Updated on March 11, 2024


Created on December 3, 2018

Empower Shack

Upcoming Update

The Empower Shack Project is self-built settlement.

Developed By Unknown
Content Partners


Product Description

The Empower Shack is a dwelling designed by Urban Think Tank in collaboration with Ikhayalami.  It is made out of materials such as wood and iron sheeting, and can be self-built. It has two storeys, but it could be expanded to three. The vertical building has a smaller footprint than typical informal houses.

The project aims to be scalable and applicable to answer South Africa’s housing shortage. It is on its pilot phase focusing within BT Section of Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

The project also focuses on developing the neighborhoods, and planning for infrastructure such as public spaces, roads and courtyards. It aims to be comprehensive, covering participatory spatial planning, ecological landscape management and integrated livelihoods programming.

*Please note that building designs are being included as “products” in the Habitat Sector of the Solutions Library to allow readers to learn from how projects were designed and constructed and how they are serving the occupants, whether effective or ineffective.

Target Users (Target Impact Group)

Distributors / Implementing Organizations

Urban Think Tank (UTT) in partnership with Ikhayalami

Intellectural Property Type

Select Type

User Provision Model

The units are facilitated through Ikhayalami. The organization also negotiates the loan terms and repayments, depending on each household.

Distributions to Date Status

The first prototype was made in 2013, followed by four units in 2014, and sixteen in 2017.

Unique Design (Yes/No)


Intended number of occupants (#)

5 – 8 occupants

Duration of construction (days)


Number of storeys


Flammable flash point temperature (ºC)


Thermal insulating capacity (m²*K/W)

Iron sheeting is not a good insulator; however, South Africa’s warm climate allows households to use this material without insulation.

Maximum wind speed (km/h)


Structural Occupancy Category


Seismic Design Category


Suitable Climates

Temperate and tropical

Design Specifications

The design is a two-storey building with a sanitation core, balcony, living area, kitchen and bedrooms.  The designers are experimenting with alternative configurations to adapt to the needs of different households.

Product Schematics

Technical Support

Ikhayalami coordinates the process and provides assitance during construction.

Replacement Components

A rusted iron sheet could be replaced.



Manufacturer Specified Performance Parameters

The units should be affordable, easy to transport, simple and quick to build, and an upgrade to living conditions. The project also aims to improve the community infrastructure so that it is easier to provide power, sanitation, clean water and access to emergency vehicles, as well as reducing the risk of fires.

Vetted Performance Status



The user will be subjected to all the risks associated with a construction site: heights, tools, power tools, heavy objects, etc.

Academic Research and References

Miao, Y., Koenig, R., Bus, P., Chang, M., Chirkin, A., Treyer, L., 2017, Empowering Urban Design Prototyping: A Case Study in Cape Town with Interactive Computational Synthesis Methods. Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference CAADRIA, Suzhou, China, April, 2017, pp. 407-417

Compliance with regulations

Unknown, though the project is being done in cooperation with the government.

Other Information

The design was nominated for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) International Prize. The City of Cape Town signed a memorandum of understanding with Ikhayalami where the former would oversee the installation of water, sanitation, and road infrastructure while the latter was responsible for organizing the community, facilitation, and involvement of all stakeholders in the project.

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