A fashion Model wearing a fabric that illustrates data from Johannesburg Park Station. Photo: Supplied

CAPE TOWN – Siemens on Thursday launched an extraordinary project called AfroDigital Fabric at a glittering event in Johannesburg that demonstrates how crucial data is in transforming Africa’s urban centres into smart cities of the future. 

The project was told through the universal language of fashion where three iconic African fashion designers were brought on board to create 12 extraordinary outfits from data extracted from the cities of Nairobi, Lagos and Johannesburg. 

Weaved into one-of-a-kind outfits, the data tells a powerful story about each city and how digitalization can transform them. The intricate garments by John Kaveke (Kenyan), Zizi Cardow (Nigerian) and Palesa Mokubung (South African) outline a variety of patterns from power grids, shipping and tonnage to population densities, transport and areas of connectivity

“This is how we thought to express the aspect of digitalization. As urbanization rapidly increases, cities need to start preparing for the effects it will have on infrastructure, energy, water and transportation systems,” said Keshin Govender, Group Communications Head for Siemens South Africa.

The data from Johannesburg outlined Gillooly’s Interchange, the Sandton CBD and Newtown.

The fabric of the Sandton CBD, which is regarded as the economic and commercial hub of Johannesburg, highlights the substantial traffic congestion and the growing number of businesses. Sandton hosts over 10,000 businesses and accounts for 50% of all commercial property construction in South Africa. Over 700,000 people travel daily into Sandton during morning traffic and about 46% are in passenger cars.

In the next ten years, this will increase considerably as data shows that 300,000 new private vehicles are sold annually in South Africa with the majority purchased in Gauteng. This information indicates that high traffic volumes coupled with the construction of new businesses will put substantial pressure on road infrastructure in the next few years.

Johannesburg’s magnificent tree canopy is also depicted in the fabric. A sufficient tree cover is important because it helps block shortwave radiation and increase water evaporation. Trees also mitigate air pollution and help avoid floods during severe rains. Data does not show exactly how many trees we have, but rather measures the canopy cover over the city. 

Another piece of fabric details Gillooly’s, the Southern Hemisphere’s busiest interchange. It accommodates one of the world’s 50 largest urban areas and has 200,000 vehicles passing through per day on 12 possible routes.  To give some perspective, this is 80,000 more vehicles than the total number of licensed cars in Johannesburg in 1957.  Data shows that 65% of present-day traffic at Gillooly’s is made up of minibus taxis, and the pressure on the road’s infrastructure is considerable.

Another fabric on Newtown, home to the largest railway station in Africa, details Johannesburg’s Park Station, its 1,700 coaches in service and some 340,000 journeys it makes per day. Some of its biggest challenges include its old and dilapidated railway infrastructure, long queues, overcrowding and unreliable trains. One way of mitigating future traffic congestion would be do a complete overhaul of this railway network, and either refurbish existing trains or purchase new ones.

Also depicted on this fabric is data on the city’s water supply. Johannesburg Water supplies 1,515 megalitres of potable drinking water per day, despite consumption being 1,610 megalitres of water per day. This is a massive difference. And with urbanization increasing at an unprecedented rate, how do we cater for the escalating demand? Johannesburg will be a megacity by 2030, inhabited by around 20 million people.

These Johannesburg outfits were created by Free State fashion designer Palesa Mokubung, who was inspired by the project. Her edgy collections have taken her across the world to places like Greece, India, New York, Jamaica, Nigeria, Botswana and Senegal.

Although these are just a few fabrics, the meaning behind the project is ingenius.  Fashion and smart technology combining to highlight how digitalization of the industrial world is the biggest transformation of our time, and how crucial data is in creating connected and efficient future cities in Africa.

A leader in automation, electrification and digitalization, Siemens is uniquely positioned to unlock the potential of digitalization through its combination of digital expertise, domain know-how and understanding of hardware in order to leverage digital technologies and optimize operations.

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- BUSINESS REPORT