Archives for the month of: June, 2011

Heart of the Home is the name of the Weekend Argus’s new monthly decor supplement. Below are some photos I took at a photoshoot for an article I’ve done for the supplement this coming Saturday.

While the photo’s of the Tulip Chairs and Table and the Egg Chair and Anglepoise Lamp are from Mid-Century Modern, the very kind owners, Gawain and Erndst, allowed us to use their shop to photograph more affordable mid century furniture and home ware from hoolie-hah.


A climate change conference in the city this week looked at how funding could be used to mitigate the impact of climate change in developing countries. One session focused on how public transport and emphasising non-motorised transport in city planning could address social issues while also reducing carbon emissions from cars.

Given that the focus was finding pro-poor interventions, and that presentations from other developing countries focused on solutions they were implementing, a presentation by our city representatives was pretty nauseating starting as it did with a long touristy presentation of Cape Town’s beauty and with the official saying: “We’re very proud of our city. It’s a safe, secure, walkable, human city,”  and added, “we’re also proud of our use of bicycles.” Tell that to the vast majority of Cape Town residents who don’t share Mr Stephen Granger’s parallel universe.  

No wonder the conference moderator expressed surprise at the idea that there are 3.8 million inhabitants of our city. In Cape Town, Mr Tumiwa, we keep citizens out of the city and like to pretend that it’s clean, green and pristine for everyone.

Here’s a blog post I did for the conference.


“Cities are the future” – a growing cry from urbanists and planners globally as projections suggest that by 2050 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas; most in burgeoning, unserviced informal settlements. Connecting urban populations to economic and education opportunities and goods and services is a critical consideration for the future. So the panel on transport at the Climate Investment Fund conference with its Delivering Climate Smart Mobility  theme was an interesting prospect.

The panel focused on how to balance the expanding demand for transport and increase in freight volumes, with its high carbon emissions.

The transport sector is already the highest generator of carbon emissions. So the fact that the the sector has not traditionally been included in negotiations around climate change, as panel moderator Samuel Tumiwa‘s points out, indicates a rather dangerous omission.

Jamie Leather, Principal Transport Specialist, of the Asia Development Bank (ADB) says that poor transport systems impact badly on economic development, equitable access and quality of life.  Sound familiar?

His solutions come in the form of a mantra: Avoid, Shift, Improve.

By understanding the direct relationship between land use and the need to travel, and by improving access to goods and services, travel can be avoided, he says. Shifting to more non-motorised transport and public transport  will  have a radical effect on carbon emissions while also having substantial social and economic spinoffs, provided social issues like safety and security for pedestrians are also addressed. Advances in fuel and technology can help improve vehicles themselves with direct environmental impact.

Given that these concerns relate directly to cities in the developing world, they should resonate deeply in Cape Town, especially at a time when the municipality is taking a beating for not prioritising the eastern metro where the majority of Capetonians live, in the roll-out of its integrated rapid transport system. A pity then that Cape Town’s new mayor couldn’t be here to lend weight, or at least explain, Cape Town’s vision – if it has one – for ensuring that the IRT is a pro-poor intervention that will link the city’s residents relegated to the urban periphery, to economic opportunities and social services,

Instead a city environmental official began by showing a raft of slides of Cape Town’s natural beauty – no people here to distract from our urban reality then,  and invited delegates to enjoy the safe, secure, walkable city. “We’re very proud of our city,” he said. “It’s a walkable, human city,”  and added, “we’re also proud of our use of bicycles.” Tell that to the vast majority of Cape Town residents who don’t share Mr Granger’s parallel universe. It was left to the director of transport for the City of Cape Town who nodded vigorously at a question about the City’s Mayoral Committee putting densification and urban fringe development policy proposals on the backburner despite their impact on sustainability and implications for transport  – but alas offered no answers. Instead she claimed for Cape Town the coup of putting transport on the local, provincial and national agenda and acknowledged that in spite of our new IRT system, car ownership is growing.

This article was published in the Cape Argus on 24 June 2011


Lorelle Bell

Cape Town has been shortlisted for the World Design Capital 2014 award, one of three with Dublin and Bilbao out of 52 global cities chosen by Icsid (the International Council for Societies of Industrial Design). 

