the hard questions, and to provoke these conversations.

Johannesburg is a city with explicit inequalities, even after 26 years of political freedom. Jhono Bennet and his colleagues believe that we can systematically improve how South African cities are made "from the ground up" - by putting the people first, and by working directly with them to promote justice and equality via grassroots urban design.

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