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


Mystery muck stench

A MYSTERIOUS odour—reeking of rotting food on some days, human waste on others—is plaguing the Matrix.

The source of the persisting foul odour appears to be along the back entrance of the building and has made the use of the nearby walkway unpleasant for many.

In addition to causing discomfort amongst passers-by, the foul odour also plagues practitioners and patients at nearby campus health facilities and is near a loading bay for food suppliers.

Sister Yvonne Matimba, head of campus health, said the odour was something that affected their operation at the centre.

“It’s not ideal for a health facility. I talk about hygiene but then we are next to an unhygienic source. It’s not ideal.”

Matimba said they had notified the university about the odour.

“We have raised it with them, but…”she said before trailing off and shrugging.

The cause of this smell appears to be a matter of speculation and finger-pointing between several sources.

There has been speculation that the smell is caused by the sewage deposit point situated in the nearby area. However, these claims were rejected by Joe Nembudani, campus facilities manager at Property and Infrastructure Management Division (PIMD).

Nembudani said the only drainage in the area was in the form of a storm water channel used to prevent flooding.

But several cleaners based in the Matrix building claimed faulty piping from the Matrix toilets was causing the foul smell in the area.

One cleaner, Samuel Gafane, said: “You see these pipes have holes in them? When someone flushes the toilet upstairs the waste travels through these pipes and makes this area smell.”

Gafane pointed to a disturbing sight. Even on a dry day, puddles of water are present in the area. The constant dripping of fluid has attracted swarms of flies to holes in the pipes.

Nembudani countered that the only possible smell in the area was caused by the cleaners themselves as well as several shop owners in the Matrix, who he believed poured waste product in the storm water channels.

MYSTERY UNCOVERED: The channel where greasy residue is allegedly drained by shop owners.

MYSTERY UNCOVERED: The channel where greasy residue is allegedly drained by shop owners.
Photo: Dineo Bendile

“I promise you it’s not sewage. It’s because of the fat poured by people who are lazy,” Nembudani said. “Even the cleaners they’ve been emptying dirty water into those channels.”

Gafane rejected this and said it was not possible that the soap water he used to clean could cause the odour.

James McCarthy of Phezulu Plumbing, a company often appointed to clean out the channels, said grease from the Matrix shops was a possible source for the foul smell in the area.

“The grease solidifies and ends up clogging the drain and smelling,” he said.

Nembudani said he was unaware of any problem with bad odours as nothing had been reported to him.


THE FINGER POINTING CONTINUES: Cleaners identify a second source of the smell - pipes from the Matrix toilets.

THE FINGER POINTING CONTINUES: Cleaners identify a second source of the smell – faulty pipes from the Matrix toilets.
Photo: Dineo Bendile