The implications of winning this award,  given to cities which use design in their social, economic and cultural development, are enormous.  Seoul, as World Design Capital 2010, underscored both the economic benefits from increased designer and general tourism flowing from the global exposure of its design capability, as well as an improvement in the quality of life for Seoul’s urban dwellers as a result of the enormous public investment in transforming into a greener, more culturally sensitive city.

Far beyond this kind of impact, World Design Capital status in 2014 could catalyse a major public assumption of design as a tool for tackling social and economic challenges in Cape Town, as well as throughout South Africa and continental Africa. Understanding design and its capacity for developing solutions is key to this.
Already there are significant design initiatives on the continent – many emanating from Cape Town – that illustrate our capacity for using design for transformation and in the realisation of our – and in fact Africa’s – enormous potential.
But, as Mugendi M’Rithaa, Kenyan-born Professor of Industrial Design at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and a member of Icsid’s board,  points out, “Africa doesn’t tell its own stories often enough, particularly its success stories”.
And that is true of Cape Town and South Africa. One of the implications of this tendency is the missed opportunity for learning from our successes and scaling them for wider application.
Cape Town, for example, is the home of …XYZ Design, Africa’s pre-eminent Industrial Design Consultancy, the only corporate member of Icsid on the continent and founder members, with M’Rithaa, of Design With Africa. 
Combining qualifications, skills and expertise in Design, Industrial Design, Engineering, Business and Information Technology, XYZ’s innovation has resulted in over 100 products in the company’s 10 years of existence, ranging from high-tech portable kiosks that allow wireless and cashless online transactions using bank cards for real-time payment in remote areas, to the Modular Traffic Lights System that collapses on impact making it arguably the safest of its kind in the world. Other innovations from the consultancy include a compact baby monitor that clips onto nappies, the 4SECS Condom Applicator in its funky packaging, and a wind-up radio.
Their designs are lauded internationally and form part of permanent collections at prestigious institutions like New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum. Over the past decade they’ve received more than 20 awards from the South African Bureau of Standards’ (SABS) Design Institute. 
But it is their design methodology that resonates best with design’s capacity for transformation. XYZ follows the widely-recognised iterative design process that moves from a need to the consideration of all constraints to designing a solution which is communicated and tested, and ultimately refined. To this process, however, they add a design ethos that ensures that through in-depth research, the context is deeply understood; and then appropriate, effective, scalable designs are developed in response.
As proponents of socially-responsive and socially-responsible design, which emphasizes design that addresses social needs while remaining cognisant of the social, economic, cultural and geopolitical contexts of the communities in which they’re applied, XYZ favours participatory design and co-design methods. Illustrative of this is the team’s participation in Icsid InterDesign workshops. The last one held in South Africa was on sustainable rural transport, in Rustenburg in 2005, and resulted from a request by the North-West Provincial government to SABS’ Design Institute for assistance with developing tender specifications for a donkey cart for specific local uses. SABS facilitated a two-week workshop, Sustainable Rural Transport – Technology for Developing Countries, which involved designers from South Africa and 16 other countries looking at ways in which appropriate technology and good design could be harnessed to address mobility challenges of developing communities.
Participating designers worked with local communities, government institutions and industry.
The National Department of Transport provided valuable research data and information on issues surrounding rural transport and enabled contact with provincial and municipal structures. Experts in social, gender and technical topics and issues were consulted as were institutions like the CSIR, intellectual property lawyers, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals (NSPCA), bicycle manufacturing companies and NGOs.Research revealed that for 60% of rural households in South Africa motorised public transport was either unavailable or inaccessible. Delivering effective rural transport could drive sustainable economic development and improve access to social services in rural areas.
Designers worked in three focus areas: Bicycles and TricyclesAnimal-drawn Carts and Alternative Modes of Transport. Roelf Mulder of XYZ led the Bicycles and Tricycles workshop. Participating rural communities originally involved in the design workshop tested prototypes for functionality and social acceptability. A number of the design concepts created were then developed into prototypes under SABS management with funding provided by the National Department of Transport.

