WDC 2014: Where to from here?

Assesing World Design Capital 2014

Cape Town, which sponsored the year-long programme to the tune of R60 million, has “commissioned an impact assessment” due out in April.

With the Mother City’s World Design Capital (WDC) 2014 programme now officially over, what happens now that it has had to remove the bright yellow crown it wore so proudly for a year, all the while trying to convince people that “design-led thinking offers tantalising promise” through its theme of “Live Design. Transform Life”?

Bestowed biennially by the Inter- national Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), World Design Capitals “recognise the value of design thinking and are dedicated to using design as a tool for social, cultural and economic development”.

According to the City of Cape Town, which sponsored the year- long programme to the tune of R60 million, it has “commissioned an impact assessment”. The City’s website goes on to add: “Researchers have been hard at work since the last weeks of 2014, interviewing the broadest range of stakeholders, and synthesising their feedback.”

Details of the assessment’s finding will be made available in April on the City’s website.

For now, though, in a bid to ensure the programme enjoys something of a longer shelf life, a list of projects, falling under the umbrella moniker of “WDC 2014 Legacy”, has been announced.

Alayne Reesberg, CEO of the Cape Town Design NPC, the City of Cape Town-appointed implementation company of World Design Capital Cape Town 2014, said: “World Design Capital marked an important point in Cape Town’s design story. “We will now build on the momentum that was started to grow the use of design in our city. Over the coming months WDC 2014’s legacy activities will entail creating a framework to continue showcasing some of the projects as well as building on the design and innovation system.” The programme is being driven by, among others, the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape Government, the city’s four major tertiary institutions, the Cape Craft and Design Institute (CCDI) and the Cape Town Design Network.

Ms Reesberg added: “WDC 2014 has shone a light on Cape Town and over the past 12 months, through the more than 460 projects, we have explored the application   of   design   in   enhancing lifestyles, finding solutions for sustainability, community improvement, education and skills development as well as connecting people through communication, transportation and social cohesion.”

Speaking at the final WDC 2014 media briefing, Ms Reesberg highlighted some of the WDC 2104 Legacy projects. These include: the Inclusive Health Innovation Summit, which “gives international and local innovators, experts and influencers the opportunity to discuss and debate what healthcare innovation means in an African con- text”; the announcement of the Western Cape Design Awards, “which are set to become an annual feature on the local events calendar and part of the legacy for WDC 2014”; the Cape Town’s Future Foreshore exhibition, which “resulted from a partner- ship between the University of Cape Town and the City, and seeks to create new visions and possibilities for the Foreshore Precinct of Cape Town’s central city”; the Open Design festival, “a cross-disciplinary citywide event which  creates  an  educational, informative, inclusive and collaborative platform that galvanised Cape Town’s creative communities and raised awareness of and an increased appreciation for design by all”; and the Long Street-based WDC Pop-Up Shop, which “provides a space for projects, designers, street foodies and other  creative  minds  free  of charge. It is now being managed by the CCDI for an experimental project aimed at designers and innovators, creative thinkers and businesses looking to grow and support local industries”. But what has the year-long programme taught those tasked with running it? Speaking at the media briefing, Ms Reesberg said: “We are in a reflective stage now.” Ms Reesberg, who said, “my first regret was that we didn’t make a stronger case to the private sector,” conceded that: “To try and find funding for some- thing called ‘design’ was a very hard sell.”

Erica Elk, executive director of the CCDI, added: “We exist in an environment where design is seen as the aesthetic; the object. With the theme, ‘Live Design. Transform Life’, we wanted to take design into an intangible space. To sell it in an environment where people are expecting nice shoes or sexy events was difficult.”

The WDC 2014 has had its fair share of criticism: from Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu labelling it “a scam” and alleging that the City of Cape Town had paid judges in order to secure the city being given the title to regional secretary of the Western Cape region of COSATU, Tony Ehrenreich’s recent statement, calling it an “elitist gimmick”.

“Cape Town remains a deeply divided city,” said Ms Reesberg. “Some people didn’t want to work with us because we were City of Cape Town funded or, she laughed, “didn’t like our faces or something. But we built some bridges.” Ms Elk, who smiled self-deprecatingly, saying “we’re very good with ideas”, added that there were some concrete results which stemmed from WCD 2014. Aside from a Design Strategy for the Western Cape now being in place, one such project which will hopefully yield on-the- ground results is the Better Living Challenge, which “enables low-income households to make informed choices around home- improvement and hopes to increase the number of green solutions available to low-income homeowners”. According the project’s web site: “People living in informal settlements, backyard shacks, RDP homes and subsidised housing have a variety of needs related to access to electricity, water and sanitation, water or flood- proofing and fire-proofing, ventilation, heating and cooling, space constraints, safety and privacy.

The Better Living Challenge provides a platform for the development of new and existing solutions that address these needs. It aims to support the building of a home improvement market that is beneficial to both producers and consumers.”

After the 21 finalists’ entries were displayed at the Cape Town Station’s Forecourt and the V&A Waterfront in October last year, the winners were announced in a ceremony held at the City Hall in November. Winning entries included “an innovative process that uses a 30% blend of builder's waste rubble and available clay-bearing soils in the manufacture of compressed earth blocks, which are up to five times stronger than concrete blocks, cheaper, 10 times more thermally efficient and environmentally- friendly”; a low-cost fire detector and alert system designed for low-income households; and an “open source mobile inspection tool aimed at helping civil society organisations and com- munity workers monitor and administer basic service delivery in informal settlements”.

Speaking shortly after the winners were announced, Ms Elk said: “We look forward to the next phase of the project, which will involve further assisting the winners with market access.” Either way, Ms Reesberg, speaking at the media briefing, said: “Our man- date was never to ensure the projects live for the next 50 years. “The most important thing was to reposition Cape Town’s design context.”

This article was first published by The Cape Towner on 5 February 2015.