African Design Pioneers: Transforming Cities with Innovative Sustainability and Community Focus

May 31, 2022

Under the direction of the panellists Antonia Kihara, Carl Jacobsz, Moses Nderitu, and Nifemi Marcus-Bello, four extraordinary examples of inventive problem-solving and innovation in Africa were highlighted and served as a design think-tank for African cities.

A design and innovation consultant for Quarter Acre Developers Kenya, Antonia Kihara, presented the new net-zero and affordable housing project in Nairobi, which was described as "the village as an apartment."

This proposed development is inspired by indigenous Kikuyu practises to produce an inclusive and sustainable model that embraces minimalism, zero-waste, and promotes sustainable and community-centered living. Kihara elaborated on numerous facets of the project, including the fact that sustainability can be economically viable through the use of intelligent design and the appropriate materials and resources.

According to Kihara, the project concept was developed through design thinking as a holistic concept, as well as by connecting "Food, Housing, and Community" through partnerships with local small-scale farmers in order to span the gap between food supply and the reduction of people's carbon footprints. According to Kihara, design and 'out-of-the-box' thinking are novel, particularly when attempting to incorporate new sustainable materials into designs.

"Use local materials. We need to make a commitment to use creativity... Creativity is about limitations and we need to get used to designing with materials we have in our local areas." - Antonia Kiara

Carl Jacobsz's design philosophy for the expansion of the Nike Soweto SHAPA Park centred heavily on "community-centered design." Jacobz emphasised the significance of the physical interface of buildings when beginning the design process for the new mixed-use community centre and skatepark area. Jacobsz emphasised the significance of ensuring that the design of the community centre would allow the community to appreciate and take ownership of it long after its implementation.

"The aim was to make the community the owner of this facility" - Carl Jacobsz

Jacobz also expressed his belief that sustainability encompasses more than just materiality, stating that it is "also about making projects like this last a long time." The community centre's adaptability and ability to accommodate a wide variety of people's requirements and desires was a remarkable feature.  

Moses Nderitu, of BasiGo Kenya, provided an informative overview of the company's e-mobility model and framework, as well as the numerous levels of environmental and economic sustainability it incorporates.

"One of the things that Covid taught us is that Africa is choking... and it is choking through emissions." - Moses Nderitu

Nderitu discussed the numerous obstacles to the implementation of e-buses in the African context, such as the fact that electric buses designed for Chinese and European cities are not robust enough to withstand the requirements and terrain of the African road network.

A Nigerian industrial designer, Nifemi Marcus-Bello, won a competition to design an interactive and innovative kiosk for skateboarding brand Waf. Bello elaborated on his design-thinking and process, identifying the 'kiosk' culture in Lagos and researching how to create products that support the community and amplify 'anonymous' innovations that are integrated into people's daily lives.

"African design is generally very contextual - it is contextual to humans, to the materials around them, to the experience." - Nifemi Marcus-Bello

The kiosk is a brilliant illustration of how adaptability and innovation can enhance public spaces by combining convenience with economic opportunity and enhancing the adaptability that people value in public spaces.  The kiosk achieves this by using bamboo as its primary material and by exhibiting clothing at eye-level to pay homage to the prototypical "streetwear" vendors in Lagos, "Okrika," who sell secondhand clothing throughout the city.

The 'think tank' on cities once more brought to light the multiplicities of African architecture and design, as well as the emerging ways in which designers observe their local cultural practises and manifest them in sustainable, innovative, and practical work. These design-processes and designers demonstrated, through a new lens, a strong impetus for sustainable and community-based design, and emphasised the significance of creativity as a powerful and influential instrument in the African context.

Rashiq Fataar
Rouen Smit
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