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Hope for Florence House
24 November 2010

Architecture students, guided by professionals, are working to find solutions to improve living conditions at the dilapidated Florence House.

ARCHITECTURE students from various universities gathered in Hillbrow to devise ways to help improve and renovate an inner city building, Florence House.


Students from Eunic tour the roof of The Florence building
Students from Eunic tour the roof of Florence House


As part of the third annual European Union National Institutions of Culture – South Africa Architecture 2010, students will come up with solutions to the crucial issue of living and housing conditions at Florence House.

Organised with the support of the French Institute of South Africa, the Goethe Institute and the British Council, the Architecture Studio of the European Union National Institutions of Culture (Eunic) is aimed at linking the public, students and young professionals.

The studio was created in 2008 in partnership with the cultural groups. Eunic is a network of cultural institutes from the member states of the European Union. Formed in 2006, it grew out of the Consortium of the National Cultural Institutes of the European Countries in Belgium. It has 30 members from 26 countries.

According to the cultural officer of the French Institute of South Africa, Benjamin Blanpain Montresor, the architectural approach will focus on the economy of means, sustainability and renovation.

“The Eunic Architecture Studio will bring inputs to these projects by proposing architectural solutions with a specific and contextual approach aimed at linking the building to its context, taking into account the climate, energy efficiency and the general comfort and wellbeing of its tenants.”

On Monday, 22 November, the students investigated the dilapidated building and questioned the residents in an attempt to come up with ideas that would improve the structure.

Florence House
Florence House is located in Braamfontein, near Constitution Hill and the Joburg Theatre Complex. It used to be a hospital.

At the beginning of 2000, a thousand people were removed from Brixton to one of the Florence House buildings, using 240 of its units. Today it has a church, a garage and even a creche, and is characterised by a chaotic vibrancy.

Jeffery Nzuza, a trustee of Learn and Earn, which manages Florence House, told the students that there were plans to refurbish it and provide transitional accommodation for six months for prisoners coming out of jail.

Most of the people staying in the building were unlawful occupants who would be evicted soon, he explained. “Most of them have a tendency of not paying rent and as result we owe the municipality R2,4-million.”

Frans Sebothoma, the operations manager of ICPM Property Management, which manages several buildings in Johannesburg, said Florence House needed an injection of R110-million. “Once the funding becomes available, renovation of the building starts.”


Florence House id dilapidated, and needs urgent attention
Florence House is dilapidated and needs urgent attention


Housing is one of Johannesburg’s greatest challenges. Although great strides have been made in providing low-cost housing, the quality of this housing has been compromised and many communities still live in informal settlements. At the same time, many valuable properties in Johannesburg’s central district have been wastefully abandoned.

Ismael Farouk, a research officer at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, said the current housing policy was a result of bad buildings, as sub-letting was promoted as a practice.

“A lack of recognition of informal economies is leading to bad buildings as people’s earning potential is limited due to corruption and harassment by metro police,” said Farouk. “Sub-letting is the only available option for rental accommodation.”

He also noted that private sector housing companies were redeveloping flats into social units, which were exclusively South African.

Harrison Reef Hotel and Huntley Hall
In 2009, the Eunic Architecture Studio investigated Harrison Reef Hotel and Huntley Hall in a bid to improve the buildings and conditions and lifestyles of residents. A design done by the students was forwarded to the owners and a decision on the changes is expected to be reached in July 2011.

For further information about the workshop programme, contact Benjamin Blanpain Montresor on 011 836 0561 or send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The Eunic Architecture Studio is taking place at Jozi: Art Lab and ends on 26 November.

Internationally renowned architects from South Africa and Europe who will guide students during the workshop include Christophe Hutin, Alex Ely, Carin Smuts, Lorenzo Romito, Ian Low, Aitor Casero Vicente and Ada Kwiatkowska.

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Last Updated on 29 November 2010