Street Furniture: Isabelo Smart Bench

WORDS Lindi Brownell Meiring IMAGES Annelize Nel

The cast concrete Isabelo Smart Bench, which launched officially at The Grove Square in Braamfontein this week, aims to breach the digital divide in African cities by providing a space enabled with free Wi-Fi.

The first of its kind in South Africa, the Isabelo Smart Bench allowing users to sit down, charge their phone in the provided USB points and connect to Wi-Fi for free – once you’ve completed a quick online survey. It’s also completely solar-powered (including night lighting).

“The product name isabelo™ is derived from the Zulu word ‘to share’ and the smart bench is all about sharing: Sharing a seat. Sharing public spaces. And sharing content online,” explains Louise Meek, entrepreneur and founding director of the firm behind the project, Public Access Consulting. “What we love about it is that people can sit down, charge up and freely access information and share ideas online.”

Louise, who recently completed her Masters in Urban Infrastructure Design and Management, reports the service is already seeing an average of 50 users an hour, with the number increasing daily.

Mondays in Braamfontien! #freewifi #isabelo_wifi #yourstoshare #spring #thegrovesquare #braamies

A photo posted by isabelo (@isabelo_wifi) on

The bench is designed by Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin of Dokter and Misses. “We are working on a great product,” says Adriaan. “Our vision is to have at least 10 isabelo™ smart benches in Joburg by the end of this year, with more benches being installed in other South African cities over the next 12 months.”

“Ultimately the form followed the function and we are happy with the result, which is a soft, humanistic design with flowing lines that can stand out in a densely populated urban setting in contrast to the cold, hard urban infrastructure,” adds Adriaan.

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