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

Art and design exhibitors flock to Cape Town

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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

Trend forecaster Li Edelkoort says “Design for your selfie”

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For years now a similar message has been at the core of Li Edelkoort’s seasonal trend forecasts: the more digital and less tangible our technological lives get, the more handmade and tactile our fashion and home design. This makes her latest “Vanities: The Mythologies of Self” forecast at her annual Design Indaba seminar quite the departure. Not only does it position design and fashion as following, rather than contrasting, the dominant technological trend, but it goes against the physical to elevate the ephemeral, the image, the appearance, the concept of the self.

TrendUnion Lidewij 02“I felt that it was time for vanity because I saw all these people taking selfies,” Edelkoort said, after first reflecting on her previous year’s “Gathering” presentation. Those principles of bringing fabric together in interesting ways will remain with us for a while, but she calls out “Vanities” as “such a huge interesting new domain, where people narrate online their existence. They put themselves on a pedestal, making themselves super and glamorous.”

Edelkoort went on to present about 15 archetypes based on ancient mythologies from the virginal nymph girl and kidult prodigy to the twins who are empowered through a second half, and the hero who is taking physical power outside of the realm of exercise. The muse, the oracle and the legend represented inspirational figures of various ages. The courtesan, the odalisque and the amazon showed strong images of emancipated women.

“My next work will be about the emancipation of everything,” Edelkoort explained, predicting the logical extension of the selfie to its extreme. “Of the animal, of the food, of yourself, of your child, of colors, of textiles, of fashion, of everything needs to be rethought at this point, which is very exciting.”

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In the trend world, Edelkoort’s in particular, fashion is generally the cart that leads the horse and the presentation did not yet offer much insight into how these archetypes would manifest in design—besides more mirrors and the return of the vanity table. There would also be more focus on less things that are better made and more closely aligned with individuals’ archetypal tastes than dominant societal fads.

The elevation of personal identity and a move to the anti-consumer also came through in Edelkoort’s launch of her 10-point manifesto of why fashion is dead. At the core is the villain of mass-production and -consumption, a dampening force that she says has not yet reached the world of design, a discipline that is still defining and distinguishing itself.

First published in Interior Design, 13 March 2015

Design memo from Cape Town


“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


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


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


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

Curated retail is the antidote

Luxury shopping at the V&A’s Watershed and Zeitz Museum is not about price tags but rather authenticity and limited editions.

The World Design Capital 2014 year has been busy for Trevyn and Julian McGowan. Having spent the past few years establishing Southern Guild, internationally and locally, as the go-to for collectable South African design that goes for fine art prices, this year was about using their reputation.

In February they hosted South Africa’s first international design fair, Guild, and in October launched the Business of Design seminars. In November they opened Southern Guild’s first permanent gallery in Woodstock, having shown the collection at fairs in Dubai, Basel, Miami and New York. They also curated and launched the Watershed design and craft emporium under the contract of the V&A Waterfront, which included their first retail space, Odeon.

“The [local] design industry has come of age just recently, and it’s now ready to go from weekend markets and once-a-year affairs to 365 days a year of retail and staffing,” Trevyn McGowan said of the Watershed, named to reflect this serendipitous moment.

Trevyn McGowan

More than 400 local brands are presented in a remixing of the exhibitors from the old Red and Blue craft sheds, with hip young emerging and exclusive established designers thrown in to ensure there is something for everyone in every category, with prices ranging from R20 to R50 000.

“If something is R20 or R50 000, I’m as interested in presenting it in the discussion because if the product is good, the impulse is good, and it’s not clichéd, tired, copied, crappy stuff, then there’s something worth looking at,” says McGowan. He confirms the world trend for luxury not to be about price tag but about authenticity, limited editions, and being handmade and unique.

The age of isolation

There’s something new to luxury, though, in a social media-driven world in which everyone is both more connected and more isolated than ever before: human connection. “Meeting the people behind the brands is the absolute definition of luxury for me in a world where everything is nameless, faceless and generic,” says McGowan.

Besides many of the designers and crafters staffing their own stands at least some of the time, the architecture is intended to foster cross-pollination, collaboration and interpersonal inspiration.

An industrial shed from the dry docks of the harbour, Cape Town’s Wolff Architects prioritised translucent building materials and clear lines of sight between the storeys. Looking like a street market on the ground level, floors suspended from a fortified steel frame host the University of Cape Town’s Innovation Hub for the Graduate School of Business, co-working as formal office space, and exhibition areas. It recently hosted the world-renowned Lego art exhibition by United States artist Nathan Sawaya.

