BellTower would like to address the critical infrastructure challenges facing developing nations with “Open Source Communities”. The Grand Prix Lexus Design Award 2020 winner proposes using innovative smart open-source planning to create affordable communities which can provide sustainable clean water resources. The multi-disciplinary Kenyan studio was selected from among 2,000 entries received from 79 countries worldwide – one of the highest numbers in the awards’ history.
Launched in 2013, the Lexus awards initiative is open to emerging international designers. Topics covered have little to do with cars. Rather, this is about nurturing the next generation of designers. For the 2020 awards, participants were asked to design solutions within the context of the three key principles of the Lexus brand: anticipate, innovate and captivate in the quest for a better tomorrow.
“At different moments in time, design has celebrated bold aesthetics, extreme functionality and even humour and wit,” offers architecture and urban planning Studio Gang founder Jeanne Gang, who was one of the judges. “But today, with our world plagued by the enormous issues of climate change and social inequality, there is a design imperative for systemic design solutions.”
BellTower, she says, expands our definition of design. The approach includes such crucial elements as systems to finance community projects. The studio, she adds, engages the critical role clean drinking water plays in citizens’ ability to thrive. “By addressing the way that the project will come into being and be sustained economically, the designers broaden our thinking about what design is and could be. While the project is an apparatus to collect and store rainwater for safe drinking, it is also a financial game plan for empowering a community.”
BellTower was sounded by John Brian Kamau, Joyce Wairimu Gachiri, Ian Githegi Kamau, Esther Wanjiku Kamau and Arvin Booker Kamau in 2014 with the vision of using open source systems and technologies to solve real-life problems. The team have combined skills in risk management, information technology, design, project management and strategy, to build an open-source community model for personal, corporate and industrial needs. “Our journey began with many challenges,” says John Brian Kamau, accepting the award on behalf of BellTower. “However, we persevered to showcase our ambitious concept. Our experience has taught us invaluable lifelong lessons.”
The shortlist selection for the 2020 Lexus Design Awards also included an interesting mix of life-solving concepts. Los Angeles-based Paul and Garrett Sutherlin Santo’s “Biocraft” concept combines natural biopolymers with emerging technology to produce materials with advanced capabilities to help improve our health and the environment. While “Feltscape” by Théophile Peju and Salvatore Cicero is a breathing cloud made of felt and recycled bioplastic, using an innovative robotic fabrication process to foster the philosophical idea of isolation.
Elsewhere, Yaokun Wu’s “Flash Pak” is installed on lamp posts to make life jackets easily accessible to people in high-risk flood zones. The natural buoyancy of the life jacket allows it to rise up to the water’s surface for easy access, regardless of the height of the water level. “L.I.C.K.” by Irina Samoilova is a portable body cleaner designed to help people who are unable to use a bath, while Aqsa Ajmal’s “Pursewit” simplifies the sewing machine design for the visually impaired.
“Great designers thrive in difficult situations and help individuals and society deal with unexpected change,” says one of the awards judges Paola Antonelli – a concept which feels highly fresh and relevant today as we face critical challenges from the current coronavirus crisis and set out to rethink better societies for the post-pandemic future.
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