Interview: What can Cape Town learn from World Design Capital 2010, Seoul

Brian Harker is a born and bred Capetoninan and currently a post graduate student at UWC. He has lived and taught in Asia for almost 6 years- a year in Japan, 3 years in Seoul, South Korea and now almost 2 years in Taipei, Taiwan. We interviewed him about what the Design Capital designation has meant for Seoul, and what Cape Town can learn from this.

Future Cape Town: What has the designation of World Design Capital 2010 meant for Seoul and what has your experience been while living in this Asian giant?

Brian Harker: For the time that I have lived in Seoul, I have experienced the city’s dramatic transformation. I’m sure that should I return now after 3 years, the city would be unrecognizable, because it is changing and being modernized constantly, ever since it held Asia’s second Olympic Games in 1988. The city is being transformed not only into a business hub, but also geared towards tourism. Many open spaces and public squares are being created to make the city more attractive and liveable. Furthermore, has Seoul a great public transport system, which makes traveling around this big metropolis a joy. Seoul is now regarded as a major world city of innovation and design. It is energetic and could stand proudly against cities like Tokyo and New York. There is no doubt that it being awarded World Design Capital of 2010, has catapulted this city into a different sphere.

Future Cape Town: What are some of the most inspirational projects in Seoul that you admire?

Brian Harker:

Dongdaemun Park & World Design Plaza


An old highway that cut through the city has been transformed into a green lung; now a favourite oasis in the bustling city.

 City Hall

Future Cape Town: What can Cape Town learn from Seoul during its time as World Design Capital and how do we redesign Cape Town in the process?

Brian Harker:Promote, promote & promote Cape Town on the world stage. Make the city attractive for business. Build sister city relationships. Invite the mogul developers to the city and treat them like gods! Make the city even more attractive for visitors- build new attractions like monuments, fountains, pedestrian zones, plazas, museums. Continue improving the transport system; spread developments across the metropole; clean up & secure our secondary urban nodes and give incentives for businesses to move back to derelict nodes like the Bellville CBD

Densify the city by building high rise housing and move people closer to the city centres. Reduce the city’s footprint & curb sprawl by bulldozing poorly designed outlying areas, and re-establish the natural environment or urban farms.

Urban sprawl is ineffective and expensive to manage & to maintain. In the short run it would be expensive, but Cape Town will reap the benefits in the long run. Make the city an affordable place for the citizens of Cape Town to enjoy. Our focus is too much on the foreign visitor. Residents of Cape Town should get a different rate at tourist sites by showing some kind of resident identification. I believe that this would connect the majority on the Cape Flats to the city and make them feel that the city belongs to them too. This would also be good for business sustainability.

Future Cape Town: The slogan of Cape Town’s World Design Capital 2014 bid was, “Live Design. Transform Life” , which aimed to use design to solve real problems, perhaps even social problems. Can Seoul relate to this?

Brian Harker: Seoul has a homogeneous society, therefore its social setup is far less complicated than Cape Town. But because of our uniqueness, Cape Town is a more vibrant place than Seoul in terms of culture. Cape Town needs more local cultural fairs where people across the spectrum can learn from one another and become more understanding and appreciative of our various cultures. We must teach tolerance and celebrate our uniqueness.

Future Cape Town: Should Cape Town be bold and think big as the 2014 World Design Capital or should we show restraint in how we use design to transform our city?

Brian Harker: We must believe that we can, because we have the talent and means to do so. Our mindsets also need to change. We must think big, become leaders in design and not mere followers. That is precisely what Seoul has done. Capetonians are traditionalists, which keeps us back. It’s very evident in the mediocrity of new building designs and projects. We need signature structures that can make the world take note of us. Local government must cut the red tape. Encourage, support and invest in local talent.