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February 21, 2014

Sub-Saharan Africa: Cape Town World Design Capital 2014

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It’s no accident that Cape Town looks so gorgeous.

While the beauty of the mountain, ocean and beaches give the city a huge natural advantage, a strong streak of design and innovation running through it also influences its aesthetic look and feel.

So it’s fitting that Cape Town will spend 2014 celebrating its status as the world’s Design Capital, joining previous titleholders including Torino in Italy, Seoul in South Korea and Helsinki in Finland. 

While many awards recognise individual achievements in design, the World Design Capital (WDC) award is unique because it focuses on the broader impact of design on urban spaces and the citizens who live there. It’s a wonderful opportunity for cities to show off their accomplishments in attracting and promoting innovative design and to highlight their successes in urban revitalisation. 

This is the first time an African city has earned the designation. Perhaps it was inevitable that Cape Town would win, since the annual Design Indaba has done so much to pave the way. The Indaba is a globally recognised event founded by Ravi Naidoo to promote design as a core competency of Cape Town. Every year an international audience of experts participates in multi-disciplinary displays and discussions that challenge the local designers to achieve greater heights. 

But you don’t have to attend a particular event to experience the vibe and vibrancy of Cape Town’s instinct for design. Just take a stroll around its main design districts: Bree Street, The Waterkant and Woodstock. The Waterkant is a bohemian area of cobbled streets lined by European style houses that have transformed into offbeat boutiques. Bree Street in the city centre is another design magnet, with décor, fashion and jewelry boutiques. Woodstock is the most famous artsy area, largely thanks to the Neighbourgoods Market, which worked like a magnet to attract designers to open studios in the vicinity.

The fact that Cape Town has been chosen as the Design Capital of the World came as no surprise to William Parkin, Design Manager of eventing company GL Events Oasys. “The Mother City has always fondly been considered as South Africa’s most creative capital,” he says. 
William moved to Cape Town years ago as a budding artist looking for like-minded people with an edgy appetite for innovative aesthetic sensibilities with whom he could bounce around fresh ideas. “Just hanging out and about in Cape Town is inspiring – it is impossible not to encounter the way in which artists and designers have literally transformed every inch of the city into their creative playground,” he says.
Cape Town was announced as the 2014 titleholder two years ago by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. Then an International Advisory Council (IAC) helped Cape Town Design NPC develop a programme for the year, with the overarching theme of “Live Design. Transform Life.”

The wide-ranging activities span exhibitions, workshops, competitions, films and photography. The initiatives that these events will highlight include recycling solutions, public infrastructure, regeneration projects, low-cost housing, large scale developments, public art, services that have been redesigned, heritage tours, urban tours, open streets and open studios. There are examples of health facilities creating new spaces, new systems and new ways of serving their audiences. Other design projects focus on educational methodologies, low-cost feature phones and low-energy computers. The year will also celebrate beautiful things that people typically associate with the word ‘design’, like art, objects and even food and wine, designed purely to lift the human spirit. 

Devising the programme demanded a huge amount of public and professional participation. To identify and assess what sort events or activities to include, the organising committee staged two calls for public submissions.  More than 1,200 projects were nominated, and a 10-day exhibition of shortlisted projects was held last year during the Open Design Festival at City Hall. Finally 465 projects were selected. 
Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille says the diversity of the projects reflects the determination of Capetonians to position their city as the design and creative hub of the continent. “The central thesis of the City of Cape Town’s approach to the World Design Capital 2014 is to use excellence in design, to design the change we want to see in our city, using the very building blocks of which our city is comprised. All of these projects are united by their use of design and design-led thinking to help us drive the social and economic change we want and need,” she says.

Cape Town Design CEO Alayne Reesberg says driving awareness and educating people about the “gritty and the pretty” has been at the forefront of creating a platform of success for WDC 2014.

“We are creating some magic around how we showcase the hundreds of projects that will be recognised as part of the official programme, as well as events and exhibitions that are going to certainly position Cape Town as a design destination beyond 2014,” she says. 

“We will use the opportunity to identify, nurture and promote projects that offer tangible evidence of how design can improve lives, within our uniquely South African and African context. Our focus will be on projects that bridge historic divides, reconnect our city in structure and in spirit, rebuild social and economic inclusion, and reposition Cape Town for a sustainable future,” Alayne said.

“I am confident that the projects we have recognised for the official programme are true to the overall theme of ‘Live Design. Transform Life’ and through design and design thinking, improve lives for people who are challenged every day in their communities.” 
The projects were initially grouped into four themes: 

* African Innovation: Global Conversation: African ideas that speak to the world.
* Bridging the Divide: Design that reconnects our city and reconciles our communities.
* Today for Tomorrow: Sustainable solutions for people and planet. 
* Beautiful Spaces: Beautiful Things: Inspiring architecture, interiors, food, fashion, jewellery, craft, art and creativity.

The final projects were then re-organised into six clusters:

  • Lifestyle Enhancers: Design that gives meaning through fashion, arts, culture, sports and recreation.
  • Business That Builds: Design that adds value to the economy through innovation, finance, systems and social entrepreneurship.
  • Sustainability Solutions: Design that focuses on efficiency and resilience related to food, energy, water and the natural environment.
  • Connections That Unite: Design that elevates communication, transportation and social cohesion.
  • Education That Elevates: Design that shares knowledge through schools, exhibitions and skills development.
  • Community Improvement: Design that improves health, wellness, housing and urban development.

“The projects in the programme capture the indomitable South African spirit that sees something made from nothing, covering initiatives that are concepts and ideas to newly hatched projects, to mature businesses. All of which address a particular issue or need and seek to find solutions through design, driving collaborations across disciplines, while improving lives socially and economically,” says Alayne.

Dilki de Silva, Secretary General of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) believes the content will interest people from around the world. “As global communities look to design to address social, cultural and economic issues, Cape Town is poised to showcase a significant innovation-driven growth model through this programme of events,” she said.

William of GL Events Oasys believes the kudos of this award will inspire even greater achievements and creativity in the future. “Now that the city has officially been recognised as The Design Capital of the World, we can only imagine seeing an even greater influx of creative types,” he says. “It is inevitable that this phenomenon will be conducive to a greater design synergy, which in turn will catapult our local exhibition designs to a whole new level. Clients will expect a more innovative approach towards design that complements the character of the latest aesthetic trends.”

Over the last decade William has witnessed a dramatic shift in the expectations of clients staging exhibitions. “They have been placing more emphasis on the look of the stand and are willing to spend more. There has been a definite move away from modular systems to more custom-made stands. We can surely expect this trend to continue.”

One of the first events of the year was a Design Gala in February to celebrate the merits of design and designers from Cape Town and to recognise the contributions they make. A highlight still to come will be the Design Policy Conference on October 22 and 23 for practitioners and policymakers to review design practices from around the world, inform the development of design policies, and showcase the value of design in development.

The Cities Exhibition from November 21-28 will present an international showcase of design that has social impact and reflects Cape Town’s winning ethos of “Live Design. Transform Life.” As the year ends, a Convocation Ceremony on November 28 will feature the official hand-over of the WDC title to the next city to win this important accolade.

*The Clock Tower at the Victoria & Albert Waterfront is the information hub for WDC 2014, showcasing interesting projects and transformative design. Details of events throughout the year can be found on: www.wdccapetown2014.com.


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