As Cape Town prepares to succeed Helsinki in 2014 as the World Design Capital, the international design community are already locking down sunny soirées in their calendars. For many, though, this won’t be their first pilgrimage to the city: Design Indaba has been pulling in devotees for the past 18 years.
The expo is more an international TED-style talking shop than product showcase and this year’s conference was a graphic, design-centric affair. A double billing of heavyweight husband-and-wife teams - Seymour Chwast and Paula Scher as well as Steven Heller and Louise Fili - headlined a programme that included the likes of David Adjaye, John Maeda and Alex Atala.
Trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort curated a key exhibition at the fair, ‘Totemism: Memphis meets Africa’, exploring the aesthetic overlaps between the Italian pop-coloured counterblast to dour modernism and contemporary South African design. Edelkoort tapped 53 local designers to run with the idea, among them established names like Porky Hefer, Ardmore Ceramics, Dokter & Misses and Liam Mooney alongside up-and-comers such as Isabeau Joubert, Werner Venter and Warno Rüde.
The main hub at Design Indaba may have hosted the lion’s share of big names, but the rest of the city was equally beset by design fever – most noticeably in Woodstock, which pulses as the undisputed creative heart of Cape Town. The Woodstock Foundry, a mix of stores, galleries, restaurants and workshops, was the venue for some of the most interesting offsite events. 'Heavy Metal', for example, was curated by the excellent Southern Guild gallery and featured the work of many Edelkoort recruits.
Down the road lies the latest creative complex to open in the area. The Woodstock Exchange has been developed by the team behind the nearby Old Biscuit Mill and houses a similar mix of independent retailers and restaurants. Anchored by the Superette café, it's also home to Lise du Plessis’ bags-to-furniture Dark Horse; design duo Pedersen and Lennard; and Saks Corner’s mix of vintage and contemporary design.
The Old Biscuit Mill has gotten a shake-up with the arrival of The Pot Luck Club & Gallery, an eatery perched atop the new Cape Town Creative Academy. There is more development to the west of Woodstock in The Fringe, Cape Town’s self-styled ‘innovation district’. Fanning out from Buitenkant Street, the Fringe has been designated ground zero for next year’s World Design Capital events.
It can seem almost too perfect in this pocket of world-class flat whites, design workshops and artisan chocolatiers, but Woodstock is still a little rough around the edges and home to real factories and manufacturers making real things. That contrast makes it one of the world’s more fascinating and vibrant creative quarters.