In the early 2000’s Hillbrow was characterised by numerous ‘bad buildings’, degraded through lack of maintenance and service provision, highjacked buildings, broken infrastructure and dirty and dangerous streets. After working on a series of individual building upgrades in the Hillbrow area from 2002 onwards with the Johannesburg Housing Company, it became clear that there was enough critical mass of ‘good buildings’, either owned by themselves or under good management, in a specific area of Hillbrow centred on Pietersen Street, to start thinking strategically in terms of a neighbourhood. This was putting the so-called ‘ripple pond’ theory of development into practice. It started to focus not only on the buildings but on the context. (It’s not only about the building!)

The eKhaya Neighbourhood Improvement Programme (eKhaya) initiated in 2004 was the first of its kind to envisage forming a residential neighbourhood community in a degenerated low income, high density “no-go” area in the inner city.

There were several aspects to the eKhaya Project:

Continuing the process of upgrading and recycling existing building stock:


Most buildings were in a severe state of decay. In recycling buildings, key questions were posed as to whether the building was sustainable in its current configuration, how it would contribute to the housing stock of the company and what other functions could be included to make the project socially sustainable. Within a series of building, all located along Pietersen Street, a variety of challenges were addressed, from converting an existing residential hotel into rooms with shared facilities – a sought after typology to rehabilitating an iconic 1950’s Modernist building.

Gaelic Building - EKhaya Precinct
Gaelic Building – EKhaya Precinct
Sylvadale mansions
Sylvadale mansions

Mapping the area:

A mapping exercise was done to build a database of buildings and relationships. It assisted discussions concerning common interests with neighbourhood property owners.

Building relationships:

eKhaya set out to organise property owners, housing managers, caretakers and residents to co-operate between themselves to create and maintain a safe, clean, healthy and well managed environment, for the benefit of the people who live and work in the area.

Identifying key interventions to improve the urban environment:

One of the first initiatives was to clean up the existing sanitary lanes which were filthy, neglected and dangerous areas where no-one took responsibility for their upkeep. The first manifestations of the eKhaya project were not always physical, but slowly the process of building urban governance has resulted in people driven changes to the environment, from the carving out of public space and play areas from the streets to the reclamation of urban open space.