SVA MA Design Research

SVA MA Design Research, Writing & Criticism1 is a one-year graduate program2
devoted to the study of design, its contexts & consequences.
Our graduates have gone on to pursue research-related careers in publishing, education, museums, institutes, design practice, entrepreneurship, & more.3

  1. Formerly known as D-Crit
  2. About the program
  3. Applications accepted on a rolling basis. All successful candidates awarded a significant scholarship!
SVA MA Design Research

136 W 21st St, 2nd Floor

New York, NY 10011





(212) 592-2228

Function – SVA MA Design Research

Olivia Coetzee


“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”  – Jane Jacobs

South African cities were as they are now were designed and created for one group of people and by one group of people. Townships formed the spaces where everyone else had to live and due to city planning and poverty, many people still live there. The original  function (work or operate in a proper or particular way) of the township was to create barriers and draw lines.

“Some of the highest densities of housing, the ‘townships’ inherited from apartheid spatial policies, are also some of the most deprived areas in the city, with little land use diversity (mainly residential), and located far from areas of economic opportunity, ” – A Spatial transformation of Johannesburg report.

In The functions of things, A philosophical perspective on material culture by Beth Preston she quotes Michael Schiffer’s three different types of functions. These will be applied to the South African township as it is today (p.29).

“Michael Schiffer distinguishes three types, for instance, which he calls technofunction, sociofunction, and ideofunction.” The technofunction, “ the utilitarian function of a thing”, of the township was originally meant to create separate living spaces for those considered to not fit into a certain category due to the color of their skin. The sociofunction, “a manifestation of certain facts,” meant that the people who fit into the “correct box,” to be part of the privileged few potentially started to think that this is the way it should be. It became the norm and the people who questioned it got silenced. The ideofunction of the township, “involves symbolizing more abstract ideas, values or beliefs.” Even 22 years after apartheid ended, is ultimately still the place many have very definite ideas about due to town planning and town structure.

An even newer function of the township a.k.a. informal settlement a.k.a. slum, so far removed from the privileged tourist’s world, has now given the township the function of a tourist destination.