South Africa | Summer Abroad | Design | Architecture | Urban Development

South Africa—Shelter: Cape Town (Summer)


Examine Cape Town’s built environment, where apartheid’s legacies and burgeoning inequalities have combined to create acute housing challenges and innovative approaches in urban architecture and design.

  • Study in Cape Town, a World Design Capital and site of contrasts and contestations focusing on housing and urban design.
  • Study geographies of exclusion and the legacies of apartheid through urban planning.
  • Develop a collaborative project proposal in small groups with community members focused on a practical hands-on aspect of shelter and urban design.
  • Engage with Capetonians who are passionate about design and its role in creating livable, just cities.
  • Analyze the “right to the city” through an examination of identity, access, belonging, and urban space.
  • Learn from the everyday experiences of Cape Town’s residents through contrasting homestays in a township and the city center.

Collaborative Project

Working with local community members, urban planners, and architectural practitioners, you and your fellow students will form small groups of multi-disciplinary teams to collaborate on a design project focused on an aspect of shelter. The collaborative project — the topic of which will emerge from classes, discussions, and educational excursions — will be based in Cape Town.

Last summer, students focused on two major urban design proposals in and around the city. The context for the two projects highlighted the broader politics of poverty in the Central City Improvement District and the dire struggle for dignified housing in a South African township. In the township of Langa, students worked on innovative strategies for residents who live under the threat of fire. Fires spread easily in overcrowded settlements, and the students’ work focused on developing a contingency plan for mitigating the effects of fire. Moreover, the students’ proposal sought to rethink how shipping containers could be redesigned as emergency shelters. Beyond the design aspects of the project, the students’ work highlighted the complex institutional, social, and political constraints, which maintain a state of vulnerability in Langa.

Meanwhile, in the historic Bo Kaap area of the Central City Improvement District, students worked in an informal settlement known as “the Kraal.” The Kraal is an incredibly impoverished area, where families live in rough shelters and where the “right to the city” discourse plays out, as residents have historically resisted attempts at eviction by the city’s Land Invasion Unit. The residents of the Kraal live with minimal access to municipal services and without any access to social, communal, or recreational programs. SIT students proposed to improve the quality of life for people living in the area by rethinking open spaces as food gardens, producing design proposals for new homes with consideration for the environment, and developing strategies to implement a community center with much needed childcare support and related recreational facilities.

Live and study in Cape Town (program base).

Cape TownYou and your fellow students will spend the program primarily in Cape Town, living in a township called Langa and the community of Bo Kaap. Primarily isiXhosa-speaking, Langa was one of many areas designated for black South Africans and is one of the oldest townships in the country. Settlements in apartheid South Africa were populated not only according to race but also ethnicity. This was a deliberate policy by the state to control South Africans using the “divide and rule” tactic.

The SIT classrooms and office are located in the southern suburb of Rondebosch, in close proximity to the University of Cape Town.

Shelter and its challenges have long been defining characteristics of Cape Town, and the program takes advantage of the multiple resources the city offers. By the mid-twentieth century, the population of Cape Town was approximately half a million. Today there are over 3.7 million residents, many of whom live in informal housing. During much of the second half of the twentieth century, South Africa was subjected to the violence and imposed spatial reorganizations associated with apartheid. Communities were divided by race and ethnicity, involving massive dislocations of people.

Bo KaapWith apartheid’s end in 1994, South Africa remained a country divided, and the shack-based settlements of its cities expanded to contain job seekers and other migrants leaving rural areas for perceived economic opportunities, as seen in the burgeoning township of Khayelitsha on the Cape Flats. Attempts have been made to build mixed income houses in Langa, and elsewhere, but for a variety of reasons explored on the program, these schemes remain largely vacant. In other parts of the city, including Bo Kaap, recent waves of gentrification challenge close-knit connections and cultural ties, threatening to price long-term residents out of their homes and the city center. Elsewhere in Cape Town, enclaves of stunning homes — architectural showpieces — cling to the sides of Table Mountain and overlook the sea, sheltering their predominantly white residents in luxury, behind an expansive security apparatus.

Through monuments, new institutions, and a focus on urban design and architectural innovation, Cape Town has asserted itself as a cultural and artistic center of South Africa and is commonly known as the “Mother City” of the nation.


None. Students with interests in architecture, design, engineering, geography, and development are particularly encouraged to apply.

Access virtual library guide.

The syllabus linked below is from the forthcoming course offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabus can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Shelter – syllabus
(ILAB3020 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
An interdisciplinary course on urban developments in Cape Town, with an opportunity to engage in a hands-on, collaborative design project in the city. The course focuses on the history and legacies of Cape Town’s racialized spaces, the current dynamics that contribute to its role as a site of sobering urban challenges, and the ways in which communities of architects, designers, and residents are working together to create promising design solutions.

Cape Town

Throughout the program, you and your fellow students will have day-long excursions to museums, historical sites, self-help schemes, and community organizations in and around Cape Town. You may also undertake brief fieldwork investigations with local NGOs.


StellenboschYou will visit Stellenbosch, located in the Western Cape Province about 50 km outside of Cape Town. The city is home to one of South Africa’s leading tertiary educational institutions, Stellenbosch University.

During this period, you will attend classes at Stellenbosch University and undertake excursions, including the town of Paarl, home to the Afrikaans Language Monument. An excursion to the Solms Delta Wine Estate will give you the opportunity to learn about the social history of the farm and housing programs being implemented at the winery to support farm workers and their families. This is contrasted with surrounding areas in the wine-growing region where itinerant farm workers live informally — with limited access to basic infrastructure — despite the surrounding wealth of the region.

Stewart Chirova, Academic Director 

Stewart ChirovaStewart Chirova, a Zimbabwe national, received a BS in agriculture from the University of Zimbabwe, an MS and MPS in horticulture and environmental management from Cornell University, and a graduate diploma in business administration at De Mont Fort University in the UK. He has worked as a research associate at the University of Zimbabwe and at Cornell University. His research efforts were focused on sustainable agriculture, integrated pest management, watershed management, and geographic information systems. He has also taught courses for the Ministry of Education in Zimbabwe and served as a coordinator in the International Students and Scholars program office at Cornell University. Stewart served as the academic director of SIT’s program in Botswana from fall 2001 through spring 2010, and he has directed the South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights program since fall 2010. In addition to his role as academic director, he served as a member and later chair of the Program Affairs Committee on the SIT Study Abroad Governance Council (2007 until 2009).

Koni Benson, Department of Historical Studies, UCT 

Dr. Koni Benson is a radical educator and a historian engaged with African history, gender histories, popular political education, and collaborative knowledge production.

Ismail Farouk, Department of African Studies, UCT

Ismail Farouk is an artist and PhD candidate based at the department of African Studies at UCT. His work broadly deals with historical injustice, food oppression and the city working through a radical black feminist intellectual and aesthetic archive. 

Andy Horn, Ecodesign

Andy HornAndy Horn is a qualified professional architect with over 24 years of experience with the design and construction of natural buildings. With a passion for the environment, he established his own architectural practice in 1998, called Eco Design – Architects & Consultants.

The practice has had a strong emphasis on the use of local natural materials, involving user participation and on-site training. Andy has often had to apply a personal, hands-on approach to parts of the construction, involving physical building and training work. This continues to inform his art in the use of natural materials especially in straw bale, earth building, and masonry dome construction. Clients have included Namaqua National Parks, Mondi Forests, WESSA, Conservation International, International Fauna and Flora, Eskom, National Water Saving Campaign, South African Heritage Resource Agency, Hantam Municipality, City of Cape Town, and numerous individual private clients, businesses, and development planning teams.

Aside from practicing architecture, he has written numerous articles and published papers, photographs, illustrated books, and pamphlets. He has also been a keynote speaker and has exhibited both locally and internationally. He also gives lectures on environmental design and holds natural building and participatory design workshops.

