The 2020 Lexus Design Award’s Winner: Bell Tower’s “Open Source Communities”

The Kenya-based team's winning entry aims to empower communities

Launched in 2013, the Lexus Design Award celebrates innovations by emerging designers from all over the world. This year’s call to “Design for a Better Tomorrow” fielded responses from 79 countries. Finalists included proposals for a “breathing cloud,” a life jacket that can attach to others to form a raft, a sewing machine for the visually impaired, a portable body washer and more. The grand prix winner, chosen from the short list of six (who were selected from more than 2,000 entries), receives mentorship, funding from Lexus for prototyping, production support when needed and coveted media attention.

The winner of this year’s award is the Kenya-based team of designers behind Bell Tower’s “Open Source Communities,” John Brian Kamau, Joyce Wairimu Gachiri, Ian Githegi Kamau, Esther Wanjiku Kamau and Arvin Booker Kamau—the first Africa-based team to win the prestigious award.

Their innovation aims to provide guidelines for development in emerging areas. “Open Source Communities” strives to address the challenges faced in developing countries with open-source planning—a scheme for designing affordable communities with access to sustainable and clean water sources.

A virtual jury selected Bell Tower’s concept for its ambitiousness and its effectiveness once implemented, as well as its ability to adhere to Lexus’ guiding principles: “Anticipate. Innovate. Captivate.” John Brian Kamau says “Our journey began with many challenges. However, we persevered to showcase our ambitious concept. Our experience has taught us invaluable lifelong lessons. All our future designs will be aligned with the key principles we learned as part of the Lexus family.”

At the award’s virtual announcement, Lexus Design Award judge and Studio Gang Founding Principal Jeanne Gang said, “At different moments in time, design has celebrated bold aesthetics, extreme functionality, and even humor and wit. 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. The Grand-Prix winner expands our definition of design to include systems of finance for community projects and 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.”

The Lexus Design Award is now accepting submissions for the 2021 competition.

Images courtesy of Lexus