XYZ was commissioned to develop the modular bicycle idea. The design criteria were that the bicycle had to be easily built with simple, accessible components, and without gears, and easily maintained and repaired in an isolated rural environment. XYZ’s modular bicycle can be assembled in a variety of ways, depending on the user’s needs. For example, the bike can be a conventional two-wheeler, it can transform into a tricycle, a tandem, or even two side-by-side bicycles with a materials-carrying platform bolted between them. Many of the materials suggested by the bicycle’s designers are recycled. Another feature of the bicycle is that it can be built for both male and female cyclists.
According to Mulder, “The idea lends itself to a franchise operation geared towards rural entrepreneurial development. A franchisee could open a shop stocked with the bicycle’s components and assemble them to order.“With basic welding skills, the franchisee could repair the bicycles as well,” he adds. The bicycles must continue to be useable if factory-made components are unavailable,” says Mulder. He further adds that “. . . with our structured Western thinking we like to package everything but why can’t we leave creativity to be creative?” In keeping with the non-prescriptive approach of participatory and co-design methods,  the modular bicycle is not a polished solution but a solution that respects the ingenuity of the user, allowing the user to construct a bicycle that addresses his/her specific needs at that time. “We see these bicycles being used to carry water containers, building materials, or patients to clinics and goods to market. People’s livelihoods will depend on them so they cannot remain idle because a component is unavailable”. The Department of Transport is keen for successful prototypes to be commercialised, and has expressed a willingness to facilitate the process where needed. 
XYZ’s commitment to Africa’s design capability is manifest in its initiation and founding of Design With Africa (DWA) in 2009 as a platform for sharing, debate and cooperation among designers on the continent as well as DWA’s partners and designers all over the world, who have an interest in Africa. Its focus is on promoting design as a strategic tool for development in Africa and for showcasing African design talent and success stories. DWA favours a non-prescriptive approach which allows African problems to be solved in a uniquely African manner. 
Designers from Europe and the US are increasingly looking to Africa, South America and Asia for opportunities to design solutions for developing economies, as changing economic and ecological environments around the globe increasingly require socially responsive, responsible design. Africa’s development, as M’Rithaaattests, is a wonderful sandbox in which to discover and develop design solutions. But Africa needs to guard against being a sandbox in which its own designers do not get to play.
Against the prevailing negative perception of Africa, Africa’s advances are often overlooked. As M’Rithaa writes on Design With Africa, “Ours is arguably the richest continent in terms of natural resources with some of the world’s fastest growing economies located here. For example, Ghana is expected to lead the pack in actual GDP growth of about 20% in 2011 – a growth ostensibly driven by newly discovered oil finds. Not all of Africa’s economic growth is linked to the extraction of raw materials. For example, Ethiopia, which until recently was devastated by perennial drought and pervasive famine, is projected to increase its GDP on the strength of its agricultural sector. 
Interestingly, approximately half of the top 12 fastest growing economies this year are from our continent. Similarly, Africa has the fastest growing ICT and mobile telephony markets anywhere in the world with exciting Internet-based developments happening in cities like Nairobi.”Yet the perception of Africa’s weakness and failures persist.”
Being the custodians and channels of our own stories and ensuring that our design assets and successes are shared in the public domain, are critical to us assuming a leadership position in socially responsive, responsible design.

Becoming World Design Capital in 2014 needs to mean more than an increase in exposure and visitor numbers for Cape Town in that year. Public understanding of design and public sector recognition of design’s transformative potential can mean that we benefit from design thinking for decades to come.


…XYZ Design and Design With Africa (DWA)‘s bicycle and cart has just been chosen for this year’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s DESIGN WITH THE OTHER 90%: CITIES  exhibition. Read the Cape Argus today.

XYZ’s modular bicyle design included in Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum exhibition
Lorelle Bell
Cape Town-based Industrial Design firm …XYZ Design has added another notch to its extensive international design accolade belt.

The company’s design of a modular bicycle and cart has been chosen for inclusion in an exhibition of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York to be held at the United Nations, in partnership with the UN’s Academic Impact global initiative, from 15 October 2011 to 9 January 2012.

