Archives for category: Design Projects
By Lorelle Bell
CONDE NAST House&Garden SA, August 2011
It is a rare South African collaboration between business and art that allows the space for arts and enterprise that is Union House in Commercial Street, Cape Town. Behind the closed-off facade of the three-story canary yellow heritage listed building, the doors to Union House open to reveal an air of enviable creative industry on the part of resident artists and artisans.
For this is home to the Spier Arts Academy and Spier Architectural Arts incorporating Spier Mosaic Arts and The Ceramic Studio. The academy offers a three year course in architectural mosaic under the guidance of Irene Rizzin, a masters graduate of the Scoula Mosaicisti del Fruili in Spilimbergo Italy, to talented artists from under-resourced backgrounds. Prospective students undergo a rigorous assessment before being admitted and, if successful, are awarded a “living salary” while being given education and training in the arts with a focus on mosaic, as well as extensive business skills to equip them to be future arts entrepreneurs. The architectural arts programme secures major commercial commissions, then enables collaborations between established artists who design the work with senior students from the academy and artisans in the mosaic and ceramic studios, who execute it.
At the head of the Architectural Arts Programme is artist and corporate arts consultant Jeanetta Blignaut. Her ability to bridge the corporate and arts worlds and her passion for collaborations between established and emerging artists means she is well placed to manage the substantial local and international commissions garnered through Spier’s extensive arts and business networks.
One just completed commission is an 18 metre by 3 metre  public mosaic piece installed outside Kings Cross Station in London. The work Coming to the City was designed by Clive van den Berg and executed by senior students.
On a walk through Union House a piece designated for the music department on the campus of the University of the Free State was receiving the finishing touches. Designed by Pat Mautloa, the visual meaning of the work is invested with musical references in the different mosaic styles used to communicate various styles of music. “So the classical section is rendered in formalised, technical, “classic” mosaic techniques, while contemporary music is reflected in a looser, bolder style to communicate the “chaos” of the orchestra, for example,” explains Jeanetta.
In a demonstration of Jeanetta’s passion for development and collaboration, the resident Qubeka (meaning “continuing”)Bead Studio owned and run by four founding members who received training and a start in Jeanetta’s former home-based Qalo (“beginning”) studio, are working on an exciting new commission. This commission has seen studio members learn paper mache skills to create paper circles that will be “tiled” on columns in the headquarters of a popular South African food chain.
The cooperative, collaborative work is at the root of Jeanetta’s vision and is what drives the work on commissions. Her dreams for the academy are driven by the possibility of future collaborations. Ethopian artist Julie Mehretu is one who Jeanetta is pursuing for a joint mosaic art on the wall of a corporation in Johannesburg. “The beauty of this commission is that the building is still on plan. This means it can still be adjusted to accommodated the artist’s designs,” she says. Mehretu’s works are vivid abstracts; bold, textured and layered. “I can picture the diagonal shapes that feature in her work being integrated into the building to create a real architectural art pieces,” Jeanetta enthuses.
Synergy and collaboration feature as heavily in Union House as it does in conversation with Jeanetta. Funding for the arts enterprises comes partly from Spier’s Creative Block range of wines which takes its name from a Spier initiative now also based at Union House. The Creative Block incorporates small format artworks from recognised and emerging artists whose works are showcased and promoted. This initiative encourages a broader acquisition through access to affordable pieces , while giving artists a marketing platform.
In another exciting venture a Creative Block shop has opened to retail Creative Block art and wines  in Juta Street, Johannesburg.

DWA has a new web site. Click below to read an opinion piece I wrote for it on a planned design museum for Cape Town.

CAPE TOWN DESIGNERS: MAKE SOME NOISE!

…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.


Public hospitals and gorgeousness are not really normally associated. But when Dole SA asked us to revamp a patients’ lounge at Groote Schuur’s renal oncology unit, CPUT design lecturer Janet van Graan and I squeezed the budget for materials to make some beautiful objects for the enjoyment of long-term patients who use the lounge.

Recovering transplant patients might be confined to the unit for anything up to four months at a time and until this refurbishment, the only space to watch TV and break from the wards was a room that, with the exception of an elderly TV and a row of ugly attached chairs, had become the dumping ground for old fridges and other items needing storage.

At the time we started working on the revamp, a couple of patients and nurses happened to be from the Richtersveld and this inspired the imagery incorporated into a large felt, wool and fabric wall piece in the lounge and the huge ‘kokerboom’ noticeboards which now hold messages, notices and photos in the passage outside the lounge.

We called the collection I MADE IT MYSELF imagining that the tactile, textured and easy to make objects could easily be made by patients with time on their hands and  inspired enough to try .

Materials were either recycled like the lampshade made of plastic bottle tops or relatively easy to find. Janet made the elegant riempie lampshades with knotted leather strips and used cork tiles and painted timber  for the noticeboards.

To screen an ugly internal window while allowing light to filter through to the passage, she mounted  craft fabric on a frame and the legend LOVE LIVE HEAL was cross-stitched on it.

LOVE LIVE HEAL at Groote Schuur’s Renal Oncology unit for Dole SA 2008.

The Velokhaya BMX Oval in Khayelitsha, Cape Town is a project of the Life Cycling Academy (LCA) which promotes cycling as a sport to children in poor communities.

Three years ago shipping company Safmarine converted containers into a clubhouse for the young cyclists (about 100 of them) who are club members.

When the company approached me to refurbish the clubhouse I persuaded them to use local designers Lyall Sprong and Marc Nicolson of Thingking.

To fit the space constraints of a container building and appeal to young club members, Thingking created a range of funky products including bucket seats, helmet hooks, log benches and magnets specifically for Velokhaya.

While the brief was to improve the interior,  the clubhouse facade needed a major lift.  Sprong and Nicolson solicited the help of volunteer artists aligned to Spanish organisation Boa Mistura who were enjoying a residency with Word of Art. Velokhaya members pitched in to create the mural that now lights up the otherwise bleak landscape.

A clever redesign of a common garden hosepipe that uses minimum water to spray a cooling mist  on the clubhouse veranda has been a winner with hot cyclists and gas braais made of drums on steel legs are extending the community’s use of the outdoor facilities . But it is Thingking’s outdoor seating designs – log benches made from alien gum trees and discarded steel – that are providing the lust factor, while having great  environmental credentials too.

And how cool are these bathroom signs?