With 24-million visitors a year, the V&A Waterfront is the most visited site in Africa, yet it’s hardly news that money does not buy happiness. As George Monbiot writes in “Materialism: a system that eats us from the inside out”, a Guardian article in which he sites research linking loneliness and shopping: “Social atomisation may be the best sales strategy ever devised, and continuous marketing looks like an unbeatable programme for atomisation.”

Curated retail is increasingly being touted as the bricks-and-mortar antidote to the online retail game, and it’s not just about products but about drawing the right crowd. For instance, McGowan explains, curating is not just about “editing, selecting and having an opinion” but also about “being a connector” and “curating people that you think will be symbiotic or who will get on”.

Artist’s impression of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

“Selection is a minuscule part of curating,” agrees Mark Coetzee, executive director and chief curator of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which has set up an interim pavilion for itself, just down the walkway from Watershed, on the bridge towards the Cape Grace. “It’s also about defining how the conversations add to the work. So part of our strategy is to open things up so that all people participate, regionally and globally.”

A safe space for tough art

Coetzee, who has returned to South Africa after 15 years abroad as director of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami and programme director of PUMAVision, is using the pavilion as an audience research project to inform decisions regarding the museum. A refurbishment of the historic Grain Silo undertaken by British architect Thomas Heatherwick, the museum is due for completion in 2016.

Using facial recognition video technology, Coetzee says they have amassed readings of about 250 000 visitors in the past nine months. The technology recognises how long they’re spending in the gallery and rooms, and with each artwork, as well as their use of public space and ablutions. “Some people think we have to dumb the art down but I can’t compromise what the artist wants to say. If you start dumbing it down and making it populist, why have a museum?”

Coetzee says his team of curators are trained to be on their feet for eight hours, greeting everyone who looks in, inviting them in, offering glasses of water and initiating conversations. This emphasises the human touch as opposed to the aloof elitism of many galleries.

“The more difficult the art gets, the more user-friendly we have to be in every other aspect. If you don’t feel you’re in a safe space, you become defensive, vindictive, vengeful, angry. But if you feel you’re in a safe space, you’re a little more open to difference and dialogue. So I don’t think we must underestimate the role of service industry-orientated practice in public institutions,” Coetzee reflects.

The V&A Waterfront contributed R500-million to the museum and Jochen Zeitz bequeathed his collection of African and diaspora art and underwrote the running costs. It is a not-for-profit institution that holds the art “in trust for the people of South Africa”, says Coetzee.

The museum is a powerful statement of community. But should such a democratic institution be on private land, which can still control the right of admission?

“There’s something that’s particular about the V&A Waterfront – it’s private land, yet it’s the most used land in Africa,” Coetzee responds. “It’s also one of the few spaces in Cape Town that are shared spaces – black and white, rich and poor, Christian and not, etcetera.”

It’s a social inclusion that remains a luxury in the Mother City.

Mail&Guardian, 19 December 2014

A new language of resilience

cput-design-sydelle-0390-Large-800x600How can we move from the derailed ‘development’ train to adopt a system of ‘resilience’? By integrating it into our culture and language, says Ezio Manzini.

Widely regarded as one of the world’s top design thinkers, Ezio Manzini was speaking at a recent “Cultures of Resilience” seminar held by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). Virginia Tassinari from the MAD Faculty in GenkEdgar Pieterse of the African Centre for Cities and Ashraf Jamal from CPUT also spoke.

Behind the buzzword

According to Ezio, although the word resilience has been with us for centuries, it became a buzzword after theFukushima Tsunami in 2011. Not only was this a catastrophic event and the whole world watching but, because it was happening in a country that is perceived to be the epitome of rigour and control, it highlighted how fragile human systems are, particularly in the face of increasing climate change.

What brought the resilience buzz to the global conversation however, was Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2012. Although not as catastrophic, the fact that it was happening in New York made it very real to mass media. This also linked the word to the economic crisis, so that ‘resilience’ has come to be applied to more than climate and physical challenges, but also financial resilience.

What both these and other events highlighted is that the future is increasingly unforeseeable and the fallout radically more severe. Our ecosphere is fragile, said Ezio, and to make errors is human. We have to find a way to face the unforeseeable future that maintains the condition of life; more importantly, a good life.

