Yeoville Studio

Community-oriented research and teaching initiative

Yeoville Studio was a research and learning initiative driven by a collaboration between the Wits School of Architecture and Planning and several community partners in Yeoville, Johannesburg. It ran from 2010 to 2012 and aimed to produce research that of relevance, use and interest to the Yeoville community.
As a result of the project, a book will be published in 2019 by Wits University Press. (see the publications page on our website)


The project was led by students and staff from the University of the Witwatersrand, School of Architecture and Planning who built a partnership with three main civil society organisations in Yeoville: the Yeoville Stakeholders Forum (YSF), the Yeoville Bellevue Community Development Trust (YBCDT), and the SA National Traders Retailers Alliance (SANTRA).

The Yeoville Studio was directed by Associate Professor Claire Bénit Gbaffou, assisted by two Master student : Naomi Roux, as administrative coordinator, in 2010 and by Simon Mayson in 2011. Over the two years, more than 20 staff members from Wits participated in the initiative, and about 200 students, from first years to P.h.D candidates, mainly in the School of Architecture and Planning, were involved in different degrees in research projects linked to the Studio.

The Studio was mainly funded by Wits University (Strategic Funding, the Wits School of Architecture and Planning and the Centre for Urbanism and the Built Environment Studies). IFAS-Recherche was also a key partner in the initiative, involved from the start of the project (in particular in the Urban Memory/Urban Stories strand, through the then IFAS-Research Director, Dr Sophie Didier), until its very end (with unfailing
support to the final book and website, through IFAS-Research Director between 2016 and 2019, Dr Thomas Vernet-Habasque). A third important funder was the Goethe Institute of South Africa.


Four research themes were identified jointly between Wits and the Studio partner organisations, YSF, YBCDT and SANTRA: Urban Stories, African Diversity, Housing, Public Spaces.


The Studio ran from January 2010 to December 2011, where a huge amount of research was generated on a variety of themes, organised along the four themes. The research in the first year was centered around Yeoville stories, memory and identity; on this basis, the second year of the Studio could respond more directly to what the community partners had identified as main local issues – housing and trading.


The organisers of the project decided to choose the most interesting area in Yeoville, including the pericentral suburbs of Yeoville, Bellevue and Bellevue East, for this first iteration of City Studios in the School of Architecture and Planning. This area was chosen mainly because of the interest and enthusiasm for the partnership of one key local community organiser, Maurice Smithers (through the Yeoville Bellevue Community Development Trust). Yeoville is also a neighbourbood with a strong urban identity, epitomising many features and complexities of contemporary urban central areas. It is easily accessible to students of the University of the Witwatersrand, and close to the heart of many Wits students, having lived in the neighborhood at one stage of their lives.


Wits students and staff, in conjunction with residents, taught through projects on various topics and spaces in Yeoville, pertaining to the four themes of the project. This involved different levels of study, from 2nd year to Masters, collective class or individual research.

They also engaged with Yeoville communities and the broader public, in multiple and regular ways: through Yeoville community workshops – to define topics and expected outputs, to collect stories and start engagement, to present and debate findings; through public events such as exhibitions in Yeoville and at Wits, participation in Yeoville street festivals and community events, in municipal workshops ; through the production of community-oriented outputs (posters, films, booklets, newspaper articles, scale models, etc).

And finally, by producing academic research, that includes junior researchers, nurture inter-disciplinary dialogue, and reflects on what grounding urban studies in engaged research means for producing knowledge on the city.

> The Yeoville Studio website presents the project details and offers additional material not published in the book