Climate Smart Cape Town Pavilion

The Climate Smart Cape Town Pavilion at COP17, constructed out of 1884 plastic milk crates and over 22 000 plastic milk bottles supplied by Polyoak Packaging, is a temporary structure that has a low-impact on the environment as it will be dismantled after the climate change conference in Durban and all the materials re-used.

Using different coloured crates to create the outline of Table Mountain, with Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak, the Pavilion is an iconic design that showcases the vision and the projects that will enable Cape Town to become a lower carbon city adapting well to the impacts of climate change, protecting its most vulnerable citizens and building an economic future based on clean development, localisation and jobs for all.

Inside the Pavilion, 22 large format posters containing text, graphics and photographs, highlight the fact that in looking for solutions, City of Cape Town officials and the Western Cape are being stretched by increasing climate change impacts and the need for novel ways of managing urban spaces and the growing number of people that occupy them. Topics that are covered in the posters and in DVDs screened, range from the policies and plans that will facilitate positive change in Cape Town and deal with the challenges and complexities of global warming to targets to reduce electricity consumption by 10%, as well as how Cape Town plans to be a leading low-carbon city, with 10% of its energy supply drawn from cleaner energy sources by 2020.

Commenting on the Climate Smart Cape Town Pavilion at COP17, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning, Alderman Belinda Walker, stated that the City and its coalition partners required an exhibition that would convey the message of climate change actions in the city in the most responsible way.

“COP17 in Durban will place global environmental issues such as climate change under a spotlight, and is an opportunity for Cape Town to promote pro-active approaches to these issues among local and international audiences. We wanted to create an exhibition structure that would look different from all the other tented structures at the Climate Response Expo in Durban.  The proposal that we received from Stephen Lamb of Touching the Earth Lightly and ST&AR Architects responded to our needs in that it was to be made entirely from recycled and re-usable materials so as to produce zero waste after dismantling. In addition, all construction materials were to be sourced within the tightest possible radius of the site to minimise the carbon footprint”, Alderman Walker said.

Says Andre Rademeyer of ST&AR Architects: “The recyclable milk crates and milk bottles are tied to a rectangular 15 x 12m scaffolding frame. They act as ‘cells’ with excellent thermal insulating properties for a temporary structure. Low energy lighting behind the crates, running off battery stored solar power, illuminates the entire structure at night turning it into a glowing ‘jewel box’ promoting sustainability.  The interior contrasts with the man-made recycled plastic exterior, being clad entirely in alien timber from trees pruned and felled by Working for Water. The interior is lit from above with translucent roof panels allowing natural light into the Pavilion.”

Project Manager and co-designer, Stephen Lamb of Touching the Earth Lightly, commented: “ We’ve all heard the saying ‘the medium is the message’ – a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.  That is exactly what is intended in this Pavilion showcasing the creative thinking and responsible use of alternative materials in the design and construction of an exhibition venue. The Climate Smart Cape Town Pavilion is off the electricity grid, courtesy of MLT Drives. While the sun shines, solar panels charge batteries, that in turn supply the exhibit with electricity via an inverter. When the wind blows, the wind turbines attached to the roof of the Pavilion, power the exhibit directly, without needing batteries; that way we are able to be off the electricity grid completely and demonstrate that there is another way.”

Rainwater collected off the roof of the Pavilion is stored and filtered and served to delegates at COP along with flavoured buchu and mint leaves. Organic lettuces, planted into 250 of the milk crates, are served to delegates as fresh salads.

Says Stephen Granger, the City’s Head: Major Programmes and Projects, Environmental Resource Management Department and Spokesperson for the Coalition: “The Cape Town Climate Change Coalition is offsetting the carbon footprint associated with attending and participating in COP17 by implementing energy efficiency projects in the City’s operations – these projects will be subject to monitoring and verification to validate the carbon offset. By creating this Pavilion, the Coalition aims to gain insight from the expertise of others on issues pertaining specifically to cities and climate change, to share our own lessons learned, and to form wider partnerships. We welcome the space for an increased focus on the needs and challenges faced by cities to become more resilient to climate change impacts. ”


The inspiration for the Cape Town COP17/CMP7 stand

Our reliance on water is fundamental to our survival As Cape Town residents, we know this very well. We have a story that demonstrates this. One that is completely relevant to climate change. One that we can share with the rest of the world.

