10 Questions with Haldane Martin

Interior Design, 15 September 2015

How can you reimagine healthcare? This was the question posed to Cape Town designer Haldane Martin. Having not too long ago “reimagined” his own career from furniture designer of some of South Africa’s most heralded pieces—such as the Songololo Couch and Zulu Mama chair—to interior designer with each project on a completely different trajectory—from steampunk to futuristic minimalism—Martin is intimately familiar with mental gear changes. In his recent project designing an Innovation Hub in the Groote Schuur Hospital, however, he had to create an interior that sparked those mental shifts in other people.

Interior Design: What an exciting opportunity to see design starting to creep into public institutions. Groote Schuur may be the most acclaimed teaching hospital in Africa—where the world’s first heart transplant took place—but it was built in 1938 and it’s labyrinthine! How did this project come about?Haldane Martin Portrait 2014, Photo Guido Schwarz

Haldane Martin: The project was initiated by theBertha Centre, which is a part of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town, but a separate unit all to themselves focusing on social innovation in healthcare, education and finance. The healthcare team has been working with Groote Schuur to do service delivery innovation, not so much medical or technical innovation. This ranges from things like wayfinding, how a patient’s folder goes from one place to another, and other little irritating hiccups that happen in the hospital and decrease the efficacy, to more serious ones like mobile referral platforms, orthopedic data management systems and so on.

ID: Did you work from a brief, or was that an innovation process itself?

HM: It was more collaborative. I met not only with the Bertha Centre about their vision for the space, but also hospital administration, students, nurses, and staff who would be directly involved in the space. While there was an appetite for change, there was a sense of inertia, which is how my brief came about. The guiding principle was that the interior design had to encourage people to breakout of their normal mindset of the big bureaucracy and hierarchy, and doing things by the book. In this space they needed to push the boundaries and be more innovative, so the interior had to stimulate it.

ID: A hospital has so many different users, how did you take that into account?

HM: We stayed away from institutional or corporate visual language, and tried to keep it more humble. To keep it inclusive and welcoming it couldn’t be too opulent or high-tech as it would just be out of context in a state-owned hospital.

ID: How did this manifest into a visual language?

HM: The concept was to give it a workshop feel, like a maker’s workshop. There’s a lot of pine and little details like the plywood crates, threaded adjustable tables, workbenches for desks, oversized bulbs and the work-in-progress chevrons that you would expect to find in a workshop.  Everything is also on wheels to keep the configuration flexible—with the fold-up chairs, small symposium setups are even achievable.

ID: The first impression walking in, after snaking through those long dreary indistinguishable hospital corridors is the light freshness of the space. But then one starts to notice all the clever little details and surprises in what could otherwise just be a meeting room. Can you explain some of these design situations.

HM: Well, we never went completely radical—for instance, we stuck with the typical hospital colour of green, but made it a very loud acid green. The round tables are where people meet and collaborate in groups, but we made them higher than a normal table to encourage people to stand, move and be more active than passive. The surfaces can also be written on with whiteboard markers. Then there’s a large glass meeting table with a paper roll that can be pulled over it for brainstorming, and easily torn off to take the records of the meeting away with you. A loungey café space is flexible with it modular cushions and plywood shipping palettes. The enclosed couches enable more intimate one-to-one meetings, or when facing each other, a larger private meeting.

ID: Did you design all of this yourself?

HM: Everything is custom designed, except the stools are made by a local design duo called Sutla, and the fold up chairs are store-bought and spray painted green. Needless to say, the main challenge is always to come in on budget while still producing innovative custom designs.

ID: There must have been other challenges working in a bureaucratic hospital?

HM: Yes, the humility of the project was also tempered by how difficult and frustrating a process it was to get authorization, even just to bash a hole through the wall connecting the two rooms. We had to apply to provincial government for permission! In addition, we weren’t allow to redo the carpet, ceiling or electrical wiring. Luckily for us the Bertha Centre handled most of these negotiations, but we also had to keep in mind that the project could be moved at any point, meaning that everything had to be reusable, mobile and reconfigurable.

ID: How has the transition between from product to interior designer?

HM: It’s a lot more work and a lot more stressful, but it’s more financially viable for me. With all my interiors, I am still doing furniture design, and the more successful pieces being born are put under license and into production. Although the pieces from this project will probably be kept exclusively for other hospital innovation labs, we did a custom desk range for the Environ office that has been picked up by an office furniture manufacturer. The other plus is that I get to try out different design languages and styles—and I do otherwise just get bored easily.

ID: Tell us more about exploring different styles. No one expected to ever see steampunk coming from Haldane Martin, but you did it so well thatTruth has become one of theworld’s most famous coffee shops.

