Opportunities for transformation through adaptive design : emergent student work

Stella Papanicolaou, Mike Louw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Design Research Studio, Studio Adapt! in the post-graduate architecture programme at the University of Cape Town, engaged with transformation through the adaptive redesign of existing structures. This paper will look at activities undertaken by students in the studio environment during the 2017 and 2018 academic years. Starting with the premise that a building could be understood as standing in for abstract thought, the studio introduced the students to a range of theories. Seminars on the found object in art, significance in heritage studies,
gentrification, the right to the city, conflicting rationalities, social transformation through spatial transformation and sustainability, encouraged the students to address the problem from multiple angles. More specific concepts were identified by each individual student through field work, including mappings and conversations with the various stakeholders of their selected sites. The students were required to identify the specific characteristics, challenges and potentials of their sites of study and to allow the found potentials to guide their investigations and design moves. Students were encouraged to treat their design interventions as a means through which to instigate dialogue between various conflicting positions surrounding their sites and areas of investigation, and they were required to consider the social and material implications of interventions on a site. Projects by students, both theoretical and practical, are used in this paper to illustrate concepts that hold potential for transformative design practices in adaptive reuse. The research reveals issues of interest embedded in the selected sites and presents possible approaches towards the transformation of the city through a series of design propositions presented by students. These include issues such as the right to the city and social justice, typological disruptions, programmatic adaptations, memory and archaeology, and the adaptation of ways of making. In all cases, the students built on the theoretical framework offered by the studio seminars through a careful reading of the specific character of the existing building, following the narratives provided by the tension between the found form and the new demands brought about by a changed context. In every case the existing was evaluated for what it might offer. Through a series of imaginative explorations, interventions involving various combinations of preservation, erasure and addition, were tested for how they might unlock the hidden potential of these found buildings to contribute to social transformation through their spatial and material transformation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-40
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Architecture and Urban Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Opportunities for transformation through adaptive design : emergent student work'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this