Lexus Crowns Its First-Ever African Winner for Its Prestigious Annual Design Awards

Kenyan design studio BellTower has been named Grand-Prix winner of the 2020 Lexus Design Award for its innovative clean-water collection and storage unit. It marks the first time a design team from Africa has won the award in its eight year history. BellTower’s design, called Open Source Communities, addresses a common challenge in developing countries—devising a structure that can collect and store clean drinking water. Open Source Communities tackles and solves that challenge.

The Lexus Design Award’s Grand Prix was founded in 2013 by the luxury car company to nurture the next generation of designers. It funds and showcases their work, while equipping them with the skills to address present and future obstacles.

Kenya’s BellTower design firm with a model of their winning Open Source Communities project.

Photo: Courtesy of Lexus

In January six finalists were chosen from among more than 2,000 submissions from 79 different countries. In addition to BellTower, they featured U.S.-based studio Sutherlin Santo, U.K.-based Théophile Peju and Salvatore Cicero, Russian creative Irina Samoilova, Chinese designer Yaokun Wu, and Pakistani industrial designer Aqsa Ajmal.

This year’s virtual jury included architect Jeanne Gang, Publicis Sapient chief experience officer John Maeda, MoMA design curator Paola Antonelli and Toyota chief designer Simon Humphries. Their decision was based on the finalists’ ability to “anticipate, innovate, and captivate in the quest for a better tomorrow,” Lexus says. 

Gang said the judges were impressed with how BellTower looked beyond design to the materials and economics of their proposal. “Today with our world plagued with the enormous issues of climate change and social inequity,” she observed, “there is a design imperative for systemic design solutions.”

By addressing how their project will be manufactured and sustained economically, she added, BellTower broadens ideas about what design 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,” Gang explained.

Some 40 percent of Kenya’s 50 million citizens get their water from ponds, rivers, and other untreated sources, according to the global nonprofit,

Kibara, in Nairobi, is one of the largest slums in the world. 

Photo: Getty Images

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