Afrofuturism is now.

The runaway success of the film Black Panther has introduced the concept of Afrofuturism to the mainstream. But what does the advanced African city of the future really look like?

Published: July 2018
Video/Photos: Supplied

The world’s cities are changing. By 2050, tech giant Fujitsu believes 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. At the same time as this rapid urbanisation, technology and globalisation are also shaping town planning in unprecedented ways – and Africa’s rapid development and the growth of its cities mean these issues are particularly urgent to its vision for the 21st century.

 

The concept of the connected city has spawned various sci-fi visions of the future, but most often, these futuristic concepts are inspired by 20th century European and American modernist aesthetics. But an alternative has exploded into the mainstream consciousness that is much more relevant, and more likely to prove influential in Africa’s unique brand of rapid growth and urbanisation: Afrofuturism.

 

With the launch of the smash-hit film adaptation of the Marvel superhero comic Black Panther earlier this year, the concept of Afrofuturism went from the realm of comics and edgy music videos, where it had been bubbling under the surface for years, to world domination. In South Africa, the film crushed local box office records, grossing more than R100 million within two months of opening.

 

Black Panther represents the most comprehensive and fully realised mainstream representation of the aesthetic, which reimagines advanced technology through the lens of traditional African design and artistic influences, rather than through the more common Western bias. As well as including South African actors, the film’s costumes drew on aspects of Basotho blanket design and Zulu bridal attire.

 

BMW itself reprised one of its own early fusions of traditional African aesthetics and technology when, last year, the company collaborated with Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu to launch the new BMW 7 Series Individual. Mahlangu became the first female artist to create an art car in 1991, when she transformed a BMW 525i Sedan into an early vision of Afrofuturism. And for a hint at what tomorrow’s roads might look like today, we have the very real presence of futuristic cars like the progressive hybrid BMW i8 Roadster.

The exciting thing about the explosion of Afrofuturism as a cultural phenomenon is the injection of imagination and possibility it creates for the ways we might re-imagine African cities during this phase of rapid change and development.

“Just as technology and society is changing and evolving, so too is urban design”

– CARLOS PEREIRA

African cities reimagined

 

The exciting thing about the explosion of Afrofuturism as a cultural phenomenon is the injection of imagination and possibility it creates for the ways we might re-imagine African cities during this phase of rapid change and development.

 

This year a new urban furniture brand, Arpino, was launched in South Africa and Angola. A collaboration between Angolan architectural studio Cipro and Portuguese industrial designer Carlos Pereira, it too dares to reimagine public spaces in African cities – or rather, inspired by Africa but relevant to all cities around the world – fusing technology, materials and aesthetics in a way that is socially inclusive and crosses cultural divides, and is emphatically designed for the future.
“We’ve reimagined urban furniture such as bike racks, bollards and wayfinders for the global village,” comments Pereira. “The pieces would look as at home in Times Square as in Cape Town’s Silo District or Angola’s Viana.”

 

The 16-piece range of urban furniture is envisioned as bringing high-design to public place, and can be adapted for anything from commercial developments to city streets, parks and other shared spaces. Angola’s new International Airport has already specified its full range for its urban and public spaces.

 

With Arpino, Cipro and Pereira have designed a style that assimilates into different geographies and environments, adding a futuristic look to common areas in office blocks, shopping centre squares, parks, campuses and airports. It turns tradition on its head to redesign everyday urban items such as stylised urban lights and pergolas, multimedia kiosks, bins and benches.

 

“Just as technology and society is changing and evolving, so too is urban design,” says Pereira. “Traditional furniture is to be replaced by high-quality design pieces that are multi-functional, connected and sustainable, and that give the high street and public space a contemporary aesthetic.”

The lattice design of Arpino’s urban benches is designed to prevent the accumulation of rainwater and other elements.

Arpino turns tradition on its head, redesigning everyday urban items such as urban lights and pergolas, multimedia kiosks, bins and benches.

The new urban furniture brand, Arpino, was launched in South Africa and Angola this year.

We have the very real presence of futuristic cars on our roads with the progressive design and uncompromising power of the hybrid BMW i8 Roaster.

Functional, eco-conscious design

 

The city of the future is not envisioned as advancing in one direction only. So, while it will inevitably include automated and electric or hybrid vehicles like the BMW i8 Roadster, so wallbox chargers will be a common feature of the streets, as will bicycle racks. One of the key differences that the range envisions is that technology is integrated into public space. Among Arpino’s “Urban Office” range, the designers have included a solar-powered WiFi and mobile charging station that allows the public to recharge and connect online for free. “In African cities where power is often interrupted and data costs are high, the Urban Office is a cost-effective conduit for communities to connect without being reliant on local resources or unreliable telecoms services,” comments Pereira.

 

At the same time, sustainability is as central to the future of African cities as it is anywhere else in the world. Environmentally aware, Arpino uses “clean” paints and materials as far as possible so that they can be recycled easily years later. “The product’s sustainability is important to us,” says Pereira. “The world is full of waste and materials must be reused as far as possible, and leave little or no trace.” Currently made from stainless steel, wood will be added to the steel frames in future ranges, adding a natural feature to the collection’s urban function.

 

While films like Black Panther represent a tipping point in the popular imagination of African aesthetics, and open up mainstream possibilities for the design of everything from technology to cities themselves, little advances in design, as represented by the likes of Arpino’s vision of public space, might prove catalytic in making imagination a reality.

Conceived from the outset as a plug-in hybrid, The BMW i8 Roadster paves the way for a dynamic future of driving pleasure.