In technical terms, Ezio described a resilient system as having:

  • A diversity of possibilities: Because we don’t know the future, diversity is a precondition and assurance on the future.
  • Some redundancy: To be able to choose different paths based on what the future throws us, the quality of coexistence gives the system fluidity and ability to change shape.
  • Feedback into the system: The capability to respond to and learn from messages from environment, changing direction if needs be.

The end of development

This is a dramatic departure from the current system based on the European tradition that human beings are at the centre of the universe, there is order behind chaos, and if we study and research enough, we will have progress, development (the structural changes needed to make progress possible) and economic growth (the resources for development to make progress possible).

However, Ezio pointed out, although the notion of progress dates back to the 18th century, the notion of development only dates back to about 1945, after the Second World War, when people started thinking that wellbeing should be brought to everyone, “like a train”. Development was simple, clear and successful – after all, we still talk about it today. It has become part of our perception and the way that we frame the world.

However, in an increasingly resource-scarce world with unpredictable challenges and complexities, the train is being derailed. Ezio quoted Wolfgang Sachs:

The last 40 years can be called the age of development. This epoch is coming to an end. The time is ripe to write its obituary… The idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape… Development is much more than just a socio-economic endeavour. It is a perception which models reality, a myth which comforts societies, and a myth which unleashes passions.

Professor Ezio Manzini outlined the contrasting approaches of development – that wants to control, optimise, be effective and come up with big solutions for big problems – with that of resilience – that is about being error friendly, acceptable and adaptable, and considers the biggest problem to be the need to come up with smaller adaptive projects.

New words make new minds

So how can we not only redesign our worlds, but our mental states? We need new words to model reality, and the words must “fulfil human tension for improvement”. That is, Ezio feels that the words of sustainability – reduce, use less, be quiet, be conservative – goes against the human spirit.

Drawing from a workshop that Ezio had conducted with faculty members and postgraduate students of CPUT, the presentation showed how through the four steps of word generation, word clustering, writing texts and, finally, new word generation had identified three words:

  • Togetherness: Progress as enriching human relationships through individuality, connectivity and inter-dependence.
  • Acting: Progress as increasing diversity and redundancy by being active, allowing for differences, conflicts and suppleness.
  • Reacting: Progress as safe spaces for experimentation, thereby encouraging learning, incremental change and jazz-like improvisation.

Culture refers to our cumulative deposit of knowledge, beliefs, values, time, roles, relationships, etc, said Ezio. That is, culture is how we imagine ourselves in the world and what we think our role in the world is. We all talk from the culture to which we have been socialised. Can these words help us reimagine ourselves and our roles to model a new reality of resilience, rather than development?

Published by the Cape Town Partnership, 9 October 2014

The secret is out

The new Spier Secret Courtyard pop-up in the Cape Town city centre is seasoned with some of VISI’s favourite ingredients: design, wine, food and creative collaboration. You can even make friends for life!


An official World Design Capital 2014 project, the Spier Secret Festival that happens annually in October decided it couldn’t wait that long to start the party. They launched a temporary bar slash restaurant slash creative project space in a dreamlike courtyard space they uncovered on Wale Street – where designer Liam Mooney’s shop used to be, alongside Honest Chocolate and Commune.1 Gallery.

“The name Secret is not an elitist thing at all,” explains organiser Hannerie Visser of HV Studio. “It’s really about being generous, giving people a platform and sharing secrets – like chefs have secret recipes and ingredients. It’s a space where people can share that information.”

For the next three months, the space will host Secret Dinner nights on Thursdays, live music evenings on Fridays and outdoor movie showings on Saturday. A full range of Spier wine at cellar prices – including a very sneaky Chenin Blanc slushy – as well as Devil’s Peak ale and Dear Me snacks – such as buchu-and-chilli flavoured peanuts – are served.

The Secret Dinner nights, as in previous years, promise to push the limits of experiential eating with people like Caro de Waal engineering a few Food Jams, Thingking and Soma (both of whom are featured as reasons to love SA design in our WDC2014 edition) teaming up to make an interactive chocolate factory, and even a jazz and curry, among other surprises. The cool kids from Yoh! are also collabing with Honest Chocolate for a movie night.