HM: The furniture under license is more my style, but otherwise all our interiors are very different—I mean, we did a girly beauty salon that is really not me at all. We really listen to the client and try to express and facilitate their identity, rather than being the kind of design studio that has a house style and clients must take it or leave it. I prefer listening to the client and creating something original for them, which enhances their brand experience and context.

ID: What’s next?

HM: We’re working on a big beer brewery in Johannesburg, which will be our first significant project up there. There’s also talks with Nando’s to do a specially license chair for their global chicken franchise—they’re doing really exciting stuff with design at the moment.

Design Indaba founder shifts focus in a bid to revive cultural showcase


Ravi Naidoo – founder of Design Indaba. Picture: Supplied

Is the country’s design industry in trouble? One of our most prestigious cultural showcases, the internationally acclaimed Design Indaba, is scaling back. Despite claiming a R2.1 billion gross domestic product contribution over the past seven years, the event has cancelled the important trade show of its annual festival.

Known as the Design Indaba Expo, the trade fair has shown a sharp decline in visitors since its record-breaking 63 560 during the World Design Capital 2014, to 49 523 in 2015 – figures so low they were last seen in 2009.

Despite reduced visitors, trade sales and exports showed only a small decrease from R201.9 million to R195 million, emphasising that the actual value of the event lies not in the eye of the domestic consumer. For both buyers and exhibitors, trade shows are widely considered to be the most time- and cost-efficient way of making big business deals across the globe.

The conference, which will be relocating from the Cape Town International Convention Centre to Artscape, will soon announce a new date, no longer the usual last weekend of February, says founder Ravi Naidoo.

The expo was founded in 2004 when “the Woodstock Exchange didn’t exist, the Biscuit Mill didn’t exist, Watershed didn’t exist, SAM on Bree Street didn’t exist”.

Naidoo denies the event is in trouble. He says he preferred to innovate with the times along the lines of the London Design Festival and Milan Furniture Fair, where the truly progressive work is showcased across the city.

Nonetheless, both these festivals have a trade-orientated anchor event. Naidoo felt that this sector contribution should no longer be the responsibility of his “small, private company of 30”, when the City of Cape Town and Western Cape Government had their own priorities in terms of investing in special purpose vehicles.

“Maybe there’s a savvy entrepreneur who can go in and fill that gap, and maybe the City will support it, and maybe they’re not of a dusky hue like me and they’ll get better endorsed by the province,” said Naidoo after bemoaning that the company has not once presented to the Mayoral Committee despite its GDP contribution.

He also bemoaned the fact that the convention centre’s economic model and price points were orientated towards international events.

Naidoo wanted to refocus Design Indaba along “a more distributed nationwide platform”, expanding nationally into Maboneng in Joburg and Florida Road in Durban, and even internationally.

A big push remains the Indaba’s online magazine, which now attracts more than 100 000 unique visitors a month. The brand is no longer concerned with being a mega-event, but “morphing into other spaces locally and internationally … that operates 365 days a year”.

About the art and design side events that have cropped up around the same time as Design Indaba, Naidoo is equally indifferent.

“Most of them have not come over to us to collaborate or coordinate, they just happened. So maybe they’ll just have to happen when we happen.”

City Press, 4 August 2015

8 things to do with unwanted statues and monuments

Rhodes will fall, but what about all the other monuments and statues throughout the country that remind us of South Africa’s painful past? Sibusiso Tshabalala and Nadine Botha found eight creative ways to reconsider history.

When Chumani Maxwele, a 30-year-old political science student, threw human faeces over the statue of Cecil John Rhodes that stands in front of the University of Cape Town, few would’ve thought that this would open room for a much-needed debate about the significance of symbols and what they represent in post-apartheid South Africa.

Symbols are important to any society. Through street names, statues and names of places of public significance – like squares and prominent buildings – we venerate key figures in our history for their contributions to society. And in a subtle way, the symbols we choose tell us a lot about that which we aspire to be.

The preceding centuries of South Africa’s history as a nation are filled with accounts of brutal dispossession and marginalisation between different racial and tribal groups. But that’s not all, as Daily Maverick journalist Rebecca Davis noted the “realm of statues is still a man’s world” – meaning that gender is also an important part of this debate.

Do these symbols of apartheid and colonialism, many of which are anchored in their specific time, stay? Do they go? This is the debate that has engulfed Cape Town, swept across the country and even hit international headlines.

What is clear is that symbols that evoke feelings of offense and are reminiscent of our horrid past, need to find new places in the present. But many statues will stay mounted after Rhodes falls. How do we bring statues into our present and initiate an ongoing conversation and debate about their place in history and in our future?

1. Think pink

President MT SteynAydemir present steynDuring the annual Vryfees Arts Festival in 2014, Australian artistCigdem Aydemir explored using existing statues on the University of Free State campus, and around the city of Bloemfontein, to provoke debates on their meaning, relevance and place in post-apartheid South Africa.