Water condenses on the front face of Table Mountain (clouds known as the table-cloth) and gathers in the Table Valley Catchment Area to feed four rivers and 36 artesian springs. This water was (and still is) the only perennial water source near a natural harbor in the greater Cape Town and Cape West Coast area. It was essential for the creation of a settlement.

Clouds condensing on Hoerikwaggo (the original Khoi-San word for the colonially named Table Mountain) thus resulted in Cape Town (the ancient Khoi-San name is the place of Sweet Waters) being established where it is today rather than in Saldanha Bay, a more suitable port. People needed water to live, to drink, to farm and to wash with.

In the 1800’s these rivers flowed through the developing city and into the sea. The expansion of the City Bowl has mostly blocked the rivers natural course. This is beginning to change. One such project is the establishment of the Green Point Urban Park and the channeling of this water under the city to the park.

Cape Town’s umbilical cord is being reconnected.

The sea and the sea-world live separately to the city and the people of the city. The people of the city live separately to Table Mountain and its Fynbos biome. Yet, we are all connected by the same element, water.

This story offers the Climate Smart Cape Town campaign (CSCT) a homegrown platform on which to showcase its climate change projects and programmes in a creative, colorful, memorable and iconically Cape Town way.

The story is one of human development, of urban sprawl, of townships and carbon emissions, and a river that continues to flow. The story is one of an umbilical cord being severed and years later connected. The message is the total reliance of human beings on the natural world for their survival.

It’s the story of Cape Town. It’s the story of life.


The design concept

The design concept called for the re-use of materials. The proposed design will thus use a similar approach that used for the Responsible Tourism stand (Indaba 2011) and the Cape Town Green Goal pavilion (2010 FIFA World Cup). Both stands used recycled milk crates, milk bottles, recycled alien invasive timber, internal lighting and scaffolding. The COP17 design differs in the scale, use and presentation.

The proposal is to use milk crates to “pixelate” the shape of Table Mountain by using light and the purposeful position of different coloured crates. This will make it visually relevant to the Cape Town and the projects that the Climate Smart Cape Town coalition partners are undertaking.

The pavilion will provide an iconic and visually attractive form, much like the glowing “jewel-box” concept of the previous two stands.

In addition to this, homegrown, organic spinach and lettuce will be planted inside the milk crates and literally “grow” the pixilated image of Table Mountain. The lettuce and spinach will be irrigated using rainwater harvested from the roof of Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre (much like the Camissa River is fed by the clouds gathering on Table Mountain) and harvested during the COP 17/CMP7 conference.

The aim is to combine this fresh produce onsite with fresh, donated Cape produce (olives, goats cheese, olive oils etc) and made it into salads. These dishes will be handed out to the unemployed people who gather at the entrance gates of the Durban ICC looking for work.

This act will not change the world, but it aims to make two main statements – that fresh organic homegrown produce is an alternative to off-the-shelf food, and that climate change debates should include issues of food security, unemployment and poverty.


Here is an overview of the proposed design components of the pavilion:

  • The entrance to the stand reflects Platteklip Gorge and the Camissa River (that runs down it and into Cape Town). This will be represented the trickling of harvested rainwater down the entrance wall of the pavilion
  • The interior of the stand provides a generous and comfortable space (with ample, comfortable seating) for the presentation of the CSCT coalition partner projects. These will be communicated via a combination of wall-mounted full-color poster displays, large-screen video presentations, educational art, interactive displays and social media components
  • The interior will be lit during the day by natural light via see-through polycarbonate roofing and illuminated at night using a combination of CFC bulbs and energy saving lights
  • The internal roof and flooring will be made from recycled shipping pallets sourced from “CHEP” at the local Durban Harbour
  • The internal walls will consist of roll-down canvas with see-through panels where visitors can view the internal cavity wall, milk crates, bottles and lighting (a “truth-window”)
  • The pavilion will filter rainwater through a solar powered water purification system and offer it to visitors as hot or cold mint and Buchu tea. The tea will be heated or cooled using a solar powered unit
  • MLT inverter technology (developed in Cape Town) will be showcased in the pavilion and used to provide the energy required to run the water cooler/heater system, a basic water purification system and some internal lighting
  • Visitors will be able walk on the roof of the pavilion (i.e. on Table Mountain) using an internal stairway. A digital camera will be set up so that visitors can have photographs taken of them walking on the stand (Table Mountain). The photos can be emailed along with more information and links to the campaign website. This will promote a reduction in the use of paper and further reduce the pavilions carbon footprint
  • Local fynbos plants will be planted in milk crates internally and externally. This will provide a visual, colourful and sweet smelling introduction to the richness and diversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom
  • The entire structure will be lockable, including an internal space for valuables and electrical components
  • The Table Mountain on the stand will glow at night to give more focus to our internationally recognized symbol

