Creative Cape Town: The World’s Best Design Destination


Hailed as the World Design Capital for 2014, Cape Town is the first African city to receive this prestigious status biennially awarded by the International Council of Industrial Design. Discover some of the best design, food and art events taking place in Cape Town this year, and see how design is initiating social change and economic inclusion in South Africa.

Cape Town panorama © Andrew Brown
Cape Town panorama | © Andrew Brown, courtesy of WDC Cape Town 2014

The World Design Capital (WDC) is a state of being, rather than just a fancy title, as the city selected to bear the title has the implicit responsibility to reinvent itself through design, in the broadest sense, recognising design as a powerful driver of social transformation and economic development. With the meaningful overarching theme of ‘Live design. Transform Life’, Cape Town WDC  is committed to reinforcing the city’s evolution into a sustainable and productive African city, bridging historical divides and enhancing social and economic inclusion.

It is hardly surprising that Cape Town, South Africa’s oldest city often referred to as ‘the Mother City’, was selected over rival shortlisted cities, Bilbao and Dublin. From the unparalleled beauty of its coastlines and mountains, to its colonial architecture dating back to the 17th century and the diversity of its inhabitants, Cape Town has a huge natural advantage that simply inspires imagination and provides an endless journey of physical, social and cultural contrasts. With the inception of Design Indaba in 1995, a multifaceted dynamic platform promoting design as the core competency of the city and driving for a better world through creativity, Cape Town has developed a strong culture of design and innovation that has undoubtedly pushed the city to the forefront of South Africa’s blooming design scene.

WDC 2014 -V&A Waterfront Table MountainFrame © Andrew Brown

What does the World Design Capital mean for the city? From a global perspective, Cape Town WDC will internationally spotlight the creativity of the city, the country and the continent through a year-long, extensive programme, and position Cape Town as a world-class design destination. Cape Town will also get to play host to a number of World Design Capital signature events including the International Design House Exhibition, the worldwide Cities Exhibition and the Design Policy Conference attracting top designers and visitors from around the world. On a more ground level, Cape Town WDC 2014 will seek to unpack the country’s undiscovered talents by stimulating and exposing community-based initiatives and providing significant local and international networking opportunities. Not to mention providing a myriad of inspiring events for all citizens to experience and be part of. Envisioning and inclusively working towards a better future, by responding to issues faced by modern society in South Africa today through design, is the mission at the heart of Cape Town WDC 2014’s vision.

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What it means for Cape Town to be World Design Capital 2014:

In Cape Town’s bid for the WDC title the following quote was included ‘In 1994 we inherited a city designed for separation; and since then we have been designing a city for integration.’ And, without doubt, the city of Cape Town has brought and continues to bring likeminded people together, independent of culture, race, ethnic group and other previous dividing criteria, through design initiatives, which the WDC 2014 seeks to enhance. In addition, given the current poor public spending on art and lack of political interest in design, the WDC 2014 presents a great opportunity to bring political interest on board, envisaging a scenario where by political figures, designers and artists can work side by side in designing and constructing better cities. Moving away from the idea that art and design are elitist fields confined to a specific social class, Cape Town WDC 2014 embraces the universality of art and design, from creation to appreciation.

Watch Cape Town’s WDC Bid Video – Why did Cape Town bid?:

The ever-evolving Cape Town WDC programme encompasses a wide range of exciting design-focused events, exhibitions, workshops, competitions and projects involving curators, exhibitors, designers, delegates, partners, suppliers and the city at large. The programme is guided by four broad sub-themes centred on African innovation and developing global conversations around African ideas; using design for social integration, reconciliation and cohesion; designing today for tomorrow through sustainable environment and infrastructure solutions; and beautiful spaces and things associated with design such as architecture, fashion, and art. Already three months underway, at the end of February the Cape Town WDC programme featured the world-accredited annual Design Indaba Expo, the biggest curated design event in the Southern Hemisphere. Welcoming more than 35,000 visitors each year, the Design Indaba Expo showcases the best of home-grown and international craft, décor, product and industrial design, media and advertising, visual art, graphic design and much more, all under one roof.

Design Indaba stand at WDC 2014 Launce People Branding © Andrew Brown

There are also some fantastic year-round initiatives such as WDC 2014 Food, which includes a number of food and agriculture events aimed at instilling a culture of design-thinking among key stakeholders and the general public in the face of urban food production and consumption. One example of WDC 2014 event is the Cape Town Street Food Festival. This is an outdoor fair that aims to introduce people to the city’s best-loved street food and the culture of ‘on-the-go’ dining, as well as bring exposure to the people behind the scenes. Another ongoing WDC 2014 highlight is the Maboneng Township Arts Experience. An ambitious art venture started in 2010, the project sets out to transform homes in selected townships into art galleries, thus creating a space for inspiring art, and raising positive perceptions about South African townships.

WDC 2014 New Years Eve Design City Hall © Andrew Brown

Other anticipated events include 100% Design South Africa to be held in the last week of April, alongside Decorex Joburg – Africa’s largest home-style exhibition. This unmatched event will exhibit the best of local and international interior design, décor, fabrics and product design, as well as celebrate world-acclaimed designers spanning the residential, hospitality and office industries. The WDC 2014 has also set out a number of design-themed challenges in collaboration with partners. For example, the South African Post Office launched a nationwide competition to design stamps that best capture Cape Town as the World Design Capital and will eventually ‘travel’ across the world as the city’s ambassadors. 1M Faces, is another interesting WDC 2014 contest to produce a pixel mosaic portrait of Nelson Mandela made up of one million photos of South African faces, with the idea to produce a paradoxical portrait of one nation comprised of many different individuals.

It has certainly started off with a bang and promises to be a truly exceptional design-filled year for Cape Town. Not just a programme of events, the WDC 2014 has placed Cape Town as a prime hub of creation in the vast world of design and will significantly contribute to changing how the city and its people perceive development, with a move towards innovative design-centric and inclusive approaches.


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