The design, a bicycle that is easily and cost-effectively modified for use in remote areas where people have little access to motorised and public transport, will be part of Cooper-Hewitt’s  “Design with the Other 90%: CITIES” exhibition series.
Design with the Other 90% reflects a growing pre-occupation among designers with design’s capacity for solving social problems. Traditionally design served 10 % of the population; hence its hitherto elitist status. But this has changed in the 21st century – in tandem with the huge leap in growth of cities around the globe – as designers increasingly submit design to the service of development and seek to work with underserved communities to find effective, affordable and appropriate solutions to urban challenges.
The Cooper-Hewitt’s “Design with the Other 90%: CITIES” exhibition series aims to show how design “can address the world’s most critical issues.” The 5,000 square foot exhibition space will display projects and products that focus on designs informed by poor communities, and will address issues such as alternative housing, low-cost clean water, accessible education initiatives, sanitation and solid-waste management, transportation solutions, innovative systems and infrastructure, and urban design and planning.
Putting people at the centre of design is imperative in a Design with the Other 90% approach This includes communities in determining the design solutions through participatory or co-design processes.
Industrial designer Roelf Mulder (pictured top), XYZ’s managing director, led the design team who developed the bicycle and cart as part of a workshop on Sustainable Rural Transport – Technology for Developing Countries. The modular bicycle was designed for easy assembly and maintenance without requiring specialist skills or equipment.  The delivery of rural transport infrastructure and services could be a significant catalyst for sustainable economic development and improved social access and poverty alleviation in South Africa’s outlying areas. The national Department of Transport provided funding for the development of prototypes.
XYZ designs have featured in numerous other global design exhibitions including  the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Triennial in 2010, the EXD09 exhibition in Lisbon, Portugal in 2009, the New Africa design exhibition in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2007, the Universal Forum of Culture exhibition in Barcelona, Spain and the Romad+design piu exhibition in Rome, Italy in 2006.
Locally XYZ’s 4SECS condom applicator won the Design Indaba’s “most beautiful object” award in 2007, and its designs have been part of the permanent collections of the MOMA  since 2005 and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London since 1998.

For this of you who didn’t see this article on Marlon Parker in the Weekend Argus on Saturday …

When Marlon Parker designed a cell-phone programme to help provide encouragement and support to a friend struggling with drug abuse, little did he dream that it would lead to the development of RLabs (Reconstructed Living Lab), a Bridgetown-based initiative that would be consulted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for assistance in reaching people with emergency information after the earthquake in Indonesia last year.

Now RLabs has a global network of more than 500,000 people and growing, connected to advice and counseling through social media on a communication platform that Parker and his team designed for mobile phones.

Three years ago this graduate and (until recently) lecturer in the Department of Information Technology at the Cape Peninsula University was exploring as part of his PhD studies, the potential of innovation, using information technology and design methodology, to  help address social challenges in poor communities. He wanted to see whether people, using what was available to them, could transform their lives.

On a continent with relatively low levels of access to the internet via personal computers, the uptake of mobile telephony is nevertheless substantial and endemic. That’s why a socially-responsive design for cellphones, using the very affordable and accessible MXIt messaging facility, made sense.

And why design – with its capacity for taking advances in technology and translating it into domestic and local use – is so powerful.

From its early success with one drug abuser, R-Labs, which empowers recovered drug addicts, former gang members and people in the community to provide mobile counseling, has reached over 170,000 people affected by drugs throughout Southern Africa.

Today RLabs, with its headquarters in Bridgetown, Athlone is what Parker likes to refer to as “a global movement”, with activity in Malaysia, Singapore, Finland, Netherlands and the UK where programmes using social media offer support to marginalised individuals.  In Finland the system is used to reach young people at risk, in Amsterdam for teenage pregnancies and in the UK it’s used in work with refugees. Plans are afoot for expansion into  Namibia, Kenya, Nigeria, the US, Haiti and Brazil “hopefully within this year still, with the goal of being active on  every continent by 2012.”

Funding from the Vodacom Foundation and SAFIPA (South Africa-Finland Knowledge Partnership on ICT), and a partnership with MXit have enabled RLabs to extend their support services to issues such as depression, HIV Aids, abuse and careers advice by RLab counsellors as well as through links with organisations like the National Aids helpline.

It has also made training and access to other social media tools, like Facebook, blogging and Youtube, possible. And flying in the face of popular perception of social media mavens, it’s middle-aged to elderly mothers from poor communities, often with limited formal education, who through RLabs’ Moms 2. – 4. programmes, are online: recording and sharing their stories and counseling vulnerable children and families.

This group underscored the problem of unemployment which Parker and RLabs are attempting to address by packaging their skills in internet  surfing and social media  to companies needing to people to implement social media strategies. “Through selling the services of what we call our Social Media Factory, we’ve been able to fund courses and give people an income,” he explains. With a full-time team of 18 people RLabs now runs its own academy and Parker, whose Information Technology expertise ranges from education to entrepreneurship, has left academia to head the organisation full time.