Read more about the inspiration for the stand.

We look forward to showcasing Cape Town as a city that is working to achieve greater resource efficiency, lower carbon emissions, adapting to the impacts of climate change, protecting its vulnerable citizens and building an economic future based on clean development and jobs for all, despite our many challenges.

“I wanted to tell a story of Cape Town. For me, it’s the story of the Camissa River,” says Lamb. The Camissa River flows down the middle of Table Mountain, down Platteklip Gorge. It is fed by water that comes from the “table cloth” – the clouds that form on the front face of the mountain. The water vapour in these clouds condenses and forms water droplets on the fynbos, rocks and ground. These droplets form a stream that flows down into what we now know as the ‘City Bowl’.
The Camissa stream used to flow all the way down through an indigenous afro-montane forest (the beauty of which is now only visible within the protected Orange Kloof area of Table Mountain National Park), nurturing our indigenous fauna and flora.
The first Dutch and English settlers to arrive in South Africa were supposed to set up in Saldanha Bay – a much safer harbour for ships – but there was something missing. They moved from Saldanha Bay to Cape Town for one reason only: the availability of fresh water.

When the settlers arrived at the Cape, they all but obliterated the indigenous Khoisan people – the original hikers of Table Mountain and the first people to drink from the Camissa River (“the place of sweet waters”.) With the enslavement of the Khoisan came the forced washing of linen by slave women for their masters. They would beat and wash this linen on a large granite rock, over which the Camissa River flows. The Dutch called it “die plat klip” (the flat rock) and it became what we now know in Afrikaans as Platteklip.

As a result of this exploitation, we have lost the real story of the Camissa, the river that provided our most basic requirement. The crystal clear, sweet waters of this river are the reason we are in Cape Town, why our parents are here. It’s the reason why all the suburbs, streets and buildings are here. Our bloodlines, culture, creed, language, heritage (or lack of it), everything is here because of this small river that runs down the front face of Table Mountain.
That’s a beautiful Cape Town story, but more importantly, right now, it’s a globally relevant story. I say this because the story of the Camissa River is the story of emancipation from slavery. It’s the story of the new South Africa, democracy, and human diversity. It’s the story of life. It’s something Capetonians should contemplate, listen to, understand… and then celebrate.

I wanted to present the story of this natural flowing river and how it has defined the history of human settlement in Cape Town. I took it as an opportunity to explore alternative approaches to the future, by looking at our past.

Even as such an advanced race, humans are not that smart. We still need water. We followed it from Saldanha Bay to Cape Town. We are still roaming around the City Bowl because of water, but now we do it in flashy cars.

The concept of the Cape Town Climate Smart Campaign Stand was entirely informed by the simple notion that water is the basis of all life. It is trying to show that, on our doorsteps, we have a very powerful story that flows from the clouds above Table Mountain, everyday. I wanted to create a tactile reflection this story.

The stand we built harvested the water falling from the clouds above Durban in a similar way. This water from the roof was collected into two 250-litre water tanks. It irrigated 3800 organically grown vegetables seeded inside 3800 recycled 2-litre milk bottles; these were handed out to schoolchildren passing the stand. They were encouraged to plant these at home, and start their own organic vegetable gardens.