Cigdem went all out with the #PinkPresidents and #PlasticHistories projects. She started off by physically shrink-wrapping two statues on campus: the statues of MT Steyn (the sixth president of the then Orange Free State) and CR Swart (the first state president of the Republic of South Africa, from 1961 to 1967, infamously known for playing an instrumental role in passing the Immorality Act).

In collaboration with another Australian artist, Warren Armstrong, Cigdem then developed a free-to-download augmented reality application for these statues that allows them to be viewed in pink through a smart phone or tablet. In addition to this, voices of South African female poets accompany the images.

Reimagining these statues and monuments from a queer and feminist perspective makes Cigdem’s work particularly significant. In her words, the project “aimed to acknowledge the contributions of people from marginalised races, communities and sexualities in the grand narrative of a post-apartheid South Africa”.

One of her most incisive comments about this project sheds light on how history is never static. Speaking about the use of pink shrink-wrapping over the statues she says:

Far from being set in stone (or bronze), [history] is plastic in the sense that it is constantly shaped and moulded based on our new knowledge of the past.

 2. Ironic superheroes

superhero statue 2The Monument to the Soviet Army in Bulgaria is infamous for having been painted to depict pop culture icons Superman, Joker, Robin, Captain America, Ronald McDonald, Santa Claus, Wolverine, The Mask and Wonder Woman overnight by an anonymous group of artists. Three days later the painting similarly disappeared overnight.

Since then a number of other temporary artistic protests have been staged using the monument as canvas. And, ironically for communism, it has become one of the hippest places to hang out, a veritable hotspot of “skaters, ravers, rasta and other subcultural groups”. Unfortunately, Russia’s not too charmed.

3. Bring it to life with performance

Infecting the City in particular has made us Capetonians acutely familiar withe how performance art draws people into spaces they wouldn’t usually go and engage with spaces through unexpected narratives. This was artist Athi Patra Ruga’s intention in his “Performance Obscura” work  a the 2012 Grahamstown National Arts Festival.

4. Make a stitch in time

AfricaWP1web3-816x544One of the most widely known means of temporary public installation, yarnbombing has swept the world. In South Africa, the Yarn Indaba yarnbombed the Voortrekker Monument in 2014. And in Cape Town, in 2012, Isabeau Joubert yarnbombed the “Bart Simpson” Africa statue by Brett Murray on St George’s Mall.

In 1998, artist Tracey Rose did it the other way around. Unravelling 25 doilies from her grandmother and coloured women in the area, she wound the threads around a police monument in Oudtshoorn. Although part of the Klein Karoo Kunstefees programme, the local police were fiercely offended and demanded that she stop, eventually using a knife to cut the threads. John Peffer discusses this highly-charged art performance in more detail in Censorship and Iconoclasm: Unsettling Monuments.

5. Put them all in a park

Those that are taken down, need not be destroyed, but can be relocated. In Hungary, Memento Park is alternatively called a historical theme park or an open air museum and is dedicated to all the statues from the country’s communist period. Designed by architect Ákos Eleőd, he said:

This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship.

6. Dress them up

465x465q70marikana_street_2aba1In 1999 already, Beezy Bailey dressed the statue of Louis Botha as a Xhosa initiate with a traditional blanket and hat, and face painted with white clay. That he received death threats in the age before social media is an indication of just how thorny and how far back the question of our monuments goes.

More recently, in 2014, two years after 34 miners were killed at Marikana, an anonymous collective of artists swept the east city of Cape Town, dressing statues as miners and renaming streets after the deceased. Said the African Arts Institute’s Jill Williams to the Daily Maverick: “They aimed to give a human face to the number 34 using wording and imagery to evoke a sense of awareness and even emergency.”

Lumen17. Project it away

With projection mapping, high-definition video projectors can be used to display images on buildings and statues that completely mask the original. One of the projects at Open City on Church Square during First Thursdays entails Fabian Humphry ofLumen Concepts doing just that: projecting animations by various artists onto the facade of the Iziko Social History Centre, completely transforming it.

Grave of cecil john rhodes8. Hide them

Two statues of Rhodes – one from Zimbabwe and one from Zambia – have been stashed in the garden behind the national archives in Harare, reports the City Press. However, Mugabe is insistent on leaving Rhodes’s 1902 grave in Matobo National Park untouched as a reminder of the country’s colonial history.

Meanwhile, the removed busts of apartheid leaders, included HF Verwoerd, are stored in the bunkers of the Voortrekker Monument, reported Sean O’Toole in the Mail&Guardian.

Published at the Cape Town Partnership, 31 March 2015

Art and design exhibitors flock to Cape Town

Kendell Geers_Leviathan Stool_1

The luxurious frivolities of art and design are a hard sell in South Africa, which is focused on redressing the inequalities of the past. Where exactly does the word “beautiful” feature in the emerging democracy’s mass rollout of houses, toilets, education and social justice, for instance?

