Cape Town: The New World Design Capital for 2014

Clarke's | World Design Capital

Once a mere sailor’s refreshment station at the southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Town has been designated World Design Capital for 2014. The bid and designation happened way back in 2012, and the ensuing build-up has set off an eruption of change and innovation as the city’s creative fraternity has geared up for the expected flood of design-curious visitors.

Cape Town reborn

Projects linked with urban regeneration, revival and rejuvenation are everywhere, but one has only to walk the length of Bree Street for a sense of the change that’s afoot. Once a lonely boulevard where nothing much happened except back and forth traffic, Bree is now strung with go-to spots for everything from the best (gourmet) pies in town (at Jason, commandeered by Cape Town’s most popular baker) to South Africa’s original craft beer salon (&Union, 110 Bree) to Paul Smith originals (corner of Bree and Wale). Lining Bree, restored old buildings sport eye-catching licks of paint, and are now reborn as upbeat galleries (Youngblood, 70-72 Bree), diners (Clarke’s, 133 Bree), cafes (Café Frank, 160 Bree), bars (The Orphanage, 227 Bree), and breakfast joints (Frieda’s, 15 Bree).

Haas | World Design Capital

Haas is a destination for food lovers and design junkies © Haas

Don’t ignore the roads branching off Bree, either. Boutiques, galleries and more snappily designed eating-houses are tucked into even the narrowest side streets. Hidden down Shortmarket Street, for example, you’ll find The House of Machines (84 Shortmarket), a newly opened grand concept store where you can buy top-of-the-range motorcycles, quaff craft beer, sip flat whites, or buy a shirt by local fashion hero, Paul van der Spuy. For even more adventure, head into Bo-Kaap, the traditional Malay Quarter, where design and food mingle in idiosyncratic spots like Haas and new art salon, Luvey ‘n Rose (both on Rose Street) and there are curiosities to be had at the hipster motorcycle workshop/café, Los Muertos.

Deluxe Coffeeworks | World Design Capital

The industrial interior of Deluxe Coffeeworks © Deluxe Coffeeworks

The real evidence of Cape Town’s rapid design evolution is happening in the city’s eastern precincts, notably the Victorian semi-industrial district of Woodstock, and rapidly emerging “Fringe” (formerly known as “East City”), which lies just beyond the South African Parliament. The Fringe has transitioned from neglected urban dead-zone to design and innovation incubator. Openings have included David Donde’s steampunk-styled Truth HQ (36 Buitenkant Street), a café where power outlets for the laptop-wielding crowd drip from the ceiling to service gourmet coffee-drinking hipsters seated on sci-fi-industrial furniture, designed by mega-talented Haldane Martin. At night, the bar starts turning over wine and craft beer. Meanwhile, for a grungier take on Cape Town’s makeover, look no further than Deluxe Coffeeworks on Roodehek Street. Their coffee is sold all across the city, but somehow this is where it tastes best.
Cape Town Design | Woodstock Exchange 

The industrial district of Woodstock, Woodstock Exchange © Stefan Botha


Even farther east, the Victorian-era industrial suburb of Woodstock was once the seldom-visited down-and-out neighbour to genteel Cape Town, lined with derelict warehouses and factories crying out for new purpose. Now Woodstock groans under the weight of great restaurants (The Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club, which sit side-by-side and are helmed by the same celebrity chef, Luke Dale-Roberts), designer stores, galleries, and the country’s most famous weekend market. It hasn’t lost its edge, but now the abundant graffiti looks more like it’s part of an humungous open-air gallery than a marker of urban decay. There are stalwarts, of course. It was here, at The Kitchen, that Michelle Obama chose to eat when she visited the city in 2011. Across the road, The Armoury is a boxing club that has for several years attracted braying crowds for its occasional Friday night white collar bouts. More recent developments include The Woodstock Exchange and Woodstock Foundry. The Exchange has something for everyone with a keen eye and sophisticated palate: there’s Rosetta for artisan-roasted coffee, Field Office for smart café vibes, and Superette for daytime dining.


The Test Kitchen | World Design Capital

The Test Kitchen is one of Cape Town’s destination restaurants © The Test Kitchen

The resurgence of life in and around inner-city Cape Town is robust, and right now the highest building in the city is nearing completion, while cranes are cranking up new developments in just about every neighbourhood. If you need a break from the seductive shops, cleverly crafted lines, and queues for on-tap craft beer, the beaches and mountains and wine farms will always be within reach”¦. 

Header photo: The popular Clarke’s diner on Bree Street © Clarke’s

Written by Keith Bain

Virgin Atlantic operates a seasonal direct service to Cape Town from London Heathrow. Book your flight today.

Have you seen any of Cape Town’s new design landmarks? Which is your favourite neighbourhood to explore?

About Keith Bain

Cape Town-based writer Keith Bain has co-authored guidebooks to India, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Kenya & Tanzania, Ireland, and Italy. He also co-wrote A Hedonist's guide to Cape Town, and is the co-founder of Best Kept (, a bespoke trip-planning company that tailors holidays in India and Africa.
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