The academy has an enrollment of 150 who receive training in social media, design, entrepreneurship, social and mobile development, community development, information- and computer-literacy towards employment and support for business start-ups.  Training is free and the learners who range from teenagers to the elderly receive a meal or snack.

The thread running through Marlon Parker’s conversation is the communication of a message of hope. The design philosophy that underpins this is that solutions to social challenges must be lodged in an understanding of the context and of people and how they’re connected to each other and to use this knowledge to design solutions.

Parker speaks of understanding the ecosystems in which people operate, and finding the connections and synergies to effect change. It’s clear that he’s used an understanding of connections and synergies to realise RLabs’ potential so rapidly.

The academy for example is funded through other projects. An RLabs research institute partners about 18 universities globally to provide information on technology, design and innovation  projects. Its network of more than 500,000 people attracts research commissions from industry for testing brands quickly. Academic and scientific institutions, community organisations and government  all tap into RLabs for research on what’s happening on the ground.

RLabs also consults to organisations like the World Bank and WHO, and develops products which it sells. For example, with seed funding from SAFIPA, Parker is commercialising the mobile cellphone platform as Jamiix to take advantage of its application to contact centers based on mobile chat and social networks instead of voice calling.  “Jamiix currently has operations in Malaysia, the UK and Finland – another product developed on the Cape Flats – being used worldwide,” says Parker.

But his focus remains socially responsive interventions and he highlights a project in which he is currently engaged. “We’re working with CPUT Industrial Design students who are doing a Masters in Interactive Design and Malmo University in Sweden with a focus on interaction and how we can use design, technology and innovation to bring about change in communities.  Again, our focus is the Athlone area for design case studies that can be scaled to other communities all over the world.”

at their field office …

The young designer/maker team of Luke Pedersen (standing left) and James Lennard have been making their mark internationally with their iconic “bucket” stools and flatpack furniture that melds “cool” with integrity in their clean lines and celebration of the features of the materials they use. 

No disguising of the woodgrain of utilitarian woods like local pine, here!

Their designs grace the  venture they started late last year. Field Office  is a coffee shop cum showroom which features Pedersen+Lennard furniture and homewares as shop fittings and stock on display.

On a recent visit I made the mistake of arriving at lunch time. The place was pumping as young designers gathered there over great Deluxe coffee – very more-ish and at R10 a cup great value for money too. Many are there taking advantage of their free wi-fi. But the fabulous food created by the wily Will is a drawcard too.

So I returned on another day to take photographs of the place and promptly fell in love with this runner  from 2 Birds Landing in Port Elizabeth.

Bicycles are a central feature in the design duo’s lives.  It’s how they commute between homes in Woodstock, a workshop in Salt River and their office extension at Field Office. But they’ve also been known to have a range of vintage models on sale here.  Their Bikeshelf is a practical storage solution for small spaces.

Here Luke Peddersen, graduate of  the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and Malmo University, Sweden,

chats to hoolie-hah about design.

DESIGN IS … Design means a certain way of thinking that is more specific than general. A consideration of more factors and influences on a particular problem orneed that arises. It’s not a buzz-word ,but a way of seeing things.

I LIVE … I live in Woodstock with my best friend and wife Jen, an artist and art teacher. This is our eigth year in the area and we’ve enjoyed seeing a lot of change. We live in a victorian semi and are planning a renovation for our new house across the road, we’re not moving far! We love the people of Woodstock, our daily conversations with Boet & Sina two of the most interesting and thoughtful people on earth, who share our front stoep.

OUR HOUSE … is a mix of antiques and my own work, mostly furniture I built while renovating it so there is a raw feeling to it. This is another way of saying ‘budget’ and we love it. Our new home is planned around a very long dining table that is an essential part of our home.

I GET AROUND … I use my 1955 Swiss Army Bicycle to get between home, work and the Field Office – the rainy days are like a sweet memory of our time living in Sweden so I don’t mind them too much!

I WORK … Our workshop is in Salt River. It’s where we work, though it feels more like play. I enjoy the area and its many small factories and we have made a lot of good friends with some artisans who still know how to work with their hands!

My other office is our cafe/showroom the Field Office where we meet clients and have lunch, hanging out with Will (the manager) is like combining a meal of your favorite food with comedy!