However, boosting the economy and creating jobs — promoting the concept of trade not aid — is what Design Indaba, South Africa and Cape Town’s flagship annual design event, has been doing for the past 21 years.

“It was scary; we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” says founder Ravi Naidoo about starting out in 1994 in a country newly emerged from economic sanctions and with no design economy of which to speak.

Naidoo, who was also responsible for South Africa’s winning bid for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, credits this and other work as having bankrolled the early years. Only in 2004, when it moved into the newly built Cape Town International Convention Centre, added the expo component and signed department store Woolworth as a sponsor, did the event start drawing attention beyond the marketing, advertising and design-orientated professionals.

The idea was that such speakers as Terence Conran, Tom Dixon, Marcel Wanders, Ferran Adrià and Stefan Sagmeister would bring the world to the tip of Africa, and that visitors would hopefully pick up some South African design at the expo to take back.

The 2014 economic impact assessment of the event — which now includes elements of music and film festivals, and is also broadcast live to venues around the country — reported a R385.2m ($32m) contribution to GDP and 1,146 jobs created. Since 2009, the total GDP contribution has been R1.7bn.

The fact that, despite these figures, the creative economy remains difficult to market is shown by the fact that, until last year, Design Indaba pretty much had the run of the city during the last weekend of February. As Alayne Reesberg, chief executive of the Cape Town World Design Capital (WDC) 2014, said in her outgoing media address, her biggest regret was not being able to make an economic case for commercial sponsorships.

The WDC is an initiative of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, a non-governmental organisation that promotes industrial design.

WDC2014’s biggest success was arguably to focus the city and international media’s attention on the last weekend of February.

It helped husband and wife Trevyn and Julian McGowan — interior designers and founders of Southern Guild, a platform for showcasing South African design — to launch SA’s first international design fair, Guild, last year. This in turn spurred the Cape Town Art Fair to reschedule from October, creating a cluster of events at the end of February.

The McGowans established Southern Guild in 2008 after noticing that the South African design industry needed a stimulus to create more high-end, collectable design.

Rather than bringing the world to Cape Town, their focus was to work with individual designers to create very limited-edition works and take them to international fairs such as Design Days Dubai, Design Miami/Basel and London Design Fair. Works such as Porky Hefer’s Weavers Nests and Dokter and Misses’ Kassena series have become widely known.

During the last week of February, the Cape Town Art Fair also grew, extending itself throughout the V&A Waterfront, linking into a public art programme from the under-construction Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art, as well as hosting museum and gallery evenings throughout the city and township art tours during the day.

Also taking place was the unashamedly grungy That Art Fair, hosted in a parking garage, presenting the early days of an authentic underground.

“It just makes sense: people can come out from afar and have a lot to do,” says Elana Brundyn, owner of Cape Town gallery Brundyn+, who exhibited at the Cape Town Art Fair.

The art fair’s producer, Liza Dyason, is equally thrilled by the speed of growth of the event run by exhibition and conference experts Fiera Milano. After just three editions, they are ready to seek sponsors and secure a larger venue.

“It’s right in the middle of [Cape Town tourism] season for international and local visitors. And it fits in with the international art fair calendar,” Ms Dyason says.

Design Indaba’s Mr Naidoo is more sceptical about how much competition the local market can accommodate without competitors “shooting each other in the foot”.

However, it is safe to say that interest in design is growing in South Africa. The country may still be grappling with the legacy of its recent past, but the value of art and design to its economy — in terms of the potential boost to GDP as well as simply creating jobs — is beginning to be recognised.

First published in Financial Times, 27 March 2015

Africa rising: Best of Cape Town design 2015

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During what was South Africa’s biggest design happening, well, ever, we spotted three key trends at Design Indaba and Guild Design Fair last month: expansion, collaboration and Africa is rising.

Expansion: 2015 saw growth both in the scale of events and in the scope. While Design Indaba has grown year on year for the past 20 years, its inspirational TED-style conference and buyers expo of South African design has inspired a host of side events that extend the scope of design to include music, film and performance.

This year marked the second edition of the Guild International Design Fair with its impressive exhibition of collectable design including the Haas Brothers and Stephen Burks. Fine artists Kendell Geers and Conrad Botes expanded the range of their work into the design realm at Guild, however the Cape Town Art Fair also brought fine art onto the agenda with guest curator Roselee Goldberg of New York’s Performa. The lofi underground event That Art Fair also announces the beginnings of an organic fringe economy, which will hopefully extend to design too in future editions.

