Cape Town could just as well be one of many ‘capitals’ of the world with natural beauty, atmosphere, tourism and lifestyle all found in good measure. However, it’s the Mother City’s cutting edge design that has seen it being named World Design Capital of 2014, and with good reason too.

When in Cape Town, inspiration is all around you. Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, the gorgeous coastline heading to Cape Point, Camps Bay – the list goes on and on. Design in nature is everywhere – an inspired ‘hand of God’ – so locals can’t help responding with equal creativity. Since South Africa emerged onto the world stage in 1994, this city has truly grown into a funky, cosmopolitan destination of trendy and resourceful entrepreneurship.

The biennial title of World Design Capital 2014 was awarded to Cape Town by International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid), based on existing infrastructure and facilities, as well as planned initiatives for sustainable efforts to uplift the cityscape through more than 460 activities and projects.

Cape Town from above.

‘Live Design, Transform Life’ is the motto, and there are four main themes:

  1. African Innovation
  2. Bridging the Divide – design that reconnects the city and reconciles our communities
  3. Today for Tomorrow – sustainable solutions for people and planet
  4. Beautiful Spaces and Things – highlighting architecture, interiors, food, fashion, jewellery and art

Those visiting the city during the course of the year will have a chance to witness many of these exciting projects in action. Some of our favourites include; the Cecile and Boyd Foundation which uplifts dull township neighbourhoods by transforming colourfully decorated shipping containers into classrooms to create safe and visually appealing spaces. Then there is the Maboneng Township Arts Project which uplifts one of Cape Town’s disadvantaged areas, Gugulethu, by turning homes into art galleries.

The township experience is one that all visitors should encounter for a sobering experience of the darker side of South Africa’s developmental background. But there is character too, and Mzoli’s is a famous shebeen (local social venue), where we like to stop for some of the traditional beer and cheer. At Abalimi (the Peoples Garden Centre) we see a greening project (townships are notoriously lacking in parks and trees), where locals are taught to grow food sustainably at home and in community gardens, as well as plant water wise indigenous trees.

Mzoli’s is a Cape Town institution.

Still on the theme of environmental development of nature, the Oranjezicht City Farm is closer to the city, where a vegetable garden has been developed on a disused bowling green by former head of Cape Town Tourism Sheryl Ozinsky. Sheryl wanted to do something useful with the disused land and give back to the community, which arose out of a project teaching homeless people gardening skills. Also in the area is the District Six Memorialisation project which consists of 6 artists installations that show 14 sights on the heritage tour route. It’s part ‘closure’ for residents of a central city district that were forcibly removed in the apartheid era, dismantling one of Cape Town’s most vibrant and colourful districts.

Then there are the numerous venues, both public initiatives and private commercial business, that demonstrate that impressive momentum of creative arts development in the city, where the visual, architectural, interior design, and plain old quirky converge in a heady mix of ‘Cape Town’ culture – a unique, contemporary Afro-fusion. Truth is one place to start, for a quick coffee in a sci-fi, punk themed interior. Or try the Old Biscuit Mill where you will find the Neighbourhood Market on Saturdays.  It’s perhaps a more refreshing alternative to the well established and colourful (but touristy) Green Market Square, which is somewhat clichéd nowadays.

Oranjezicht City Farm
Oranjezicht City Farm.

Artists can be found in residence at the Woodstock Exchange, converted from a disused warehouse, which is now a vibrant hub including film studios and hip shops selling furniture, paintings, fashion and handbags among other creative handicrafts. Shoppers looking for something unique from this city might find worthwhile choices at the Gold of Africa Museum, for an unparalleled collection of gold jewellery and tribal pieces from all of Africa, and the South African National Gallery for historical and contemporary local art works

For beautiful tableware and lightning visit Hemelhuijs, while those looking for gorgeous, almost Scandinavian looking African products should try the infamous Ebony. Excellent coffee and trendy crafts abound at the Haas Collectiv, while decorative bags have a home at Missibaba. Edgy and ϋber-stylish jewellery can be found at Kirsten Goss – part of a new set of up and coming designers currently flourishing in South Africa’s most forward thinking city.

All of these demonstrate a new generation of artists and crafts people with an entrepreneurial eye to turn Cape Town into something special. Co-operatives have been established for the underprivileged while others are leading the way with their own private businesses – part ingenious, part creative, part zany!

The Old Biscuit Mill
The Old Biscuit Mill.