“The best feedback we always get from the Secret dinners is that people say they come and don’t know anyone, but make friends for life,” Hannerie goes on. “It’s because a certain type of person comes – someone who loves and is passionate about food and wine, as well as being adventurous. So they’re like-minded.”

The space itself is also testament to this spirit of like-minded passion, collaboration and experimentation. Inspired by the original geometric tile pattern of the courtyard and the massive old-school copper bar behind it, interior designer Hendrik Coetzee worked with the Kinsmen Collective and Renée Rossouw  to incorporate geometric and copper elements throughout.

Architect and pattern-extraordinaire Renée’s “half-square” wall installation uses triangular tiles from Spier Architectural Arts stuck on a hand-drawn geometric grid to recall and play on the courtyard pattern.

Primarily graphic designers, Kinsmen did the corporate identity including the logo, menus and copper-and-black tessellated vinyl window decal. Particularly fun are their perforated paper placemat-slash-doilies that guests can fold into all sorts of shapes and creations.

Hendrik himself got resourceful with Spier wineboxes, which he painted copper inside and turned into pendant-style lamps. He also built tables for the courtyard from the boxes, and display units for the shop, which sells wine, cook books and other goodies. To go with the tables, Thingking made tripod stools that strap boxes as a seat onto copper-painted frames.

Guests can even watch pictures from their phone dry on the wall! Bridging the physical and digital social divide, 250 Gram is printing guests’ Instagram pictures tagged with #spiersecret. The poloroid-style prints are then hung on the wall to be claimed when you leave – quite uncanny watching one’s phone come to life!

Running for only three months in the build up to the Spier Secret Festival in October, Hannerie reassures that there are more exciting (secret for now) events on the cards. The festival itself will run over three days this year by incorporating the WDC2014 Food Indaba on the first day, which will have speakers focused on sustainability and food economy, followed by the more food design orientated speakers on the second day and the market on the third.

VISI, 14 February 2014

African studies

The continent’s first design museum starts as a hip hangout in a post-industrial Johannesburg neighborhood.

Photography by Jodi Bieber

In part, the thrill of living in South Africa comes from simultaneously experiencing the first world lifestyle of a country that successfully hosted the FIFA World Cup and had one of its cities crowned World Design Capital 2014, while still witnessing how simple developments in its threadbare infrastructure can become significant milestones. And so it is pretty exciting that near the end of 2013, just a few months before South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy, the country’s first design museum—indeed, the first of its kind in Africa—opened in Johannesburg.

The Museum of African Design (MOAD) is part of the second development phase of the Maboneng Precinct, a privately funded urban regeneration venture in one of the most desolate postindustrial corners of Jo’burg’s central business district. Unfolding like a real-life Sim City since 2009 and spearheaded by the developer Jonathan Liebmann and his company Propertuity, the project has drawn comparisons to New York’s Meatpacking District and London’s Shoreditch. The first phase entailed renovating warehouses and old offices into housing, workspaces, and social areas, and drawing big name anchor tenants like the artist William Kentridge. The second phase has seen the creation of more entry-level housing and retail opportunities, as well as improved public transport links to the rest of the city. Detailed development plans and rollout dates for forthcoming phases are available, and there is a distinct sense of grand urban design, which is quite modernist in how it has elegantly avoided political agendas.

The necessity of a museum in this scheme is not obvious, but it seems to be Liebmann’s most self-conscious monument to the power of design to transform urban spaces. With its directive being on the entire continent rather than simply South Africa, there is also a nod to the residents of the surrounding area—many of whom are legal and illegal immigrants from all over Africa. “The vision for MOAD is to be a space that explores the rest of the continent through design and innovation,” explains the museum’s director, Aaron Kohn, a young Cleveland, Ohio native who came to this country to complete a degree in African Studies and subsequently launched an online store called African Lookbook. The 22-year-old’s appointment has raised more than a few postcolonial eyebrows. But it seems like Kohn’s international touch has already distinguished the museum’s approach: “The MOAD is different from other museums,” he says. “We don’t have any permanent collections, and we have no intention to start collecting. This space is purely for exhibitions, installations, and showcase events.”

Rather than simply putting the exhibitions in isolated white cubes, MOAD offers more opportunities after office hours—cocktail evenings, salon discussions, exclusive dinners, and music concerts. It promises to be a lifestyle museum that fits well into the urban regeneration around it, offering Maboneng residents exactly the kind of work-live-play trinity that these types of developments portend.

