Architecture students re-imagine the Matrix 

 Students are stepping in to redesign the hub of social life on east-campus, which aims to turn the food court into the ‘heart of Wits’. 

Final-year undergraduate students from the school of architecture and planning at Wits are working on a year-long project named the “Matrix Re-Imagined”, where they will be redesigning the food court.  

The project, which started this year, comes after tenants and users of the Matrix on east campus complained about the building not being user friendly. 

The task is aimed at rethinking how the space can be better utilised, instead of rebuilding a new building. It is not a campaign by the university management but stems from calls from tenants themselves, who spoke with lecturers in the architecture department to ask for a process of brainstorming a way to improve the way in which the space is used.

Believing that this would be a perfect practical application of what the students have learnt; the department developed the project into this year’s curriculum.

“[What we have gathered is that] there is a problem – the Matrix is not functioning properly,” said Wits school of architecture and planning lecturer Sandra Felix. 

“Students are the largest stakeholders of the use of the buildings on campus,” said Felix. This project will bring in completely different ideas than it would if the university were to bring in outside architects for the design.”  

Students have a lot of answers we [external architects] don’t have” she added. 

The project is currently in its research phase – and so far, students have interviewed both tenants and users of the space and found various prevalent issues of practicality.  

According to third-year architecture student Kyara De Gouveia, the issues found include having “bad entrances” which results in people flooding the area, narrow passages, and impractical locations for some of the vendors. For example, the clinic is located downstairs, making it difficult for those with mobility issues to access it. 

Bookseller at Campus Bookshop, Lebogang Rabothata described the current composition of the Matrix as “impractical” due to extremely tight entrances which results in a large congestion. She hopes for a redesign which allows users to be relaxed and use the space for “reading and studying”. 

The outdoor amphitheater located on east campus where students currently go to relax and work, with the Matrix in the background. Photo: Seth Thorne

As yet, there are plans to move all student office space (including clubs that are currently located by the science stadium and the Voice of Wits [VOW FM] which currently finds itself on the ninth floor of university corner) into the area; and making the space more student friendly with open study areas, and better connections to both the library lawns and the amphitheater.  

Later in the year, the students will exhibit their work and designs to university stakeholders and tenants. Based on their presentation, the university will then decide if they will adopt their redesigns.  

Students working on the project said they are aiming to make the Matrix the “heart of [student life at] Wits”.  

In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela, third-year architecture student Tshegofatso Mashile described the project as being pressure filled, yet exciting due to the opportunities it presents. “[This is] the beginning of every architect’s dream” she said.   

Another architecture student, Milan Prioreschi, said that this project is extremely motivational as it bridges the gap between university work and practical work outside. “We are getting real life experience for the first time”. 

If implemented, the improvements will form part of the university’s much larger “Building Impact Beyond 100” campaign, which was launched in celebration of Wits’ centenary in 2022. The campaign aims to raise funds which will be directed towards teaching, research, scholarships, student support, student experiences and campus improvements; R2,5 billion of its R3 billion target has been raised so far. 

FEATURED: A busy stairway during lunchtime leading to the entrances of the Matrix. Photo: Seth Thorne

RELATED ARTICLES

Old threads, new drip

It’s been just over one month since the first thrift store became a new tenant at The Matrix at Wits University’s main campus. 

Ali Monama poses in his shop during an interview with Wits Vuvuzela. Photo: Sbongile Molambo

On March 1, 2023 Zaza Clothing – located on the first floor of The Matrix, across Fade Barber and Salon – opened its doors, after a nearly two-year delay.  

Owner Ali Monama (31) says when he started out his business back in 2016, he used to ride around town on a bicycle, selling thrift items from a basket – and now he has his own brick-and-mortar store. 

According to Karen du Plessis, the Operations Manager for Commercial Services at Wits, “Zaza Clothing is the first of its kind at the Matrix.” 

Despite business being slow over the first month, Monama says it has been a fun experience meeting new people and interacting with different personalities. 

From afar and through the windows, it looks like a laundromat but when one gets closer, the vintage clothing and gothic accessories come into focus.   

All clothing items at Zaza Clothing are R100, while accessories range from R50 to R150 per item. Monama says this price range is tailored to his customers, who are mostly students on a tight budget.  

Monama initially wanted to open in 2021 but was held back by pandemic-related delays and long procurement procedures. “It felt great to finally be able to trade after going through so many trials and tribulations,” he says.  

Dan Kabongo (21), a fourth-year film and television student has already made a few purchases and considers himself a regular.  

He says thrifting in the Johannesburg CBD can be dangerous and out of reach, so this location is ideal. “The ideal places “that people usually thrift at are far away and are not really places I’m comfortable going [to],” says Kabongo.  

Thrifting is a shopping experience that allows buyers to find unique and interesting items at a discounted price, Zaza Clothing aims to do just that.  

FEATURED IMAGE: A customer browsing through the racks at Zaza Clothing. Photo: Sbongile Molambo

RELATED ARTICLES:

Closed. Back in…

NOTHING TO SEE:  The Friendly Supermarket at the Matrix looks set to remain closed. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

NOTHING TO SEE: The Friendly Supermarket at the Matrix looks set to remain closed. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

The friendly Supermarket in the Matrix has been visibly out of business for the past three weeks – with no stock or signs of trade in the shop.

 Shop closure

[pullquote]“Alles is deurmakaar [everything is in chaos].” .[/pullquote]Approached for an explanation, owner of the  franchise, Johan Mostert spoke candidly to Wits Vuvuzela about his problems, which he claimed resulted from an increase in rental.

However, he later retracted his statement and warned the reporter not to mention his name. He claimed information he had shared had already reached the landlord and it was now a legal matter.

Mostert said the lights at his shop had been turned off because he had defaulted on his rent payments for two months. This was a result of a rent increase, effective from March 1.

“Alles is deurmakaar [everything is in chaos].” He added that enough was enough.

Landlord Jackie Meyer of RFC Group could not be reached for comment after numerous attempts by Wits Vuvuzela.

Now what? 

Another Matrix shop owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said her shop had been extremely busy since the supermarket had closed down and she had been forced to bring in more stock.

She said she had heard rumours that rent had been the reason for the closure. “The rent here is very expensive. The rates are like those at a shopping centre.”

Shop owners explained that every shop at the Matrix pays different rates – calculated on the size of the shop. There was an increase of about 10% every year, a shop owner revealed. They are allowed 2 months free of rent during July and December, when the university broke for holidays.

Jackie Mung, owner of the Chinese Shop said:  “Everyone has to pay rent. Once you agree you must pay.”  Mung conceded that rent was expensive, but the Matrix was not a special case. Even if he moved somewhere else, he would have to pay rent and operational costs.

He said he was happy with the way he had been treated by management over the 10 years his shop had been operating.