Building on the previous cutting-edge collaborative projects initiated by Shaun Borstrock and Jessica Helfand, this year’s collaboration focused on: luxury, sustainability and waste. The project was set to explore the imminent water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa through an understanding and interpretation of how the diverse communities were addressing the challenges ahead.

Prior to the project taking place in South Africa, Yale students, working with Dr. Shaun Borstrock, Jessica Helfand, Professor Mark Bloomfield, Dr Silvio Carta and Nick Lovegrove and students from the University of Hertfordshire, started the preparatory work for the In Pursuit of Luxury Conference with the international workshop: Planet earth needs you, devising new ways of reusing plastic bottles.

In Cape Town, Shaun and Jessica were confronting one of the most vexing problems currently facing that country: water scarcity. Cape Town is heading toward “Day Zero”—when the city is expected to exhaust its water supply after a nearly three-year drought.

Multidisciplinary student teams from Helfand’s Design Practicum course travelled to Cape Town during spring break in March to work on a brief written by Shaun, Silvio and Mark on water-related projects, with hospitals, hotels, elder care facilities, townships, and wealthier suburbs. The collaboration included a number of workshops where all students, working in teams will study the problem and devise a range of possible design solutions. The teams based their work on first-hand experiences gained on site through a series of surveys and observational studies.

The idea underpinning this initiative was to get students to look for creative solutions to conservation for the short and long term while reconsidering what might be considered luxury or waste, Helfand says: “Say you’re working at a hospital and you find there’s an excess of bandages but they’re rationing water to make tea—do those bandages become filters for making tea? They’re not just looking at what can we recycle or upcycle in the circular economy around water procurement, conservation, and scarcity, but they’re looking at it in relation to an actual community.”

This year’s project focused on addressing real and urgent issues affecting society and local communities. Building on the expertise of the designers and academics involved, and on the local art and design community in Cape Town, the proposals elaborated offer a new way of tackling social and economic issues, where design, luxury, and creative thinking are the driving force.