Bong’s Place Macassar’s Storytelling Shack
University of Cape Town, Cape University of Technology, RWTH Aachen and PBSA Duesseldorf with Studiolight
In 2018, local youth designed and build an exhibition installation for a photographic exhibition in several local spaces in Macassar, a community in the Western Cape of South Africa. The aim of the exhibition was to imagine a contemporary cultural space by connecting locally made spaces through storytelling practices. The exhibition inspired residents to celebrate their community’s self-made spaces and those who made them. The response from the community identified a need for a community storytelling space to continue community building initiatives in conditions with limited access to state built public facilities.
In 2019, forty students from two South African and German universities joined forces with a local non-profit Studiolight to identify, design, and construct a storytelling space with the community. Funded by Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), the collaboration was hosted as a summer/winter school in Macassar local spaces. Phase I entailed research done through a series of field trips, interviews, architectural ethnographic drawings, community meetings, and design projects that focussed on connecting emergent common spaces at an urban scale. Well-known resident Thomas Adonis’ shack, known by locals as Bong’s Place was identified as a local space that could be rebuilt to test local building ideas and techniques at a 1:1 scale in phase II. An important aspect of the project was learning from self-made structures in Macassar how to reuse found materials in the refurbishment of the shack. Students made timber roof trusses, timber columns, installed steel base plates, built walls, made doors, gates, and fences while members of the local community paved the inside floor, welded gates, installed the roof sheeting, and electrical work.
After its completion, the shack has been used to continue an ongoing community-driven storytelling project focussing on documenting the oral histories of Macassar. In addition to this, the shack has been used for several other community gatherings such as funerals, birthdays, weddings, exhibitions whilst Adonis continues to sell firewood and charcoal for a living in front of the shack.
The project is essentially about telling the story of how public spaces are made by people in neglected communities and their building techniques. The project involves students learning from marginalized citizens whilst using found objects to prototype, pre-manufacture building elements, and to do onsite construction together with members of the community.
The main structure is a new double timber membered truss and column structure that was made in the workshop of the nearby secondary school. Discarded steel brackets from an old pergola structure were reuse to secure the main timber structure to newly cast concrete footings. Leftover Perspex light diffusers from a previous live project were incorporated into the wall panels. Together with translucent sheeting at the top of the structure, light enters the space at different opacities for optimal light quality. Timber pallets from the community’s previous years’ temporary exhibition displays were disassembled, sanded down, and used to clad the gates, doors, and to make fence screens. A box gutter between the existing house and the shack collects water into a donated water tank. Students worked alongside a local bricklayer, welder, carpenter, and electrician to complete masonry work, roofing, gates, and electrical work.
The recycling of building elements is clear in its assembly and easily understood by residents, students, and visitors. The shack becomes a physical reference for the community whereby they can recognize how their building knowledge creates a more liveable neighbourhood, while students are able to recognize the value of working with and learning from ordinary people.