I PLAY … I enjoy a lot of rituals. They are a good way of celebrating the richness of life. An early weekly coffee at Espresso Lab with my mates. Exploring by bicycle. Planning trips. Street banter with familiar faces in Woodstock. Kirstenbosch. My favorite people to watch are the bergie’s outside Field Office, I like imagining what their lives were before.

I LOVE … I enjoy seeing new craft that has been considered a bit more in terms of materials and proportion. I’m always inspired by the street art around Woodstock, it is really developing in terms of location and style. I like that the awareness and support for local designers is growing and hope that there can be more togetherness in this. The city is a great place to work as we have our own way of living and a wide range of influences, but especially the natural beauty.

Three cool Cape Town designs that are

LOCAL (design and manufacture), AFFORDABLE, GORGEOUS.

From left to right Thingking’s bracketlight (>R100), Indalo’s small felt bowl/candle holder (about R200) and Pedersen+Lennard’s three hooks (>R200).

pic - Cape Town Fashion Council

Award-winning fashion designer of the Native range, a street wear brand suggestive of his love of sport and music, Craig Native says he strives for authenticity in his design and that he is strongly influenced by his typical “working class, Afrikaans ‘coloured’ household where there is a rich and complex urban culture that is uniquely African.”

Craig Native who has just shown at the Durban Fashion Extravaganza 2011 (2 – 4 June) takes on design in the city.

DESIGN IS … Being African, its hard not to be influenced by contemporary South African culture.  Be it politics, art, sport, I’m rooted in South African influences. Everyone seems to think they’re cool because they replicated a chair out of Wallpaper magazine . We’ve got enough going on in SA to be original.

Design is my life. It’s the unspoken catalyst to reaching people without bias or prejudice.

I LIVE … in Three anchor bay, Cape town where I have the most amazing view from my balcony looking out to the sea. It’s from the late 70s /early 80s. Bit kitsch, reminds me of old East Berlin flats.

ON MY WALLS … My favourite object at home is a wall hanging from an Ndebele artisan. Also, framed posters of two exhibitions from Copenhagen  and  a picture of Alexanderplatz subway station in Berlin.

I GET AROUND … I drive a Chrysler 2.4 limited edition

AT WORK … my style is eclectic and I work best surrounded by inspiring “off centre” imagery. I’m not a big fan of cubicle accountant style geometry.

FOR FUN … I like sport, dee-jaying and spending time with my family. I like Knead bakery for coffee and watch movies at home.  I’ve always like Savoy Cabbage and any sushi bar will do.

I LIKE CHILLING OUT … at home, listening to music. I deejay so playing music wherever is great. I also like the see and the Biscuit Mill and meeting friends in parks.

FOR PEOPLE WATCHING … I like Long and Kloof street  and Mzoli’s.

DESIGN LOVES ... I like anyone challenging norms

DESIGNERS … I love the new generation of unknown designers who have no poison-filled preconceptions of what is right and what is wrong.

DESIGNS ... I’m loving wood at the moment.

CAPE TOWN DESIGN … I love the kids who are mixing up there grandma’s closet with their own.

But in Cape Town there’s a lack of  “MIX BREDIE” of cultures in design.

Stepping up to the future with bold designs

Full text of the article that appeared in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 28 May 2011.


Together  these are usually descriptors of places rather than people. But when you’re Mokena Makeka, young Cape Town-based architect with an exciting project portfolio, a long list of  accolades, and an increasing influence on thinking on urbanism and architecture locally and globally, the description applies.

From his design of the upgrading of the Cape Town Station to a community centre in Khayelitsha and the Shared Services Centre in Athlone, Makeka’s work has a major impact on public life in Cape Town.

His first public project was the upgrading of a police station in Retreat on a limited budget. His design challenged stereotypical state architecture and honoured the dignity of the people working and having to visit the facility, and the neighborhood in which it is located,  For this project Makeka won the  Cape Institute for Architecture (CIFA) 2007 Award for cutting edge design to add to his South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP) medal for the best work over six years of academic study while he was an architectural student at the University of Cape Town. He has twice received a Cape Institute of Architects Award of Merit, won the Johnnie Walker Celebrating Strides Awards in Design in 2010 and has been selected among 100 architects globally to be a part of the Ordos 100, an ambitious project to develop 100 houses in Ordos in China, designed by 100 acclaimed architects from 27 different countries.

