Free Form: The future has designs on us

14 August 2014 - 02:01 By Andrea Nagel
RUBBISH IDEA: Plastic bottles stuffed with non-recylable waste will insulate homes of the future
RUBBISH IDEA: Plastic bottles stuffed with non-recylable waste will insulate homes of the future

According to the theme of this year's second Open Design Cape Town Festival, ''design isn't just for quirky egg cups and azure blue Vespas".

The theme this year is "design for change" and is intended to send a message that design can be an agent for real, substantive change that can improve the lives of South Africans.

The festival started yesterday and runs until August 23. The organisers also aim to blow the lid off the notion that design is an elitist pursuit.

The festival is one of the key World Design Capital 2014 events, with a focus on ''taking design to the people" and supporting a growing, creative economy.

The 86 events on the programme, ranging from architecture exhibitions to round-table discussions, movies and workshops, are free to the public.

''Part of our aim is to integrate design thinking into the systems of public services," says Sune Stassen, programme director.

''If you design for a rural community the design has to be different as there are alternative parameters to be considered."

She credits the Index Award-winning Freeplay Fetal Heart Rate Monitor, designed by Capetonian John Hutchinson, as one of the best examples of how design can change lives.

"The Freeplay monitor is created expressly for the harsh conditions of rural and remote settings in the developing world. It measures the infant's heart rate during birth. The design is simple. It has only an on-off switch and a hand crank for generating its own electricity."

The programme is diverse and has a strong educational element, encouraging the study of design and showing youngsters the significance of design in everyday lives.

The Sunshine Cinema in Langa is a mobile, solar-powered cinema that shows short films to demonstrate technologies already in use in other communities, followed by practical skills workshops.

One of the stand-out projects of the festival is the EcoBrick Exchange. Ecobricks are a way of turning rubbish into non-loadbearing bricks, created by stuffing empty plastic cool drink bottles with non-recyclable dry waste like polystyrene and plastic.

''When architect Ian Dommisse first saw this innovation, he left his practice to focus on the project," says Stassen.

Dommisse co-founded EcoBrick Exchange, an organisation whose first project is to rebuild a school in Walmer, Port Elizabeth.

Currently serving 55 children in a double shack behind a teacher's house, the Penguins Play and Learn Centre will be relocated to what Dommisse says will be ''the first double storey ecobrick construction in the world".

The cavities in the steel-framed structure will be filled with ecobricks placed between fireproof plywood, and then the walls will be plastered.

''The ecobricks will even contribute to the building's thermal insulation," says Dommisse.

''Festivalgoers - we're expecting more than 10000 people - will have the opportunity to make ecobricks for the building of the school," says Stassen.

''It's an amazing way for people at the festival to make a contribution to change."

  • To see the programme go to