Metropolis Magazine, December 2013

Comfort zone

Married to your mohair? Wedded to your wool? Nadine Botha explores why a blanket is the perfect partner for winter.

Most of us had a favourite blanket as a child. And whether it was called Blanky or Banky or Pinky or Lovey, it was supernatural. In seconds it morphed from blanket to teddy bear to tent to picnic to superhero cape to comforter. Being tied to our mother’s back was sublime, sleeping without it was unimaginable, and as for warding off the giant big-nose monsters…

Security blankets are for many of us the first inanimate object with which we create a relationship and find comfort in. Like Linus and his blanky in the Peanuts comic strip, dependence on these comfort objects can either evoke empathy or scorn in others.

Psychologists, however, regard them as a positive part of key developmental stages. Termed a ‘transitional object’, the security blanket eases us into independence from our mothers, and are said to facilitate learning as well as helping children adapt to new situations.

Recent research has also revealed that adults who have kept some form of comfort object (not necessarily a blanket) are more independent and better at dealing with stress. In Japan, many adults have traded up from blankies to robotic pets, while in the UK it is estimated that about 35% of adults still sleep with a teddy bear.

The blanket as comfort object is timeless. Weighted blankets are used in psychiatric care to treat everything from anxiety and insomnia to autism, Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD. They provide deep pressure and are described as a ‘firm hug’.

Dutch trend forecaster Li Edelkoort writes in her latest book, Fetishism in Fashion (win one of five copies by entering here), ‘Most babies are given a safety blanket that is meant to be a partner and protector, a cuddle to be cherished. Some people will hold on to that first bit of cloth for the remainder of their lives and will be very distressed when losing the cherished object. Therefore this first encounter with fibre and weave is responsible for many of our future encounters with fabric. We will continue to search for the same softness, a similar colour, an equal weight.’

A blanket as fetish object? Well, there’s no denying that wrapping yourself in a good blanket is a sensual experience and that, especially as adults, we often choose our blankets with as much care as we do our partners. We do, after all, have to sleep with it.

What makes a good bedmate? Natural, manmade or blended? Cotton, wool, mohair, merino, polyester or nylon? What about allergies? Matted, woven, knitted, felted or fleeced? Will it get too hot? Handmade or machine produced? What about microfibre and, even, electric? With the range of options on the market today, you should be able to find whatever you desire. You can even find one with sleeves, called a ‘slanket’ – not that it’s advisable to leave the house wearing a sleeved blanket.

If you’re having a Linus day and can’t get by without your blanket, rather take your cue from Louis Vuitton. Developing the hipster oversized scarf trend to its supersized conclusion, swanky men and women were seen wearing blankets across their shoulders and around their necks during the European winter. However, with Louis Vuitton’s blanky going for US$1 260 (about R12 600), it’s not likely to take off here any time soon.

Mzansi is the original home of blanket fashion. Many African people use blankets as cultural identifiers. Checked Masai blankets are widely known, and Zulu and Xhosa people also make use of blankets during initiation ceremonies and other rituals. The Basotho people in Lesotho and the Free State wear their tribal blankets throughout the year.

Deeply embedded in the Basotho culture, blankets are differentiated through striking colours and motifs, which indicate special occasions and social status. Originally produced in Britain, the blankets are now produced locally based on the patterns and colours integrated by the Basotho. To this day, the blankets are still made of 90% wool and 10% cotton, making them fire and rain resistant. Shnu Tribal & Basotho Blankets produce beautiful heirloom blankets, with royalties going to the Basotho nation.

Breathing new life into traditional blankets is young fashion designer Thabo Makhetha. Born in Lesotho and now based in Port Elizabeth, she showed a striking range of clothes and accessories made from Basotho blankets at this year’s Design Indaba Expo.

Laduma Ngxokolo, who’s known for his Xhosa-themed Fair Isle knit jerseys, has also collaborated with mohair weaving company Hinterveld on a range of blankets inspired by African culture, from the corn blankets of the Sotho to the burnt orange blankets of the Xhosa and the colourful throws of the Ndebele.

Just a rectangular piece of cloth – that’s all a blanket entails. Native Americans leave a flaw in the weaving to let the soul out, while Nasa coats plastic with a metallic film to create space blankets that conserve body heat in emergencies. So simple, so versatile, so indispensable.

First published in iMagazine and VISI, 5 August 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