In 2014, cape town is celebrating its design in all its forms, having been voted the world design capital (wdc). The hopeful rhetoric of the city as ultimate holiday destination, african creative metropolis, prime global-events location or city of freedom indicates powerful cultural discourses at work. In this paper, i will give a series of insights into the links between colonial modernity, on the one hand, and the origins of contemporary discourses of urban design and heritage in cape town, on the other. I intend to discuss the function of official discourse concerning the design of the city as well as the sudden eruptions that disturb these constructs. I point to the recurrent patterns and moments in which design is made plain and unspoken. I will trace the genealogy of official or top-down design and heritage discourses as well as the moments or movements that are at odds with or embarrass this official discourse.