Designing in the Spirit of Ubuntu

Day two of Design Indaba 2012 had a very strong "social design" undertone. We were impressed by the efforts by designers to truly make the world a better place.

Part of the Project

First up was South African architect Heinrich Wolf, a man on a mission to dismantle apartheid trough architecture, and he is making a jaw-dropping effort of it! Wolff's research focuses on architecture for the Third World. His design has shown tremendous success with innovative school designs in townships, with one of them showing a 40 to 80 pass rate jump because of his designs.

He believes that architecture can contribute to social change and a few ideas form the agenda for this force of change:

1.    Extending freedom to everyone

2.    Develop more environment responsible building

3.    Perpetuation of constitutional values

4.    Job creation & appropriate training

5.    The demise of inequality within cities

Referring to the last point, Wolff believes that one of South Africa's key issues are the inequality within cities. Cape Town (for example) is wonderful city for an oligarchy but not a democracy. He is also concerned that we have a rainbow nation but not a national style.

London interactive design duo Hellicar & Lewis have an impressive client list such as U2, The British council and Massive Attack. But their main passion is Social Design. The quirky pair moved the audience with their presentation of Semantics, an interactive program that helps autistic children. The results were astounding where some kids that previously showed no affection or communication skills were able to verbalize and name shapes and symbols.

They are also all about telling the truth, making experiences from the real world and sharing. They even gave reason why we should all share ideas. They found sharing is first of all the right, moral thing to do and that sharing is better for everyone in the end.

Tsai, the gifted young South African architect who designed 2008's most beautiful object (the stacked bunk bed system) was next on the podium and he too invests a lot of time in designing for a better world. He is mostly concerned with the fire hazards in the townships of South Africa, the devastation it causes and the cost to recover the damage. Together with Porky Hefer and Urban Mosaic's Ashley Stemmet, they received a grant of R150 000 from the Design Indaba 'Your Street Challenge' to limit shack fires by implementing a township beautification project using fire-retardant paint that they developed.

Tsai also shared his other love project the Safmarine Sports Centre, which he recently won the Award for Architecture from the Cape Institute of Architecture. Here he used recycled shipping containers to construct a Sport Centre in the town of Piketberg, 120 kilometers outside of Cape Town, to serve and benefit one hundred children who belong to the “Stars in their Eyes” program. This project is run jointly by a Dutch company and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport in the Western Cape.  Each participating disadvantaged community is twinned with a Dutch football club to train local coaches with football techniques and life skills.

Tsai concluded his presentation with a rendering of an idea for he unfinished bridge in Cape Town, this incredible solution called 'Road to Nowhere – Highway Regeneration' excited the crowd greatly and evoked applause. He believes we should always try to take a negative image and turn it into a positive. We for one hope to see this vision coming to life!

It is impossible not to mention Porky Hefer's charming presentation. He had the crowd laughing, gasping, and thinking.  This ex ad-man had words of encouragement for artists and designers, he shared his ambitious and wildly captive projects like the ‘Elliot’ and ‘Oupa’ Coca-Cola crate statues, his human nests, and the infamous Maverick ads. Porky uses people from the blind association to help him construct his installations. What stood out the most was his passion and love for his craft and believing in what he does. He left us with the message: 'live more, work less'. Thanks for a wonderfully entertaining session Porky – we enjoyed every minute!

At the end of the day design hero Piet Hein Eek, a furniture maker from the Netherlands, was up. This man has been recycling and reusing furniture before it became cool. He is the grand daddy of green design and we were inspired by his product development process and openness to share the manufacturing process with his clients. His design factory in Holland is an open house to visitors as he believes it is important that people know where products come from. Buyers should become part of the manufacturing process. Piet lives by two rules: don't specialize, and do what you like. He maintains that if you do something you don’t like and you become successful, “you have a big problem.”

We also like that he does not hide or cover the authenticity of the orginal products he uses to recycle. For example, the upholstery of his new recycled pipe project is from old speakers, hence the blue colour (which is the original Philips color).

Article courtesy of VISI

WORDS: Liezel Strauss

IMAGES: Jonx Pillemer (© Design Indaba)

DATE PUBLISHED: 2 March 2012

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