Interviewer: Lorelle Bell
Interviewee: Adrienne Viljoen and Mugendi M’Rithaa
This week the International Council for Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) launched the World Design Capital 2014 competition and Cape Town formally registered the intention to bid. Here, Kenyan-born and educated Mugendi M’Rithaa, a professor of Industrial Design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and Adrienne Viljoen, Manager of the Design Institute at the South African Bureau of Design (SABS) in Pretoria speak about why Cape Town’s bid for World Design Capital is important for Africa and for all the cities in South Africa.
South Africa has become known for our ability to host big international events successfully. The World Cup 2010 is our most recent example. But replicating and building on this capability is something that we must keep on working at and not be paralysed by the post-World Cup negativity. It is clear that when a country has a purpose to work towards such as the World Cup, it unites people and enhances our national pride. It is important that we have a follow-up to the 2010 – a common goal that gives us a common sense of purpose and commitment.
While the World Cup showcased sporting ability and achievement, the World Design Capital designation showcases a country’s ability for ingenuity, its concern for its people, its care for the environment and its consideration of the future.
The World Design Capital 2014 bid would be a natural successor to the World Cup, since the world has already seen the beautiful stadia that we have built which have represented our originality and are synch with African cultural expression. The infrastructure created and the cultural expression demonstrated through the events really gave us an identity. Similarly, the World Design Capital will do that; but on a level that speaks to people’s sense of aesthetics, sense of usefulness, sense of quality of life and sense of caring for our environment.
In a country, it is really only one city that must be able to harness the whole country in support of this achievement. What must be realised is that as the World Cup has established very valuable infrastructure like the airport, roads and transport systems and it has expedited the execution of this and similarly the WDC will have a lasting impact on infrastructure, of places and programmes that have been put in place. Really very importantly it will have created the importace of well-designed objects, systems and everything in the minds of all citizens. This is really important. It will have enhanced the understanding of what creative execution can achieve.
Right now, I think Cape Town is by far the best equipped city at this stage and the best placed to be successful in a bid. It has to do with the legacy of Cape Town as being a creative city which has attracted many creatives and creative industries. This does not mean that the other cities would not absolutely benefit from World Design Capital, but they are not at this stage geared to attempt a bid.
Cape Town has an underlying depth of already established activities and the mindset to achieve this status.
Each year Cape Town designers are very well represented amongst the winners of the Design Institute’s Design Excellence Awards and in the last decade many Cape Town designers have won the SABS Design Excellence Chairman’s Awards, Bright weights for diving ten years ago, Scanner ( medical lodox scan for Groote Schuur), Creative capacity is there in product designers.
I do believe that if Cape Town manages to be successful in its bid the award will enable the city to set an example of the benefits of design for the whole country. In that way it will benefit the rest of the cities as well. The advantages and potential achievements of design, if observed by the other cities, will permeate throughout the. So in that situation Cape Town will be a very important role model for the country.
Previous World Design Capital Cities like Turin in Italy in 2008 and Seoul in Korea this year have experience the benefits of the very extensive exposure the award generates for designated cities in the media and in through the online spaces of design-related website. The award also generates a huge boost of tourism through international interest in design events as well as visitors who generally visit a design city as Professor Nah, director of Seoul 2010 attested on a recent radio interview.
Adrienne Viljoen, is Manager of the South African Bureau of Standard’s (SABS) Design Institute where she founded the Design Achievers Award scheme to build youth design leadership for the country. She also founded the Network of Africa Designers. Adrienne is the Africa Advisor to Icsid and has served on the Icsid Board twice: from 1995 to 1999, and from 2003 to 2007.
Cape Town is arguably one of the world’s most beautiful cities. The rich natural, botanical, historical and cultural diversity make for a very unique cosmopolis. Cape Town enjoys significant goodwill as a city not only because of its natural beauty (with a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in its vicinity – including the iconic Table Mountain), but also due to the local government leadership’s commitment to good governance and issues such as environmental sustainability and socio-economic development. Consequently, the city was voted “one of ten cities that are most likely to become a global sustainability centre by 2020”.
More recently, the city has attracted a large number of creative industries and presently has the highest concentration of design-related businesses of any major metropolis in the region. Further, the city is touted as the fashion capital of Africa in part due to such influential events like the Cape Town Fashion Week. Other world-class events include the renowned Design Indaba conference and expo, the Good Food and Wine expo as well as several other exciting events that put Cape Town on the map.
There are also a number of public and private tertiary level institutions offering design-related courses within the vicinity – some of which are highly reputed for their academic and scholarly offerings. The Faculty of Informatics and Design, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) offers the most comprehensive range of design-related disciplines in the region. These include architectural technology, fashion and surface design, film and video, graphic design, industrial/product design, interior design, multimedia, photography and town and regional planning.
By showcasing the value of design within an African city, Cape Town offers many replicable solutions of relevance to the socio-economic and geopolitical aspirations of a vast number of cities on our continent. Additionally, a number of recent infrastructural upgrades in urban developments, public amenities and mass transit systems consolidated the Cape Town’s image as a design-driven city.
Subsequently, Cape Town is indeed a city that embraces and celebrates design in the broadest sense. As a leading urban centre, there are many activities, events and initiatives that can be emulated or benchmarked by other cities on the continent. Whereas cities in some of the more [industrially] developed contexts often focus on an established tradition of design, Cape Town seeks to emphasise the potential of design in the ‘redesign’ of an entire city in its quest to be more inclusive and humane.
To this end, the main driver of this focus will be socially responsible/ conscious design employing primarily participatory design strategies through a variety of expressions such as social housing, service design, sustainable design and universal design. By offering the rest of Africa a wide spectrum of exemplars that are readily adaptable to their own settings, Cape Town will be making a significant contribution to promoting the benefits of design thinking to addressing the various social, cultural, economic, technological and environmental challenges that face the vast numbers of city dwellers on our continent.
Increasingly, designers are understanding their role as changing from its elitist nature towards more socially-responsive, design. This is a co-design approach (between designers and potential end-users), in which design is placed at the service of the needs of the majority of humanity, or the “other 90%” as some have called this segment of our population.
In Africa, with its population of 900 million, designers need to focus on the needs of a largely youthful population with exceptionally high unemployment rates and other pressing challenges associated with this reality. Context responsive solutions should preferably absorb the surplus labour available and employ participatory design approaches that take cognisance of the aspirations of the youth.
In Cape Town there are many examples of designers active in socially responsible design initiatives and activities, thus making a difference. These include fashion and surface designers working with prison inmates, the elderly and people living with HIV/Aids; product designers helping equip artisans for informal furniture production; graphic designers lending their talents to socially conscious campaigns; architects co-designing affordable dignifying dwellings; as well as information technology practitioners helping in the rehabilitation if former gangsters, drug addicts and other members of communities in tension. These kinds of activities best illustrate the power of design thinking in diverse settings.
My hope is that the World Design Capital 2014 bid process will help Cape Town showcase these and other promising examples of what design could do for a city given the right support, exposure and investment in social capital. This will indeed be a model for Africa of design’s potency in addressing urban challenges on the continent.
Mugendi M’Rithaa is a Professor in the Department of Industrial Design, Faculty of Informatics & Design, Cape Peninsula University of Technology and holder of a PhD in Universal Design. He is a member of the Cape Town 2014 World Design Capital Bid Advisory Committee and serves on the Icsid Executive Board, Network of Africa Designers (NAD), member of the Network on Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS – Africa), and the Learning Network on Sustainability(LeNS).
The views expressed in this article are entirely the views of the author or authors and are not necessarily those of DWA or its associates.