Jhono Bennett

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa
Fellow Since 2015


This profile was prepared when Jhono Bennett was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.
The New Idea
Through his co-founded organization 1to1 – Agency of Engagement, Jhono has developed a holistic model of working with and for residents of poor and/or unsafe areas in Johannesburg (such as informal settlements) to co-create spatial re-development strategies while growing capacity to address the national challenge South Africa’s re-development. The aim of this model is to provide crucial short term support while simultaneously developing an additional mode of spatial practice in both the private and grass roots sectors. This dual approach to development support allows 1to1 to grow an institutionable mode of working that can be taught at universities while being scaled up for use by NGO’s, government entities and private sector practices to affect long term change in South Africa’s re-developing landscape.

An additional mode of Spatial Design Practice

The model hinges on the development of an additional mode of spatial design practice, Socio-Technical Spatial Design, which is grounded in a critical, empathetic and systemic approach to design. This mode of design practice actively supports residents to envision and co-design strategies that align the vision and needs of the neighborhood through a grounded and critical approach towards what inhabitants want their neighborhoods to look and work like while aiming to incrementally work within (or sometime against) larger development process that effect such areas.

The mode of spatial practice employs participatory processes that work with and for existing forms of leadership, community based organizations that are active in marginilised areas, while including relevant government departments as well university students (who are studying spatial design disciplines; architecture, engineering, planners e.t.c) to help with socio-technical support at key points in the process. By using this approach to design practice 1to1, aims to support residents to have a stronger role in working with the powers that be in order to strategically enhance the mobilization of social capital within vulnerable neighborhoods; residents are side-skilled to not only understand the process of spatial design and the dynamics in the development of underserviced areas, but how to further utilize the spaces and resources available to them strategically over the long periods of time that typically cripple bottom up development processes.

In order to ground the model, Jhono aims to equip technically skilled individuals who show potential and interest in spatial design by training them with socio-technical skills and knowledge to become Neighborhood Designers. To support this ambition Jhono, through his role at various tertiary institutes, is co-developing a short course to allow these potential Neighborhood Designers access to academic certification as spatial design technicians, accredited by Johannesburg universities. 1to1 intends for these individuals to continue leading the process in their neighborhoods beyond 1to1’s involvement and additionally accessing work opportunities in similar projects across South Africa. The development of these neighborhood designers also allows critical grounded knowledge and experience to enter tertiary teaching and learning institutes in South Africa.

The Aim

Jhono believes there is a dire need in South Africa for an additional type of spatial design practitioner, who are critical, empathetic and engaged while being an active part of his re-developing society, who not only provide technical services, but also assist in wider social and policy processes with and for poor marginalised spatial groups in South Africa.

Through 1to1 Jhono, alongside his partners, are leading this new direction in the fields of architecture and spatial design with the aim of supporting the development of a new generation of architects and spatial practitioners who are qualified and passionate about critical and engaged spatial design; socio-technical spatial design. This term has been defined in order to initiate a national dialogue that can effectively and constructively engage with the complexity of the built environment, specifically for areas such as informal settlements.

For this reason 1to1, through the 1to1 - student league, engages and involves architectural students from various universities to not only assist in communicating and translating the needs and aspirations of residents in vulnerable neighborhoods’ into strategic and impactful designs, but also to stimulate critique, interest and motivate young architects to consider specialization in this particular area of practice. Jhono is currently infusing these values into the academic architectural discourse while teaching within the post graduate curriculum at the University of Johannesburg’s ground breaking Graduate Programme in Architecture that has as one of its’ focusses socio-technical spatial design for dynamic and complex spatial conditions in South Africa.

Jhono is still in the process of grounding this model and finding a productive balance between practice, training and knowledge sharing while ensuring that all three aspects (community engagement and capacitation, training local community members as spatial design technicians and creating an academic field architectural specialization in spatial designs for informal settlement) are well consolidated to form a supportive, holistic and scalable strategy.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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