Better Living Challenge


Better Living Challenge nominated for international Human City Design Award

Sep 02, 2019

The Better Living Challenge and its Design + Build Incubator, which ran earlier this year, has been nominated for a Human City Design Award, an international award run by the Seoul Design Foundation.

The Better Living Challenge (BLC), a project the Craft and Design Institute (CDI), has been running for the last seven years and was initiated as a flagship project for Cape Town’s designation as a World Design Capital in 2014. Using design-led processes, the BLC has helped in surfacing innovations and solutions for the low-income housing sector.

The Human City Design Award recognises projects that contribute to a more harmonious and sustainable relationship between people and people, people and society, people and the environment, and people and nature. It is hosted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, in partnership with Human Cities Network, World Design Organisation (WDO), the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (of which the City of Cape Town is a part), and the Korean Federation of Design Associations.

About the BLC and the Design + Build Incubator

The first phase of BLC surfaced affordable and environmentally-friendly products for home improvement: water saving and harvesting, insulation, fire warning systems, alternative materials, and off-grid energy use. The publicising and commercialisation of these is aimed at popularising and scaling up alternatives which generates better living but also economic opportunity.

The second phase involved extensive research and user-testing using design process methodology. The research revealed that people needed home improvement products, systems and services as well as access to information (i.e. how to improve their dwelling and where to access support) and skills development (how to build better, how to design better building processes, and how to use different materials and solutions effectively). 

Phase two culminated in a pilot two-week Design + Build Incubator. 

The first-of-its-kind skills development Design + Build Incubator is a human-centered intervention which supported 15 small scale builders operating in the informal housing sector the chance to develop their technical design and building skills, as well as their business acumen, with the goal of helping them design and build better structures in local communities and improve their livelihoods.

Over the period of two weeks 15 small-scale builders were empowered with a wide range of skills. The training programme brought together industry experts such as local community organisations and architects to share their insights with the small-scale builders. The incubator covered various subjects, from financial management and basic building skills, to marketing skills and personal development. All these subject areas were designed to assist small-scale builders with skills they can use to improve how they work, and more importantly to improve how they build.  

All 15 participants completed the incubator and continue to be supported through a mentoring programme – they are applying their new knowledge in action as they build new dwellings or upgrade existing for residents of informal settlements. The incubator demonstrated that it met its three intended outcomes for the participants: 1) design and build better dwellings; 2) grow and run their businesses better; 3) become more productive members of the community. 

The BLC team is securing two additional Pop-up Builds in rural communities which will give the current participants the opportunity to pass on their new skills and knowledge to another cohort of small-scale builders. This brings to life the South African adage of ‘each-one-teach-one’.

Phase two also includes a Materials + Tools bank which is in prototype testing phase and includes the development of an mobile application with an international engineering firm; and the specifications for the development of an on-line Knowledge Platform have been developed as a tool for further fundraising. The Knowledge Platform would enable the ongoing dissemination of useful information to small-scale builders and home dwellers alike. A blueprint for the Design + Build Incubator has been developed for sharing with other organisations locally and globally for replication and scaling. 

A great honour for the CDI

“It is a great honour to have one of our projects nominated for a top global design award. It has been a great experience to watch the BLC grow and take shape over the years and continue to surface innovations. The most recent work we have been doing with the 15 local builders, who are still highly engaged and motivated in their learning and development process, is inspiring. Along with the network of stakeholders and the active involvement of our funders, partners, and enthusiastic supporters who generously give of their time and expertise is what continues to drive us to drive this programme,” says Erica Elk, Executive Director of the CDI.

“This project is an excellent example of how design-led processes have unlocked new thinking and ways of doing that will over time catalyse better living conditions for thousands of families living in low income communities.”

The BLC is a project funded by the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements (DOHS), and the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT). 

See more about the Award here: Human City Design Award

Watch our BLC Design + Build Incubator video here: