Compact Housing for Incremental Growth: The K206 RDP Project in Alexandra, Johannesburg

Afua Wilcox*, Nelson Mota, Marietta Haffner, Marja Elsinga

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The South African Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) was initiated to provide subsidised housing for low‐income families. However, the programme faced challenges in establishing adequate technical guidelines and standards, resulting in subpar housing quality. This article discusses the multifaceted nature of subsidised housing design, emphasising the importance of incorporating technical housing standards as well as the spatial needs of residents based on their context (at both domestic and neighbourhood scales). The article focuses on the K206 housing RDP project in Alexandra, Johannesburg, as a case study that transitioned from generic technical standards to a resident‐responsive design scheme that was inspired by the backyard room incremental expansions that were already prevalent in the Alexandra context. A critical review of South Africa’s RDP housing design technical standards and policy is explored. The article also examines the density standards and allowances for incremental expansions introduced by the K206 project, analysing data derived from fieldwork observations, interviews, and the spatial analysis of 26 dwelling units. The study’s findings underscore the significance of maintaining an equilibrium between technical standards and resident‐responsive design decisions. The results demonstrate that tailoring the RDP housing design solutions to unique contextual needs can significantly elevate the quality of life of residents concerning income generation and flexibility for incremental expansion. However, this balance is delicate and disparities between the RDP technical standards and user‐initiated development over time also have the potential to ultimately impair residents’ living spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7736
Number of pages20
JournalUrban Planning
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • incremental housing
  • reconstruction and development programme
  • South Africa
  • subsidised housing
  • technical norms
  • technical standards


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