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Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014

Cape Town has long been the centre of the print, design and film industries in South Africa and its quirky city centre buzzes with cool ‘creatives’ who work at the plethora of ad, design, fashion and digital agencies that have made the Mother City their home. Being a port city and the gateway to Africa for many international travellers, Cape Town is vibrant and cosmopolitan, welcoming innovation and inspiration from all corners of the world.

This unique energy has been recognised by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, which named Cape Town its ‘World Design Capital’ for 2014. The point of the project is to use design to foster social, cultural and economic development - to find creative and practical solutions to some of the challenges faced by Cape Town’s residents. 

Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014 Table Mountain
Get framed with Table Mountain, one the world's natural wonders, at the V&A Waterfront.

As beautiful as Cape Town is, Capetonians are the first to acknowledge that the city has the same sort of problems faced by affluent cities around the world. During its year as World Design Capital, Cape Town will highlight over 450 projects that tackle urban problems or raise awareness about them. Here are a few of my favourites:

District Six Memorialization

District Six was a mixed-race, mixed-religion, low-income neighbourhood at the foot of Devil’s Peak that was home to labourers, artisans, harbour workers and fishermen. Its proximity to the city and the docks made it easier for residents to earn a living. In the 1970s, the apartheid government declared that the area should be ‘whites only’; bulldozers moved in to flatten people’s homes and more than 60 000 mixed-race people were forcibly removed to an area known as the Cape Flats. Separated from relatives and neighbours, and far from work opportunities, the new Cape Flats communities were poverty-stricken and without the means to better their circumstances - rich soil for gangsterism and drug abuse to thrive.

Today, District Six is a forlorn strech of  empty land - a stark reminder of the injuries of the past. The District Six Memorialization project consists of six artistic installations that interpret and reflect the collective memory of 14 heritage sites in the area.

PS District 9, the sci-fi movie directed by South African Neil Blomkamp, was inspired by the State segregation of communities based on race, which included forced removals, like those that happened in District Six.

Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014 District 6
Healing the scars of the past, art installations bring life back to District Six.

The Maboneng Township Arts Experience

Township residents may be poor but they have plenty of artists to express the hope, laughter, triumphs and happiness in their communities. In the midst of the poorest shacks, the Maboneng Township Arts Experience delivers on their founding principle, that ‘good art is not what it looks like but what it does to us.’

In keeping with this ethos, they are turning homes in Gugulethu into art galleries, curated by experts and hosting talks by local artists. Gugulethu is also home to Mzoli’s – a famous and lively shebeen (tavern) where you can taste genuine shisha nyama (barbeque) cooked over open fires. Combine the Maboneng art circuit with a Saturday afternoon lunch at Mzolis for an authentic taste of township life.

Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014 District 6 Mab
Township homes...
Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014 District 6 Mab 2
... become dynamic art galleries.
Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014 District 6 Mab 3
Cape Town has reimagined graffiti as 'street art' and public spaces are now being filled with inspiring pieces that touch on nature & society.


Design is not only about a pretty tea cup, a funky pair of trainers or an innovative light fitting for your living room - it's fundamental to how we interact as people and evolve as a society. Since the dawn of civilisation, humans have hungered for knowledge about the origins of our universe, a mystery that is being solved, one puzzle piece at a time, at the quirkily named MeerKAT array.

The MeerKAT array is the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere and is located in the arid Karoo, where the lack of human settlement means very little light pollution. More than a hundred young scientists are currently working on the MeerKAT project, which will open the way for further astronomical research once it is completed and will ultimately be part of the Square Kilometre Array or SKA. It is hoped that the MeerKAT and SKA will answer questions about how our universe began and help establish Africa as a destination for serious research science, in addition to pushing the envelope for what telescopes can be designed and built to achieve.

If you are keen on astronomy, visit the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland, which is the largest single optical telescope in the hemisphere and among the biggest in the world. Night tours can be booked for a thrilling look at the Milky Way and other celestial wonders. The Karoo is a magical place in winter (June – August) with crisp, clear skies, but be warned, Sutherland is one of the coldest places in the country with temperatures regularly plummeting below 0°C – dress warmly!

Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014 Meerkat 2
The Karoo has perfect conditions for space observation.
Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014 Meerkat 1
Part of the MeerKAT telescope installation.

With the World Design Capital projects in Cape Town encompassing everything from apartheid-era history to township art galleries and some of the most-cutting edge astrophysics in the world, it is also about touching and improving the lives of all people, from humble shack dwellers right to break-through scientists.

Read more about the WDC 14 projects on their website.

Written by Angela Aschmann. Connect with her on Google+.

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Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014 Town Hall
Cape Town's year as World Design Capital kicked off with a public street party in front of the usually stately city hall.
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