Collaboration: The sharing of skills, creativity, resources and experiences was everywhere, from the opera by fine artist William Kentridge and ballet dancer Dada Masilo to the Haas Brothers’s joint venture with Monkeybiz and the launch of the Imbadu Collective of black designers including ceramicist Andile Dyalvane and knitwear designer Laduma Ngxokolo. Legworks also showed how graphic design can enter the living space with 20 flat-pack carry tables customised by local illustrators.

Africa is Rising: An unprecedented number of speakers from the African continent were on the Design Indaba Conference program, many of whom also showed their work at the Expo. Rather than the traditional African ethnic aesthetic, many of these designers worked in multidisciplinary collectives that engaged with urban realities.

The work displayed at the Design Network Africa stand at Guild similarly found crossovers between traditional craft and urban grittiness. A particularly striking collaboration came from Botswana-based Peter Mabeo and South African designer Porky Hefer, renowned for his weavers nest-inspired swings and loungers.

As these art and design events continued to cluster and accumulate in Cape Town over the last weekend in February, drawing masses of international media and buyers, the city will no doubt become more of a drawcard to designers across the continent.

Published by Interior Design, 17 March 2015

Design memo from Cape Town

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“What is design?” In Cape Town, this question has as many answers as species of “fynbos,” the low scrubby plants that thrive along the Western Cape of South Africa. Located in the smallest and most biodiverse of the world’s six floral kingdoms, around the feet of Table Mountain—one of the seven modern wonders of the natural world—Cape Town is a city of contrasts, both natural and humanmade.

Offsetting its geographical splendor is one of Africa’s most recognizable urban skylines as well as the continent’s most-visited site: the V&A Waterfront, a retail, commercial and residential hub established on the old docks. Topping many of the latest lists of places to see, Cape Town is just as much home to Hollywood stars and world leaders as to refugees, hipsters, nomads, born-and-breds and the urban poor. Though the city boasts the nation’s most expensive houses, the legacy of the apartheid-era’s economic and racial ghettos prevails. Just on the other side of the mountain are acres of corrugated iron shanties with limited to no plumbing.

Design, with its creative approach to seemingly intractable problems, has increasingly become a rallying cry for how change and equality can be realized. Craft groups are engaging under-educated communities in the economy. Architects and industrial designers are considering living solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid. A growing cadre of brand-name designers are producing high-end and collectible wares that are feeding an export and manufacturing industry. And, in 2014, as Cape Town wore the title of World Design Capital, the mayor and city hall itself attempted to adopt a design thinking attitude—resulting in some rather contentious public art and an award-winning skate park.

The long-term legacy of Cape Town’s design capital reign remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that the design world sat up and noticed the southern-most tip of Africa.

New builds

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Given Cape Town’s environment and the resource-scarce African context, it is no surprise that green building has always been a priority.

Celebrating the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden’s centenary, is the unusual tree canopy walkway designed as a structural skeleton by Mark Thomas Architects. Creating this construction without disturbing the ancient trees was quite a feat!

Based in Cape Town, the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) has rolled out its green star rating system since 2007, but in 2014 had the pleasure of awarding its first six-star as-built rating to the No 1 Silo, built by VDMMA for client Allan Grey, at the V&A Waterfront.

The V&A Waterfront also saw the completion of the Watershed, in which Wolff Architects converted a centuries-old dock warehouse into a creative market and innovation hub that prioritised passive cooling and minimal materials. Similarly retrofitting a heritage site, is British starchitect Thomas Heatherwick’s currently under-construction Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art.

The first skyscraper built in Cape Town since 1993, the Portside FNB Building by dhk architects was also completed in 2014 and is regarded as the tallest green building in Africa (with five stars from the GBCSA).

On the low-cost housing front, Stephen Lamb’s co-designed “green shack” approach that incorporates vertical gardens to address issues of food security and nutritional deserts is a game changer. Lamb has pioneered insulated corrugated iron panels for easy construction.

Also exploring the possibilities of alternative building materials, the Design Develop Build initiative saw CS Studio and a group of students from around the world collaborate with a community theatre in Langa. The result is the Guga S’Thebe Children Theatre built entirely from shipping containers, straw bails, recycled pallets and other waste materials.

What’s trending

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Nicknamed the “Rainbow Nation” South Africa has 11 official languages—which is not even all of its indigenous languages. Adding to these multifarious African cultures, Cape Town is a port city that thrives on constant cultural influence from the East, West and Global South. Not to mention its still visceral British and French colonial heritage.

For a long time South African design struggled to find its identity between all these influences. African crafts were considered touristy and contemporary design to be Westernised. Without a manufacturing industry or consumer demand of which to speak, design also never reached mass-production, relegated to weekend markets and specialty stores. The consumer and the designer needed to grow together.

Following some 20 years of the Design Indaba conference and expo sensitizing market tastes, and the global artisan-maker movement, South Africans have begun to appreciate the value of the handmade, resourceful recycling and objects with narratives. Product and industrial designers such as Haldane Martin have also found ways to express indigenous craft more subtly in luxury furniture and collectible design.

