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A portable, multifunctional, beautifully designed crèche, constructed from mainly recycled and foraged materials, is to be built in the economically impoverished, informal settlement of Airport Valley in Walmer Township, Nelson Mandela Bay. It is a fine example of sustainable, social enterprise architecture.

Called Crèche13, it was conceived and designed by second year students at Mandela University’s School of Architecture as part of their academic curriculum, in collaboration with the Airport Valley community and Walmer Angel Projects - a non-profit organisation that has worked with crèche-going children and the Walmer Township community for many years. The community has a strong relationship of trust with this NGO.

The Airport Valley community identified an existing crèche that looks after about 40 pre-school children in a shack construction in dire need of attention in Airport Valley as the site for Crèche13.

The innovative project draws on a pre-manufactured “kit-of-parts” strategy, using low tech construction techniques, shipping containers and cost-efficient and recycled materials foraged from demolition sites. The only materials that aren’t recycled or foraged are the roof trusses and main structural girders.

The architecture reinterprets the use of industrial materials to create a low-cost, dignified, habitable building that also contributes delight in the informal settlement of Airport Valley, which is typified by dire living conditions.

Architect and lecturer in architecture at Nelson Mandela University, John Andrews, and his second year students costed the construction of Crèche13 at an incredibly economical R288 000, with the added commitment of raising the funds to build it. Funds and contributions have come in from the university, the private sector and individuals, and construction companies have donated materials from demolition sites. They have raised R206 000 to date.

“It’s a godsend, the timing is perfect, and it will be such an exciting, stimulating place for the children who are currently in a very small space,” says the founder of Walmer Angel Projects, Glenda Brunette.

Andrews adds that the essential process for the project was to engage the Airport Valley and Walmer community representatives in the project throughout the design development, all the way to completion. The Airport Valley community representatives, included the Walmer ward councillors, the Airport Valley community chairperson, and Walmer Angels Projects.

It also required complying with the university’s strict ethics clearance requirements for community engagement, and with different faculties in the university (construction department, legal services, ethics, health and safety), as well as the profession (structural, electrical engineering, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM) land planning and the NMBM building inspectorate).

The final Crèche13 design is the conclusion of a rigorous process which has emerged through various stages. During the first stage the students were asked to develop individual ideas for the design of the crèche. The students then elected 11 of the 57 individual proposals to develop further. Of these 11, the students then elected four projects to develop to completion. From these four proposals, a hybrid design was produced to develop the final design. 

The process involved presenting and discussing the design ideas at the various stages of the project with the Airport Valley community, the School of Architecture design and construction staff, and university quantity surveying and structural engineering. This process concluded in an exhibition in Stanley Street and was attended by the community, the crèche caretakers, dignitaries, land planning, as well as a rewarding turnout from the general public.

Crèche13 exemplifies social enterprise architecture and innovative design thinking, and includes:

  • A structure which can be entirely pre-manufactured.
  • A tarpaulin curtain and movable division contributes to the discourse of multi-functional architecture and allows the spaces to alter its spatial configuration in size and its relationship between inside and outside. This allows the building function to be altered to  suit a number of different uses. The flexibility of the design allows the building to be used as a crèche, but also for additional purposes – such as a community centre, church, soup kitchen or public stage.
  • An innovative ventilation and lighting system (air drums) which uses low tech design to enable control of air flow and light into the internal spaces. The building is also sensitively aligned with the local climate, and harvests rainwater. 

If the second year group manages to raise the construction amount, then Crèche13 will be pre-manufactured on campus in August and built as a piece of performance architecture behind the architecture building, then driven to site. The concept is that if Airport Valley formalises and a crèche is built here as part of this, then the portable crèche can be driven to the next informal area that has none. This makes it compatible with the dynamic environment of the South African informal settlement landscape while complying with stringent municipal regulations.

Project Process to date:

Project website and donation site:

Contact information
Tel: 078 531 2906