Mother city births design

2013-09-10 10:00

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2014’s World Design Capital wants design to improve lives.

Drenched and shivering passers-by were stunned when a shack popped up on the pavement outside Cape Town’s City Hall last week.

Their surprise quickly turned to admiration when they stepped inside e-khaya, a R10?000 fireproof shack built from long narrow sandbags, insulating polystyrene and cement.

“I would love a house like that. Where can I buy one?” asked one man from Khayelitsha, Moses Makwabe.

e-khaya was one of hundreds of designs on display at Cape Town’s Open Design expo, a showcase for South African ingenuity in the run-up to the city formally assuming the mantle of World Design Capital next year.

Cape Town won the bid with the International Design Alliance – which aims to use “design as tool for social, cultural and economic development” – against worthy opponents such as Bilbao, Spain, and Dublin, Ireland.

It may all sound a little esoteric, but World Design Capital 2014’s head curator Paul Duncan – who is also head of design for Woolworths homeware – puts it simply:

“Our mission is to identify and nurture projects that offer tangible evidence of how design can improve lives, within our unique context.”

Duncan said more than 1?200 projects have been submitted and were being assessed for participation in next year’s World Design Capital 2014 campaign.

Housing was top of mind in Cape Town last week as freezing weather and rain lashed the city, causing floods that wrecked thousands of homes in townships.

Duncan said there were “plenty” of projects submitted that dealt with housing and, particularly, shacks.

“If we assume that shacks are probably here to stay, we can make a leap of faith and start to address ways to make life in them dignified. We have to make them user-friendly, heat them, cool them, make them safe for children,” he said.

Open Design also hosted a seminar at City Hall last week titled Designing our Democracy.

There, architect Thorsten Deckler put SA’s housing backlog at 2.3?million homes.

He underlined the universal perils of gentrification. “The problem with gentrification, from Johannesburg to Cape Town and Berlin, is that it brings about displacement,” he said.

“We have come to realise that informal settlements cannot be eradicated. We simply have to make them more livable.”

Cape Town’s mayor, Patricia de Lille, told City Press that World Design Capital 2014 set a welcome deadline for getting things done.

“It’s an ideal opportunity to recommit and streamline our efforts to realise the kind of city we envisage living in,” she said.

Entrepreneur Johnny Anderton founded the e-khaya project in Hout Bay after yet another fire ripped through the area’s Imizamo Yethu township last year.

He told City Press: “One of our staff members, Nokubonga, lost her shack in that fire.

“I realised we have to find a way to better adapt existing technology to come up with a solution for these people.”

e-khaya is shaped by a reusable frame and its walls are made of narrow bags filled with sand, which are stacked and coated with layers of insulating polystyrene and cement.

A solar platform on the roof generates power for light and the charging of cellphones, while 50m of pipe coiled on the roof will provide up to 60 litres of hot water per day.

e-khaya can be built up from the ground by half a metre, which Anderton says will help protect against flooding.

He hopes to put the dwellings on sale for between R10?000 and R13?000 as soon as the human settlements department sorts out some red tape.

He praised Western Cape Premier Helen Zille for helping to streamline the process.

Housing wasn’t the only issue on the agenda, of course. The showcase included innovations across a variety of fields, including design in media, education and healthcare.

Cape Town company XYZ had several of its medical designs on show, including a “ritual circumcision device” and its world-famous condom applicator.

The six-step circumcision procedure is “designed for simple, easy and intuitive administration by initiates themselves, and to complement the activities of traditional doctors”, the company says.

Its condom applicator – which apparently gets a user ready for safe sex in just four seconds – made international headlines and won an SA Bureau of Standards Design Excellence Award in 2008.

Another design on display was Elizabeth Scharpf and Julian Kayibanda’s she28 campaign from Rwanda, which provides affordable ecofriendly menstrual pads to women in poor communities.

The campaign’s tag line is: “Because every 28 days, a girl’s life should not have to stop.”

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