I wanted to convey three simple messages: that water comes from the clouds – not from a tap, that plants come from the ground – not from supermarkets, and that water does not discriminate against race, language or religion. Water is free. You can grow organic, fresh vegetables, for free, from water that falls from the sky, onto soil in your back yard.

The stand also operated entirely off grid. We drew all our electrical requirements through solar and wind energy, and produced a surplus. The yield, use and surplus was measured with hand-held LCD screens and we could see how much we were feeding back into the grid of Durban.

Watch how we did this here

The timber was sourced locally from the alien invasive timber mills in Cedara, run by the Working for Water program. The flooring of the stand did not just support visitors’ feet; it supported job creation, poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation.
We were the only stand not forced to rely on air conditioning. We relied on nature to give us a clue, and she did. The stand used the simple phenomena of hot air rising to its advantage. Cooler air entered the stand via air vents just above floor level, running horizontally around the perimeter of the interior. This air warmed as it entered and rose, escaping out of larger air vents at ceiling height. This system worked like a charm and we measured a 4-degree drop in temperature inside, on a 32-degree day outside. This was achieved, for free, by working with nature and not against it.
The most noteworthy component of the endeavour, I think, was the fact this stand was mostly built by unemployed men looking for work at traffic lights and street corners in Durban.
The structure was purposefully designed to be low-tech so that it could maximise job creation opportunities for people with low skills. This, however, had to be put to the test and not remain a conceptual notion. This group of men became a team, and this team sweated in the Durban heat for two weeks and ended up creating the winning stand.
At COP 17 there was so much going on, that issues became confusing. But if you really think about it, it’s quite simple: poor people are in the majority and they need work. They are not without a voice. They are not without skill and creativity. Job creation is central to this. This particular team, with no formal education, without prior meetings and training, did it with hard work, determination and a sense of humour. These are the real VIP’s at COP 17 – not the SANParks senior management staying in inappropriate luxury at the Hilton Hotel opposite the ICC.
The fact that this team were all either from Zimbabwe and Mozambique is important too, because we were able, in a small way, to make a stand against xenophobia and stand in solidarity with our brothers in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, who do not have ID documents but still need food and shelter. The families of these men sheltered MK operatives during our struggle.

We need to be human in all of this. A truly meaningful response to climate change requires voluntary acts of simple caring, humanity and unsolicited kindness on a scale we have never experienced.
I believe that there is a still a very small chance that we can get this right.
One can still go to the Platteklip Rock where washing took place under slavery, and can hear the gurgling sounds of that river going by, everyday. You can still put your feet in that water and drink from it; it hasn’t stopped flowing. Nature has carried on its cycle; the clouds have been condensing into water droplets on the top of Table Mountain, allowing the river to carry on flowing, telling its simple story.

When we have biodegraded, who will continue to tell this story? Our children need to know about this, as they will face the enormous challenges of over population and access to free, available water. These challenges will happen soon. When we have all biodegraded (I like to say biodegrade, because that is what’s going to happen) our physical forms are going to go back into the earth, irrespective of religion, class or creed. The children must tell this story, and as adults we’ve got a responsibility to share it.
Water must always remain free. Water must be available. We must learn from the lessons of the colonials that settled here and not kill or start wars over this precious commodity.
Cape Town is beautiful for many reasons. Not only do we have a flat mountain that we call Table Mountain, covered with fynbos, we have (as an ex-Table Mountain National Park Manager once said) fyn-mense (beautiful people) too.
But the fyn-mense have forgotten how we were breastfed by the clouds. We have become too important to remember this. We buy water in bottles and live behind high walls, scared and content. We have covered over our umbilical cord with cement and tar and exchanged it for urban sprawl and unsustainable fast-life living. We have exchanged it for our egos and for an inheritance of nothing.
But this can change. Yes of course. This can change, and it simply has to. There is no other way

For more information, visit or

Read more about how this story is used as inspiration for the Climate Smart Cape Town stand for the COP17/CMP7 conference.

Article written by Stephen Lamb from Touching the Earth Lightly. Stephen lead the design and construction of the Climate Smart Cape Town coalition stand at COP17/CMP7 in Durban.

Acknowledgement to the Reclaim Camissa Project for the information on the source of water in Cape Town. For more information on this project visit

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