African liveability Creativity

United by design: Cape Town and Taipei


A recent visit of a design delegation from Taipei, co-hosted by the Cape Town Partnership and the City of Cape Town, provided a valuable forum for sharing ideas about design and the future of cities.

World Design Capital: a catalyst for change

As one of the cities bidding for the title of World Design Capital 2016, members of the Taiwan Design Centre and City Government of Taipei recently visited Cape Town to learn more about Cape Town’s successful bid for WDC2014.

Taipei’s bid will be centred on the idea of Taipei as an adaptive city. “This theme allows us to tell the story of our city,” explains Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs Councillor Liou Wei-gong. “There are three characteristics which make Taipei adaptive. The first is our ability to be innovative. Secondly, Taipei is an adaptive city because it is citizen orientated and thirdly, Taipei has always had to be adaptive because it is a city of limited resources. Unlike megacities like Dubai or Shanghai, like Cape Town, Taipei is a mid-size city with limited geographical scope, budgets and markets. But despite these constraints we have remained innovative and adaptive.”

This theme also formed the basis of an exhibition, created by the Taiwan Design Centre, which was held at the CTICC during Design Indaba. The exhibition featured a range of locally-designed products from Taipei, including modern takes on traditional Taiwanese products, like tea ware, as well as innovative new uses for traditional materials, like the bamboo ‘bubble chair’ by local Taiwanese designer Kev.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, Cape Town’s Executive Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson welcomed the delegation to Cape Town. “It is my hope that you in Taipei can learn from us as we have learnt from other design capital cities that came before us. We put a lot of energy and resources into our bid for WDC2014 because we saw the benefits were worthy of it. Our city has emerged from a divided past, so today we have an awesome task of redressing the past in order to make our city inclusive so that it belongs to all Capetonians. The World Design Capital designation is a platform for action in this regard.”

MD of the Cape Town Partnership, Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana agreed. “At the Cape Town Partnership we see Cape Town as one city in a community of global cities – who are all on a journey towards liveability and inclusivity. We believe in sharing what we have learned from the World Design Capital bid process with those cities who wish to learn from us and leapfrog our own achievements. Our meeting is not only an important city-to-city exchange, but also a wonderful opportunity to connect our local creative, design and innovation-minded communities globally, to learn from each other and to grow.”

Shared lessons

Asked what Taipei can learn from Cape Town’s experience of bidding for the title of World Design Capital 2014, Bulelwa described the experience of the Cape Town Partnership, driver of the bid process: “Back in 2010, when the Cape Town Partnership committed to driving the city’s World Design Capital 2014 bid, I don’t think we had a full picture of the kind of journey we were embarking on, and how it would change us. Through nearly three years of bidding, we learnt a lot about ourselves, our design assets as a city, but probably most importantly, the power of citizen-owned, citizen-driven initiatives. We re-learned the truth of an old African proverb that says: ‘If you want to go fast, travel alone. But if you want to go far, travel together.’ We went far, further than we imagined. But World Design Capital 2014 wasn’t the destination. It was simply a milestone on a much longer journey – towards a liveable, inclusive city for all.”

During their visit, the Taipei delegation also shared their experiences in supporting local design to find a broader market. Oliver Lin, deputy CEO of the Taiwan Design Centre, described how the organisation acts as a bridge between Taiwan’s traditional design heritage and modern design practices. “For example we work with museums to update traditional motifs to be applied to modern applications. We also work with Taipei city to help aboriginal crafters work with designers to produce a product which combines modern and traditional elements and help aboriginal crafters to create their own brands, logos and means of distributing their products.”

A global community of cities

Cape Town and Taipei may not seem to have much in common, but, as noted by the Vice Mayor of Taipei Chen Hsiung-wen, both cities have been influenced by a wide range of cultures. “The character of these cities look very different at first but I believe both our cities are very dynamic, with the old developing into the new. We are both trying to improve our society to make the lives of our people better.”

According to Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, both cities also face challenges of temporality and permanence. “In both our cities we must balance respect for the past with our need to evolve and change in the present, so that we are better prepared for the future.”

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Picture caption, top,  from left to right: Cape Town Executive Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson, Taipei Vice Mayor Chen Hsiung-wen and Taipei Liaison Office Director General George Chou.

Text by Ambre Nicolson, photo by Anita Reed.


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