KumarAditya Kumar, Ecodesign

Aditya Kumar works as an independent practitioner on informal settlements, planning, and development issues. He was previously manager for urban sustainability at ICLEI Africa Secretariat and deputy director for the Community Organization Resource Centre (CORC), affiliated to Shack/Slum Dwellers International, currently working with informal settlement and backyarder dwellers of South Africa. His previous experience includes post-war reconstruction of Palestinian refugee camps (Lebanon), post-earthquake disaster housing reconstruction (India), and affordable and social housing and large urban development projects (Los Angeles and Boston). His work has fostered multi-stakeholder partnerships between local communities, CBOs, government bodies, academic institutions, and international NGOs, with a key focus on strengthening community-driven design, planning, and implementation. The reconstruction of Palestinian refugee camps has also been shortlisted for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Steven Robins, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, University of Stellenbosch

Steven Robins is a professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the University of Stellenbosch. He has published on a wide range of topics including the politics of land, “development,” and identity in Zimbabwe and South Africa; the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC); urban studies; and, most recently, citizenship and governance. His book From Revolution to Rights in South Africa: Social Movements and Popular Politics (2008) focuses on globally connected social movements, NGOs, and CBOs that are involved democratic struggles over access to AIDS treatment, land, and housing. He has edited a book entitled Limits to Liberation After Apartheid: Citizenship, Governance and Culture, which is published by David Philip, James Currey, and Ohio University Press, 2005. His edited volume (with Nick Shepherd) is entitled New South African Keywords (Jacana and Ohio University Press, 2008)

Additional administrative and support staff include:

Tabisa Dyonase, Program Assistant

Tabisa has been with SIT since the spring of 2007. She chiefly focuses on helping students adapt to the program by addressing students’ day-to-day concerns, facilitating communication between students and in-country staff, and assisting with administrative aspects of the program. She is also in charge of homestay coordination. Tabisa obtained a BA in psychology, education, and Xhosa from the University of Port Elizabeth; a postgraduate diploma in communication and computing from London Centre College for Business Studies; and a postgraduate degree in public relations management from UNISA (University of South Africa).<


Langa is one of the oldest townships that emerged following the passage of the Urban Areas Act in 1923. Langa was a planned town and looks radically different from informal settlements that dot the Cape Town landscape. The term township refers to residential areas for non-white people.

Langa is a vibrant community that values education and sports and has a very strong Christian identity. Families typically consist of five to six members. The name Langa literally means “sun,” but it is derived from Langalibalele, a rebel chief imprisoned at Robben Island for rebelling against the government.

Each weekday, you will commute to the suburb of Rondebosch for class; weekends will be spent with your host family. An excursion to Robben Island will be arranged during the Langa homestay; other excursions may include hiking Table Mountain or Lion’s Head or visiting the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

Bo Kaap

Bo Kaap Bo Kaap is one of the best known and most photographed areas of Cape Town and is closely associated with traditional Islam and the Cape Malay community. Early settlers of the Cape Town area included slaves from South Asia and the Indian Ocean basin and political prisoners who pioneered Islam, all of whom influenced the area’s cultural and social practices.

Bo Kaap is well known for its rich history and cultural heritage as well as for its brightly colored houses and distinct Georgian architecture that was typical during the area’s development in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

  • South Africa—Shelter: Cape Town (Summer) is available only in the summer semester.
  • The summer semester generally begins in mid-June and ends in mid-July.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Apr 1, 2016

SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: Not yet available.

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who instruct students in:
    • The history and legacies of Cape Town’s racialized spaces, current urban challenges, and community initiatives in urban development
    • Social, cultural, and political aspects of the region
  • Collaborative project with local community members, urban planners, and architectural practitioners on an aspect of shelter
  • All educational excursions to museums, local NGOs, and locations such as the Stellenbosch University and Solms Delta Wine Estate
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: Not yet available.

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period
  • All homestays (10 days in Bo Kaap, and two weeks in Langa)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered by SIT Study Abroad, directly or through a stipend, or through the homestay

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Immunizations: Varies

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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