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Dr Viloshin Govender.

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Dr Viloshin Govender, a lecturer in Architecture at the School of Built Environment and Development Studies, has organised and participated in the KwaZulu-Natal branch of the South African Institute of Architects’ (SAIA KZN) Spatial Inequality Dialogue Series. The dialogue explores how tactical urbanism can empower marginalised communities and the parallels between economic marginalisation and spatial inequality.

In his role as SAIA KZN education chairperson, Govender introduces students to the broader goals in the field, offering them the opportunity to interact with practising architects.

‘After the July 2021 riots and flooding that affected Durban, we decided that the institute needs to create awareness to unpack the social injustices and, in some cases, ecological factors that led to these events. We planned a series of talks with invited panellists to participate in dialogue to highlight these issues and enable people to share knowledge in creating solutions for spatial injustice and environmental threats,’ said Govender.

The talks cover topics such as gender equality, urban design, transport, informality, education, and health. ‘This allows us to take a deeper look at the July unrest to understand the root causes. Some of the invited panellists are members of informal communities, and the marginalised whose voices are often not heard in society; by doing this we aim for a bottom-up approach to unpack social issues.

‘Spatial inequality looks at the injustices of the past. Durban was developed based on apartheid planning principles, so we are examining ways to restore justice and create an inclusive city. We look at the “right to the city” theory, which considers how spatial divisions were set and who the city belongs to,’ added Govender.

‘We see developments being built in areas like Ballito and uMhlanga, but rarely are they in township areas. That’s inequality. We are looking for ways to change the mindset of stakeholders and architects to start developing these areas to create socio-economic opportunities for those living there. This also involves an examination of the parallels between economic marginalisation and spatial inequality,’ he explained.

Developing informal areas has long been debated in the field of architecture.

‘Informal settlements are seen as illegal; however, when government intervenes, people are often relocated to areas that are inconvenient for them and far from their places of work. We are asking architects and governments to take these people’s opinions, needs and wants into account in the design process by using a bottom-up approach to plan and design, to co-create and share knowledge,’ said Govender.

He is currently teaching architectural design and theory at postgraduate level and supervising final-year masters and honours students. His research focuses on working with informal settlements and disadvantaged communities, applying a novel bottom-up methodological approach, including drone mapping, to co-produce knowledge with residents and create sustainable urban neighbourhoods.

Govender collaborates with many local non-governmental organisations and municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal and is part of the Isulabantu project team (community-led informal settlement upgrading for self-reliance) and the Latitude global network forum.

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph: Supplied