This economy of scarcity and veneration of the unique has resulted in boldly idiosyncratic interiors that show resourceful and unusual use of materials—as in Etienne Hanekom’s offices for the World Design Capital team; multi-disciplinary collaboration—like knitwear designer Laduma Ngxokolo’s work with Leon at CCXIX; and a nostalgic textural and narrative layering of old and new. Global trends such as untreated wood and Scandinavian chic—especially Skinny LaMinx fabrics—are also popular. Somewhat ahead of the curve, a spate of office interiors by Inhouse aims to increase connectivity among employees while referencing the city’s geography—shipping containers, nests and views of Table Mountain have all influenced the firm’s projects.

Insider’s take

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Design curators Trevyn and Julian McGowan will look back on 2014 not only as the year Cape Town was World Design Capital, but as the year their business went into orbit.

Since 2008, they have been establishing Southern Guild (SG) as the go-to for collectable South African design at all the right international design fairs – Design Dubai, Design Maimi/Basel, London Design Fair and more. In 2014, they invited everyone they had met at these fairs to participate in South Africa’s first international design fair, Guild.

They established SG after noticing that the South African design industry needed a stimulus to create more work at the very top end. Their insight was based on their work through Source SA, through which they work as buyers and suppliers in small-scale South African design and craft for international department stores such as Anthropologie, the Conran Shops and, even, the White House.

Interior Design: 2014 was a huge year for Cape Town design and for your business ventures. What is the most significant thing to come out of it?

Trevyn McGowan: A focus on the incredible design work that is coming out of Cape Town. Interest in African design is at an all-time high and the World Design Capital validated this fascination in the continent. For us, to have held the inaugural Guild Design Fair during the historical year, means that we can now, with our second edition, build on this legacy. We also opened our first physical Southern Guild Gallery in Woodstock at the end of the year, which indicates that Cape Town is ready for more design exhibitions. In addition, Watershed at the V&A Waterfront is a great new retail concept that we curated, where visitors can purchase the best local craft and design in one space.

ID: What is the importance of the role of curator in design?

TM: I find that my role as curator allows me to showcase the best that South Africa has to offer. I love this role because it means I’m able to share my passion for craft and design in this country. In fact, as programme coordinators of Design Network Africa, we’re tasked with linking designers across the continent in order to raise the standard of design and assist in providing platforms for these designers internationally. The most important aspect of curation is that we’re able to provide opportunities to designers who might not otherwise have had them without our support.

ID: How did the Watershed come to be?

TM: The Watershed was a vision by the V&A Waterfront, the most-visited destination in Africa. Being housed in a revamped shed alongside the dry dock, it’s now seen as a ‘Watershed’ moment for craft and design in this country as for the first time some of the country’s top designs can be found under one roof, while many other designers are for the first time going from weekend markets and once-a-year affairs to 365 days a year of retail and staffing.

ID: How will a physical gallery for Southern Guild affect the initiative?

TM: Having a gallery of our own means that we’re now able to exhibit design work in South Africa throughout the year. Before, we used to have to exhibit in other people’s galleries for limited periods of time, and have always shown at international design fairs such as Design Miami and Design Days Dubai. We’re excited about the opportunities that having our own gallery presents us with.

ID: You typically travel to and exhibit at international shows around the world, but Guild saw the world come to us. What have been some of the effects of that?

TM: Guild was our inaugural design fair, and besides the great reviews it gained from the press and public, it’s the actual exhibitors who have been our best ambassadors. The Los Angeles-based Haas Brothers were here exhibiting with their New York gallery R & Company. During their time here they were part of an exhibitors’ off-site programme we arranged that had them visiting different local designers, among them Monkeybiz and Bronze Age Foundry, who they have now worked with to create their next body of work for Guild 2015, called ‘Afreaks’. This came about from them witnessing first-hand the incredible talent present in Cape Town. We also have Beirut-based designers, Mary-Lynn and Carlo Massoud, coming to work with Andile Dyalvane, one of our Southern Guild ceramicists. Collaboration has really become a keyword for Guild.

ID: What will your focus be for the year ahead?

TM: We’ll be exhibiting at Design Days Dubai and Design Miami again, and are looking forward to the second chapter of Design Network Africa as it runs into it’s next two-year phase with some new designers from east and west Africa. And, of course, we’re looking forward to cementing ourselves as a gallery in Woodstock’s energetic community of creatives.

First published on Interior Design, 30 January 2015

Spill the coffee beans and get people talking

A machine that is “definitely not the most efficient way to dispense coffee beans into packages” has been unveiled at the Truth HQ in Cape Town.

The words are those of Cape Town coffee maverick David Donde, who co-founded Origin Coffee Roasting in 2006 but went solo and established Truth Coffee Roasting in 2009.

