The Bartlett School of Architecture

Mr Jhono Bennett

Mr Jhono Bennett

Research Fellow

The Bartlett School of Architecture

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
1st Apr 2020

Research summary

I have recently shifted from my position as co-founder and co-director of the social enterprise; 1to1 – Agency of Engagement, to undertake my doctoral studies. This role was held in conjunction with a research position within the DSD Desis Lab at the University of Johannesburg's Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA), as well as various teaching positions in the faculty at UJ amongst others locally.

The praxitional nature of my work has allowed me to manage an array of tactically built projects, local and international teaching roles as well as several multidisciplinary action-research projects in the field of urban development and participatory design. I have used teaching as a grounded form of praxis that has allowed me a sustainable means to operate 1to1, while fostering an important space to write, publish and ask critical questions through action-research and reflective learning in design-research. 

A key element of this praxis was via the University of Johannesburg Graduate of School of Architecture, led by Dr. Lesley Lokko, who established the school as a means to re-define the narrative on African Architectural Practice through design-research. It was here, while establishing Unit 14: Rogue Economies and Unit 2: Architecture & Agency with senior colleagues, that I began developing my own pedagogical style of teaching through positionally critical, reflective methods and techniques. These were developed through the complex inter-sectional aspects of teaching in the post-Apartheid, post-Colonial context of a systemically unequal society.

Teaching summary

In 2010, myself and several colleagues formed a non-profit entity that aimed to develop a more grounded and socially driven practice for built environment spatial practitioners in South Africa.

We named it 1to1 - Agency of Engagement as a means of reflecting the critical and action-based engagement we wanted to support in a ‘one to one’ manner. We started this organization with the hope that we could change the way that South African cities are seen, made and managed towards a more spatially equitable future by focusing on supporting grass-roots social capital through large scale, systemic design approaches. 

The last 8 years has seen myself and these colleagues working towards this goal through various built projects, local and international university teaching as well as several multidisciplinary research projects in the field of urban development and participatory design. The role of teaching began as a means of engaging students while providing a sustainable means to operate 1to1 and ask critical questions through action research and reflective learning. This period oversaw my own development as a teacher in both the undergraduate and postgraduate departments in South Africa as well as Sheffield, UK and in Ahmedabad, India. A key period of learning was through the University of Johannesburg that sought to re-define the narrative on African Architectural research and launched the Graduate of School of Architecture. It was here while supporting Unit 14 (https://www.gsaunit14.com/) and Unit 2 that I developed my own style of pedagogical structure, reflective methods and techniques and my own approaches to addressing the intersectional aspects of teaching in an systemically unequal society. 

I have most recently completed a hands on studio at CEPT University where I led students on a semester long participative design studio that took them through the difficulty of participative design and research. This work has been carefully documented at this link: https://issuu.com/jhonobennett/docs/dwp_studio_book_draft_3_print


I am the co-founder of 1to1 – Agency of Engagement, a design-led social enterprise based in Johannesburg. 1to1 was initiated in 2010 in support of the multi-scalar work being done to re-develop post-Apartheid South African cities in the face of systemic spatial inequality.

I am currently enrolled at The Bartlett School of Architecture as a PhD candidate under Dr. Peg Rawes in the TACK / Communities of Tacit Knowledge: Architecture and its Ways of Knowing network. My practice-led research interests are driven by issues of inclusive design approaches, spatial justice, critical positionality, and urban planning in South African cities. 

My practice work with 1to1, in conjunction with my teaching and research work in the Faculty of Design, Art and Architecture (FADA) at the University of Johannesburg (South Africa), has given me the opportunity to work with various departments of the South African government, key local and international research institutes as well as international universities that include Harvard’s GSD (USA), CEPT’s Faculty of Architecture (India) and the Urban Design programme at the University of Sheffield (UK).

I have been recently selected for the Mail&Gaurdian Top 200 Young South Africans Award (Civic Sector) and in 2015 was  nominated as an Ashoka Social Entrepreneurial Fellow as well as, being a part of the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) where I spent the summer of 2016 studying with 25 other Young African Leaders at the University of California, Berkeley. The exposure to the YALI network has had a large effect on my work as strategic director and co-founder of 1to1, where I have focused on leading the organisation to systemically address spatial inequality in South Africa through the support and capacitation of residents of informal neighbourhoods while linking these efforts to tactical elements of national government, the private sector of the building industry and universities in South Africa. 

This was largely done via co-developed initiatives that have supported the development of grass-roots tool-based methods of neighbourhood building, design and facilitation. These tacitly designed tools have played a crucial role in my advocacy work that have aimed to challenge the ingrained negative perceptions of grass-roots value in city making processes in post-colonial and post-apartheid cities of Southern Africa.