At the start of the year Cape Town became the first African city to assume the mantle of World Design Capital (, an accolade previously held by Turin, Seoul and Helsinki.

Some 450 ideas have been chosen as official WDC2014 projects and events that encapsulate the Mother City’s winning slogan ‘live design, transform lives’, including urban regeneration schemes for the poorest suburbs and improved public transport with the expansion of the MyCiTi bus rapid transit system ( Events are scheduled throughout 2014 with the details of some still to be confirmed. Below is our pick of the current schedule, plus some additional reasons why Cape Town is already a world-ranking design diva.

Wall paint Cape Town by tsn92. CC BY 2.0

Wall paint Cape Town by tsn92. CC BY 2.0

Design events

Design Indaba (, from 26 February to 2 March, is a lynchpin of the southern African creative community. This convention and product showcase is a chance to gain an insight into local design talent. This year it has some company in the form of the Guild International Design Fair (27 February to 9 March) organised by South African designers Trevyn and Julian McGowan, who promote African design through Southern Guild (

Art projects

Well over a million Capetonians live in townships, formerly segregated suburbs dating from the apartheid era. They may be among South Africa’s poorest areas, but a quick look around reveals how ingenious the residents can be with design, for example in the form of hand-painted signs or homes constructed from scrap. Several of these shack homes will blossom into art galleries during the Maboneng Township Arts Experience (, which is scheduled for the township of Imizamo Yethu in February and March and Gugulethu in October and November.

Throughout the year also keep an eye out around the city for bright arches of colour. The City of Rainbows Public Art Project takes its cue from South Africa’s rainbow nation and builds on existing public art works such as It’s Beautiful Here, by Capetonian designer Heath Nash, a focus of the Prestwich Memorial Garden.

Sea Point promenade dragonfly art, by André-Pierre du Plessis. CC BY 2.0

Sea Point promenade dragonfly art by André-Pierre du Plessis. CC BY 2.0

Performance art

Skateboard performance, roving gospel choirs and giant Scrabble pieces have all been part of the adventurous past programming for Infecting the City ( Running from 11 to 15 March, the line up for this boundary-pushing, performing arts festival has yet to be finalised but venues will include Cape Town’s central squares and public spaces, museums and theatres, and many events are free.

Design hubs

The property developers behind the Cinderella transformation of the Old Biscuit Mill into a local design and crafts hub – now including the Cape Town Creative Academy ( – have transformed another once industrial space. Woodstock Exchange ( houses scores of creative businesses such as the design emporium Africandy (, leather goods maker Dark Horse ( and Honest Chocolate (, producers of delicious chocolate wrapped up in local art.

Other outlets around town for locally designed and crafted goods include Africa Nova (, KIN ( and Merchants on Long (

Honest Chocolate by Saaleha Bamjee. CC BY-SA 2.0

Honest Chocolate by Saaleha Bamjee. CC BY-SA 2.0

Coffeebeans Routes

For introductions to creative Capetonians across a range of disciplines, including music, fashion and art, the go-to guys are Coffeebeans Routes ( The tour company is expert at showcasing the Mother City’s diversity through personal stories and connections. Selected as a WDC2014 project is their idea for the Cape Town Story Market, an easy-to-use, portable set up to collect and digitally broadcast citizens' stories.

Muizenberg Festival

Among the communities scattered around the Cape Peninsula, Muizenberg stands out for its bohemian, creative residents. In October, the suburb will host the Muizenberg Festival (, with a focus on social, cultural, ecological and economical themes. Before then, check out Alive Café (, a cafe that doubles as an artistic studio, theatre and live music venue – the Made in Muizenberg product market was held here in December 2013.

Victorian-era beach huts, Muizenberg, South Africa, by Paul Mannix. CC BY 2.0

Victorian-era beach huts, Muizenberg, South Africa, by Paul Mannix. CC BY 2.0

Sustainability expo

From January through to March head to the Silo Precinct at the V&A Waterfront to view an exhibition showcasing projects that focus on sustainability, such as Too Good to Waste (, a co-op of artists who use recycled materials for their works. In February, the V&A Waterfront will also announce the architect for the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), a major new cultural storehouse set to open in 2016.

Urban gardens and farms

Providing a link to the very reason Cape Town was established in 1652 is a project to recreate a vegetable garden in the historic Company’s Gardens. Also planned is an interactive online map pinpointing all the urban gardens and veggie patches in the Mother City and surrounds, such as the Orangezicht City Farm (, which hosts a farmers market on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

More eating

Building on the success of the city’s gaggle of artisan food and goods markets is the Cape Town Street Food Festival ( On Friday 21 March the associated food conference and workshops will end in a street feast that’s a ticketed event; on Saturday 22 March the festival is free to all in De Waal Park.

Street food by Richard Moross. CC BY 2.0

Street food by Richard Moross. CC BY 2.0

Project X 2014 (PharoX)

Although yet to secure funding, Project X 2014 (, also known as PharoX, could turn out to be one of the most impressive and visually striking WDC2014 events. Award-winning artist Christopher Swift and architect Mokena Makeka have designed a giant star tetrahedron, to be constructed from recycled fencing from Robben Island, that will rest at the summit of Signal Hill on a plinth made from shipping containers. It will be illuminated by thousands of energy-efficient light bulbs that at the end of the project will be redistributed free to township dwellers.

Simon Richmond is a long-time Lonely Planet author and photographer who tweets at @simonrichmond.

Explore related stories

Features - family looking through binoculars at the city


Are you kidding me? Seven surprisingly child-friendly cities

Feb 22, 2019 • 8 min read