He does not shy away from controversy in reflecting on the state of design in Cape Town.

“I think that design has become popular  quickly, but the public is still not educated about what design is, why it is necessary and that the best designs emerge when the designer has been given real trust and responsibility to design.

Explaining that design is a discipline that responds to people’s needs and to the context and culture in which it happens, Makeka elaborates, “Design is a considered way of thinking and acting in the world, and the designed product is an outcome of that thinking. “People think that first they have to define the desired solution and then hire or tell the designer to make it work, when in fact they need to define the need (or problem) and then hire the designer to ask the right questions in order to identify the most appropriate, effective solutions. Real designers are leaders and drivers of change, not passive consultants waiting for, and uncritical of, the brief or client instruction.

“Cape Town design,” he states, “Could be more aggressive about showing us all how we can become better human beings through design. We  do not celebrate our designers enough as a society or appreciate  their impact on the economy. Designers shape tastes and influence consumer habits.

‘I hate it when Cape Town designers let non-designers  drive the design agenda far too much and speak on their behalf . I also hate it when designers are treated as commodities to be used at others’ disposal. Designers are very skilled creatives who can transform our lives through their ingenuity and insight.  Designers are pioneers and sometimes need to rock the boat to get the fleet moving,” he says.

But designers can also be their own worst enemies, he points out, “Many designers in Cape Town do not understand that constructive criticism is what helps produce better designs and designers. Because we live in a small city with limited resources, competition amongst designers can be more acrimonious and territorial than is necessary.  Fragile egos see critique as personal affronts. This is unhelpful. We as a design community are still developing the understanding that a sense of generosity and  excellence is what we should be pursuing.”

“Design in this city is often confused and presented as if it is solely about products, the image of a building, or the lamp.  So when we showcase design, more effort should be placed on the process and the thinking which precedes the product. ”

Makeka sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council for Design, is an external examiner at the Columbia University School of architecture and lectures at the University of Cape Town.

And it is his visionary insights on design issues ranging from sustainability to socially-responsive design and culture and public spaces, that are inspiring designers, as evinced in a recent talk at graduation day at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Faculty of Design and Informatics in which he spoke on Design in the City and its potential for good.

In conversation with Mokena.

I LIVE …  in a loft apartment in Long Street in the Cape Town CBD. I think Long Street is the most progressive  model of  cosmopolitan urban living and street life in the country. Although it’s imperfect in many ways, there are many clues about how to make South African cities work in a resilient and sustainable manner in Long street.

In my your home I love my collection of model fighter jets and Star Wars memorabilia…and my horror novel collection….and my bonsai tree.

On the walls I have black and white photographs  of Manhattan in the 1950s  and mid-1930s.  The optimism of a society expressed in the making of civic buildings is powerful and outlives the egos that often are required to make these buildings possible.   I admire the boldness of these bygone eras, and sometimes wish that we could find our own language of boldness and optimism in the way that we make our cities and imagine ourselves. Progress and fear often cancel each other out and nobody wins if pessimism drives our social imagination.

I GET AROUND … I walk whenever I can and drive a black BMW Z3.

I WORK … I run and own my own atelier,  Makekadesignlab. My office is off St George’s Mall. It’s a compact double volume creative space in a building that struggles to be mixed use..a bit messy at times…always interesting…never too relaxed. I like the fact that  the city life is on our doorstep, but I can also escape the city in a few quick steps… never too far from the action with the station a two-minute walk away…proximity to stimulation is an important feature of my creative process and that of my staff.

A DESIGN OF MY OWN THAT I LIKE BEST … It’s the community centre in Khayelitsha.  It’s an optimistic building, it anticipates a better future will emerge. But what was built was not exactly what I intended. It was meant to be one of four civic buildings that would work of a common public realm and create a new public square for culture.

DESIGN IS … Design has the capacity to address people’s needs effectively and appropriately. Access to good design should be a human right.

I LOVE DESIGN …  which is bold and takes us a step further from what we already know.  I hate timid designs which are one-dimensional and fail to  build knowledge and inspire people.

MY FAVOURITE DESIGN … It’s actually a bicycle called the Ciclotte. Also I like Mies van de Rohe’s Barcelona pavilion

LOCAL DESIGNERS I LOVE … Design Champion Ravi Naidoo, Byron Qually industrial designer and Heath Nash lighting designer.

