LTU group heads to South Africa to learn about architecture with recycled materials

SOUTHFIELD—On Saturday, July 20, a team of two faculty members, four students, and five recent alumni of Lawrence Technological University departed for South Africa on a three-week trip to design and construct maker spaces, community centers, schools and other much-needed work using materials previously considered almost worthless.

Scott Shall, associate dean and associate professor of LTU’s College of Architecture and Design, and Jason Yeom, associate professor, are leading the team to South Africa, where they will partner with Kevin Kimwelle, a community architect, researcher and social innovator in sustainable development, to design and build the projects. The International Design Clinic, a registered non-profit that Shall created to facilitate this type of work, will offer logistical and financial support for the effort.

Scott Shall. LTU file photo.

“I was presenting my work six years ago at a symposium at the University of Stellenbosch, just outside of Cape Town in South Africa, and talking about the manner in which I approach humanitarian projects and socially responsive design work, and Kevin happened to be in the audience,” Shall said. “He’s involved in many projects, was interested in the manner in which I pursued this type of work, and eventually contacted me to start a dialogue and a partnership.”

In South Africa, the LTU group will study conditions around Port Elizabeth, an industrial city of 300,000 about seven hours’ drive from Cape Town, and Kimwelle’s work in recycling various objects into architectural materials. For example, Kimwelle used 1,500 discarded wine bottles to create the walls of a preschool.

“This is the first visit of what will be a multi-year effort to partner with Kevin and all the other constituents with whom he works,” Shall said. “Thus, the work is going to start quite small, and gather size, complexity, cost, and impact over time, as it aligns with what people are already doing and aligns with larger, localized forces. The primary effort this year will be to understand what Kevin and his colleagues have done and the architecture they’ve produced, and then work with the local community to generate a communal makerspace to encourage local inventors, builders, architects, and activists to  meet and plan together.”

Kevin Kimwelle

Not all of the LTU students on the trip are budding architects—there’s a civil engineering major, an urban design major and an interior design student in the group.

“Our days will be a mix of on-site observation, meeting with local partners and potential partners, and then taking that information and turning it into a series of design strategies, and, eventually, the first iteration of a maker space,” Shall said. “We’ll be harvesting recycled or reclaimed content and generating architectural materials out of that—generating architecture out of two-liter bottles, for instance.”

Shall noted that Port Elizabeth is also an auto manufacturing center, “so we will also be looking at recycling some of the waste from auto production.”

To read more about Kimwelle’s work, visit

To read more about Shall’s work with the International Design Clinic, visit

The group is to return to the United States Aug. 11.

Lawrence Technological University,, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 15 percent of universities for the salaries of its graduates, and U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best Midwestern universities. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

A nighttime view of a South African preschool made with 1,500 discarded wine bottles. Photo courtesy Kevin Kimwelle.

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