Context in Design, Design in Context

Nifemi Marcus-Bello

The attitude towards design in Africa is still one that centres the privileged perspective. From a grassroots level, however, design, in most instances, is a spontaneous practice. Much of it happens within urban landscapes across major African cities without being formally labelled as ‘design’.

“Context in Design, Design in Context” is made up of two components. The first, “AFRICA – A Designer’s Utopia: Lagos Chapter”, is a research project initiated by Nifemi Marcus-Bello’s studio that investigates innovative anonymously-designed objects on the continent and how communities use open-source and collaborative approaches to generate inventive solutions to distinct issues within their contexts.

An example of this is the ‘Meruwa’ cart, prevalent on Lagos’ working- and middle-class streets, its popularity induced by the fragility of water supply infrastructure across the city. The anonymously-designed cart, made of used bicycle tyres and reclaimed wood, allows for accessible water transportation from water sources to millions of homes across the Nigerian capital.

The research delves into the formal and informal industrial urbanism associated with the creation of these products, exploring contemporary design languages that are inherently contextual to behaviour, spaces, people, materials, and history.

The second component of the exhibit takes an existing solution applied in Lagos — the modular Waf Kiosk designed by Marcus-Bello’s studio — and replicates it within the context of Sharjah, probing design conditions in both settings. This design dialogue foregrounds a comprehensive analysis of the old and the current, and illustrates the rich weaving tradition that forms a crucial part of the socioeconomic and sociocultural fabric in both cities.

Context in Design, Design in Context