FOR FUN  … I love to read and make music, sketch buildings for which the client has not yet emerged. I love playing with my baby, teaching her to swim, grilling succulent meats, hanging out with the wife, watching fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and popular culture comedy. I find  so called ‘low-brow’ cultural production conceptually interesting and insightful.

I like  Andiamo, Pepenero, Origins for coffee …but I will never travel for coffee. I will travel for friends and coffee.

I watch movies at  Canal Walk – the selection is simply the widest, and the seating ergonomics are the best.

And eat out at Chef Pons, Caveau, any Thai place, Balduccis, Bukhara and l love ordering in from Colcachio and Da Vinci.

I chill out wherever there is a wifi spot a mojito and a buzz.  I love  90’s hip hop and classical ( Beethoven) and 1980’s rock, 1960’s soul and any music with attitude and lyrics…songs must tell a story to music for me…so mindless dance repels me. I meet friends at their homes…

I also like Pepperclub,Cape Quarter, Long Street, Deer Park Cafe, friends’ homes…

My favorite place to people-watch is Long street – no question…Long Street Cafe.


Who woulda thunk that these wire garden sets so ubiquitous in our suburban youths (okay our family didn’t have space for a set when we lived in Coleridge Road, Salt  River, but still) would be going for R1500 now? Yip, that’s the price of this table and chairs at The Railway House in Kalk Bay.

I think it was the colours of the pieces at The Railway House that appealed to me the most. Look how gorgeous this soft-green iron bedstead looks against the coral coloured walls. (Never mind that I’m a white wall person myself.)

The card on the middle photo says something about a gentleman’s bell – can you just picture the scene?

We’d headed over the mountain to the False Bay coast on a rainy Sunday morning (yes, it started out being rainy) to check out the bluebird garage vintage market in Muizenberg. It wasn’t open, so, with a brief visit to the Sunday Market in the old post office building where the views of the sea turned out to be more alluring, we headed further south to Kalk Bay.

Now, although Kalk Bay is home to  The Olympia Cafe, one of my all time favourite spots for lunch and coffee; and even though Chilean architect Antonio Zaninovic (above centre) whom I’d interviewed for an article in the February issue of House and Garden, was lunching there with friends, I was on a mission to find another of my current addictions, fried snoek and chips.

So off to Kalkies where the  snoek and chips were R25. Old friends, sisters Merle (pictured above left) and Jenny Brown, were there with their families, as were architect couple Minette and Michael Bell (no relation) and their family.

Sylvia Williams tried to persuade us to buy some fresh yellow tail – the last of a catch landed about ten minutes earluer. But I had other fish to fry – places to go and things to see.

Like Kalk Bay Antiques where this Le Corbusier chaise remake, manufactured under license in Italy in 2000, is going for R8000. Mid-century originals would cost a wack more.

I loved this pair of 1950s Scandinavian style armchairs in original upholstery for R3000 and below the 1960s chrome ball light chandelier.

But it was the sight of the enamel kettles that excited me the most, like this orange one by Arabia below right.

And for the first time I got to see one by Antti Nurmesniemi of Finland in the flesh. (You can read more about these on blogger Bloesem’s post on vintage enamel.) At R1500, it was far too rich for my blood. Don’t expect to find bargains at Kalk Bay Antiques. What you will find is some good mid-century pieces and a very knowledgeable owner in Ingrid Aron.

Where you might pick up a bargain is at the Kalk Bay Trading Post. This ice bucket from the design house of Bodum, Switzerland was on sale for R145. A yellow one was on sale at Kalk Bay Antiques for R350. (If you’re interested in a yellow one, hoolie-hah the shop is selling one for R150.)

But you’d have to have a serious krap around in there.

The Cook’s Room up Tin pan alley had these two beautiful olive green items. I have a butter dish that colour in a similar design to the coffee pot. But again, at R300 for the toast stand and R350 for the coffee pot, and with little information on its origins, they were just too pricey for me. I’ve visited this trove of kitchenalia before when it seemed to have far more on offer.

Owner Cheryl has plans to extend the vintage range with a range of “upcycled” enamel ware and shabby chic linens. I’d prefer it of course if she stuck to the 50s kitchen, but will be interested to see how she does.

Meanwhile my real find this weekend was this set of Russel Wright pottery spotted marked down from R650 at Milnerton Market in Saturday’s pouring rain. Wicked!