Last year, he cranked open the doors to the new Truth HQ, decked out in a bespoke steampunk interior by designer Haldane Martin.

Local costume and millinery specialists the Little Hattery were tasked with creating staff uniforms that rival an opera wardrobe.

Steampunk is an aesthetic that brings together Victorian analogue technology and fashion, and transposes a futuristic science fiction narrative on it.

Or, as the joke goes, “what happened when goths discovered brown”.

Most famously seen in Wild Wild West, the subculture started surfacing when visual websites such as Pinterest and Tumblr brought the images into mass circulation, and steampunk-maker websites such as Etsy connected artisans with steampunks all around the world.

Events such as Burning Man in Nevada and the South African variation, AfrikaBurn, in the Karoo, have drawn gatherings — as per the Steampunk Saloon at the AfrikaBurn festival in May.

Donde “is steampunk”, according to Martin, who proposed the concept; the caffeine-prospecting techie has spared nothing in bringing to life an entire world at Truth HQ. The design has been short-listed for the world Restaurant and Bar Design award, the only finalist from Africa. The winner will be announced in September.

Theatrical showpiece

“It’s been fantastic. We’ve taken a spot that everyone said wouldn’t work, in the Fringe, and we’re probably the busiest coffee shop in Cape Town,” enthuses Donde.

“We wanted a signature piece that really said: we’re about coffee.”

This is where industrial designer and artist Chris Jones got involved in turning the coffee dispenser into a theatrical showpiece.

After his first proposal to Donde, which was too decorative and not functional enough, Jones spent a week on YouTube watching elementary engineering videos. He came back with a Meccano-like contraption that was built using reclaimed bicycle gears, cranks and pulleys, and used lights, bells and whistles for theatrical effect.

For materials, Jones went dumpster diving at Fair Trading in Salt River and Sunshine Scrap in Woodstock.

“It was like treasure hunting through a mass of rusted old metal to find the right piece.” He then customised his finds at the Fab Lab in the Cape Craft and Design Institute.

Fab Labs are free-to-the-public design workshops, conceptualised by MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld, and are found all around the world.

“On July 1 2012, Chris gave me a three-week estimate [of completion]. One year and a day later, July 2, we began with beta testing!”

Donde is actually bragging. Steampunk time, after all, is relative — it’s the industrial revolution emulating space travel.

Looking across the coffee shop at the sea of averted faces lit by laptop screens, your gaze stops at the table right beneath the contraption. They’re all looking up, mouth agape at the retro-tech of a Rube Goldberg-like chain effect that fills a packet with 215g of beans. Time travels in those two minutes.

Such is the curious case of the inefficient coffee contraption.

Mail&Guardian, 19 July 2013

Things of beauty: Rock girl benches

India Baird is a human rights lawyer who has taken the bench out of the courtroom and installed it in public spaces to create safe areas for women.

Titled Rock Girl, after the slogan “strike a woman, strike a rock”, Baird got the idea three years ago when she was volunteering at the Red River School in Manenberg, Cape Town.

“Girls were not participating in the after-school running programme because they did not feel safe on the sports field,” she explains.

“[We] began documenting the conditions around and at school, and created a plan to make their environment safer, starting with a safe place to sit at school when the older boys and gangsters harassed them.”

This simple intervention has inspired artists and designers such as Paul du Toit, Laurie van Heerden, Aidan Hart, Boyd Ferguson and Tracy Lynch to get involved, resulting in some 17 benches installed in central Cape Town, each with a sister bench installed at a school in the township, over the past two years.

“Each bench is linked to a toll-free number, which connects women to opportunities, resources and support, as well as inspiring stories of 75 successful South African women, from Life and Soul: Portraits of Women Who Move South Africa, compiled by Karina Turok and Margie Orford,” Baird goes on.

Earlier this year, the first bench in Johannesburg was installed at the Sunlight Safe House, designed by Switch and sponsored by Investec. A sister bench is installed at De Waal Park in Cape Town.

Just after Rock Girl announced that they have been short-listed as an official World Design Capital 2014 project, the newest bench, designed by architect Mokena Makeka, was unveiled at the Prestwich Memorial alongside Cape Town’s fan-walk bridge — although this location is temporary.

“I thought of a piece of furniture that was quite elegant and tough; might seem angular or austere from certain perspectives, but quite forgiving when you come into contact with it,” says Makeka.

The powder-dusted grey steel bench comprises faceted planes that make it seem both modernist and futuristic. It comes with a padded weatherproof jacket that is securely fastened with very strong magnets.

Relying on corporate sponsors and goodwill for funding, the Rock Girl budget is tight and Makeka admits to having extended his stipend to up to R30 000 from his own pocket.

“There’s this discourse around making benches uncomfortable so that you don’t lie down on them because of prostitution, you don’t make them wide enough so that people don’t sit for too long.

“Instead I wanted a bench that was more like a chaise longue, rather than a bench that could only be sat on for five minutes. Three people can sit on it or one person can take a nap,” says Makeka.

The cover is adorned with line art infographics that relate the city of Cape Town to its larger context in Africa and the world — the distance to Kilimanjaro, for instance. This is the first Rock Girl bench that has no fixed location and is travelling around the city seeking a home.

“Benches have a very specific location but I also wanted people to think about the broader city when they sit on the bench,” says Mokena.

Regarding permission, Baird says “the city and in particular mayor Patricia de Lille have been great support”.

In a city that still doesn’t have a public art policy and is hosting the World Design Capital in less than six months’ time, these functional creative interventions with social good at heart uplift the spirit.

Mail&Guardian, 12 July 2013

Grunge gives way to design in Woodstock

Woodstock is the go-to place for creatives who don’t have money to set up shop in the City Bowl.

Finding parking in Woodstock has become almost impossible and an increase in crime has been reported as a wave of creative types floods the area. “Residents can’t leave their houses because if they lose their parking spaces they’ll never get them back,” says Elan Kirschenbaum, chairperson of the Woodstock Improvement District.

This high-pressure system is the result of the completion of the Woodstock Exchange, previously known as the Woodstock Industrial Centre. The Indigo Group, also responsible for the redevelopment of the ­nearby Old Biscuit Mill, bought the building, and the evicted artists were squealing ­gentrification.

Having reached its first stage of completion, the Woodstock Exchange has been converted from grungy authentic to slick industrial. Street-level windows invite passers-by to the newly relocated and expanded Superette diner and an alluring interior retail experience with tenants including Honest Chocolate, Pedersen+Lennard, Dark Horse, Lady Bonin’s Tea Parlour and more. The stairs are not easy to find, but designer-retailers such as Wolf & Maiden continue on the first floor. Further up in the building are the offices of Google and the Bandwidth Barn.

Immediately obvious is that this is a whole new crew of young creative brands compared with the tenants of the original building. Only 10 of the original tenants have stayed, down from the 50 reported last year.

Nick Ferguson of Indigo Group is unapologetic: “Our priority has been to find people who want to be here and to finish the building.”

Although rental rates have remained cheap at R45 a metre, with most tenants having signed long leases, ­tenants were also required to change their business models: retail front end and workshop back end. In cobbler Grant Mason’s case, he has also installed a retail window looking in on his workshop, giving customers an insider view into the process.

This is in line with global design trends that emphasise the handmade and the ethical, artisanal production process. The Woodstock Exchange development also resonates with global design trends: go-to design retail destinations being reinvented as lifestyle experiences.

Organic flourishing

On January 18 the Financial Times reported on this phenomenon — the “living showrooms” of Tom Dixon in London, Marcel Wanders in ­Amsterdam and Piet Hein Eek in Eindhoven.

“There’s no right or wrong; it’s capitalism,” says Kirschenbaum. If one looks at how quickly the character of the building has changed and how the entire Woodstock strip is just one long design indaba, capitalism’s power really is something. Compare this overnight organic flourishing of Woodstock as design district with the three-years-coming hobbling-along government-endorsed official attempt at turning the Fringe district in east Cape Town into the city’s design district.

Kirschenbaum doesn’t have anything nice to say about Woodstock Exchange, but as one of the original owners of the Woodstock Industrial Centre he is arguably not the most objective commentator.

Since the change of ownership, he has bought the building next to the Woodstock Exchange and converted it into small studio spaces for creatives, largely those who decided to leave the Woodstock Industrial Centre. Although the price a square metre is about four times more expensive, the smaller size still makes the overall rental cheaper.

Kirschenbaum claims to be doing it differently — none of his tenants are basing their businesses on on-site retail, and he’s provided them with parking. Having built up the Woodstock Industrial Centre for two years before it was sold, he says he’s crunched the numbers and there’s not enough retail foot traffic in the area to sustain the sale of high-end designer goods. This is his primary criticism of the Woodstock Exchange — that not only is it importing the businesses and creatives, it will also need to import the market.

And where will they park? To add to the traffic congestion, bicycle lanes are being added to Prince Albert Road, further reducing space for parking. Woodstock Exchange has built on-site showers to encourage cycling to work. However, the whole of Cape Town will no doubt be in transport flux this year as bicycle lanes, Myciti buses, trains and other public transport systems recalibrate and synchronise.

The benefits of improved city mobility will hopefully extend across the City Bowl, but what are Woodstock residents getting out of the imported designers and consumers? The increased crime has resulted in increased street patrolling, homeowners might see an increase in property values and renters might not appreciate the increased rentals.

“It’s still a rough neighbourhood, but it will change,” says Ferguson. But for whom?