Bridging the digital divide with a “Darling Wi-Fi Hub”

Project advocate Roy Adcock writes an overview:Wi-Fi operates in an unlicensed spectrum and has emerged as a convenient stop-gap for mobile broadband connectivity. It is a transformative technology that makes life convenient for some, but it is also the only affordable, high-performance access technology for many South Africans.”


Johannesburg has installed 1,000 Wi-Fi stations across the suburbs. These are installed near clinics, pools, Libraries and Bus stations.

Other centres, such as Cape Town, Tshwane and Mangaung have also implemented similar systems.

Joburg’s research suggests that free Wi-Fi is viewed by young people as even more basic than the need for food and shelter. This surprising revelation underpins the very basic need for Social Connectivity and opens up positive Social interaction.

  • It can lead to social security and the satisfaction of social needs. (Particularly “Family”).
  • This connectivity enhances self-esteem, can build self-confidence and achievement.
  • Ultimately leading to self-actualization, creativity, problem-solving and employment opportunities.
  • Connectivity is also part of the strategy to build micro entrepreneurs and networking opportunities. It upskills the unemployed.

300MB is available to users each day.

Joburg says:

The future of our country depends on unfettered and equal access to information.”

What’s needed for the Darling Wi-Fi Hub:
  • A structure that allows weather protection, shade, seating and 14hr access.
  • The Hub should be centrally located, easily visible, easy to access and visible for security management. There must be no “blind spaces” in the building, so that we can easily manage appropriate building use.
  • It must have water, lighting, power and Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • It must have rubbish receptacles.
  • It must have a Fire Hose reel installation securely located. (Break-glass access only).
  • Preferably a “green” building should be planned, possibly even using recycled components but with a groovy look that is compatible with youthful aspirations and tastes. The design should look to the future.
  • The Wi-Fi Hub should be relatively close to amenities.
  • The design should include posters and notice board for communicating news or networking promotions.
  • A night curfew should be implemented for the hub so that misuse of the building is limited.
  • Parental involvement should be encouraged.
  • Other activities could also be envisaged:
    • Group activities.
    • Positive Social opportunities.
    • Education opportunities.
    • Interactive initiatives, locally driven.
    • Training sessions involving upskilling.
    • Teaching Internet skills.
    • Teaching blogging skills.
  • We need a sponsor to fund the cost of the building installation and the monthly Wi-Fi data costs.
  • The Hub should essentially be branded as a Darling community initiative and not as a sponsor’s promotional vehicle.
  • A proper costing of the structure and WiFi technology is underway. This is a relatively cheap building.
Design Competition for Darling WiFi Hub:

We propose a design competition for the WiFi Hub open to all Darling residents. A local competition-judging panel, drawn from all of the Darling Community, will adjudicate the design against the Design Criteria. A prize of R1,000 has already been offered for the winning design chosen. Perhaps we should encourage young people in groups of three to enter, thereby getting a wider buy-in?

The Design Criteria will include all the basic functionality and security elements noted above and it will be brilliant if we can make it a “green” building with re-cycled materials and 100% local involvement. However we do want it to be a fun and visionary building, so the brief will encourage this kind of open thinking. At this stage a “concept” drawing and model has been prepared – pictures below. This is NOT the proposed design as that final chosen design must be locally initiated. The current design and model is only to guide entrants towards a free-er and more playful approach that can resonate with our youth. It is also to capture in physical form the required open-structured nature of the facility.

Concept model, NOT the final design.

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We want to encourage the competition and the winner/s and the key design principles in play with the building and the facilities it offers. Essentially these key founding principles are proposed to be:

Openness, Innovation, Exploration, Transparency, Fun in the gaining of knowledge, Social Connectedness and interactivity, Developing opportunity, Upskilling, Sharing knowledge and experience, developing entrepreneurial skills, developing a sense of self-worth and confidence, exploring employment opportunities. Community and family values.

The ‘nuts and bolts’ of the prototype building:

  • Central steel core for power, water and lighting in a secure tube. In this design the core is made of metal corrugated iron tanks joined together as a central supporting column with the building radiating around. This is part of the concept to have no hidden corners and to have a free flow of light and line of vision, inwards and outwards.
  • Radiating around the central core are seven stepped platforms supported on laced, radiating poles. The platforms perform the function of seating tiers at differing levels going upwards. There is a sense of a journey going up the platforms. Seats could also be placed at the ground level, below the platforms to increase capacity. The current seated capacity on the upper seating tiers for WiFi guests, is around 15.
  • The uppermost platform will only be around 2.4m above ground level.
  • There is limited enclosure around the outside of the poles spiral to ensure maximum openness. In this case a colourful sheet of iron with inserted round Plexiglas windows is spirally wrapped around the outside. Balustrades will be of colourful webbing secured between the poles to ensure complete safety.
  • The roof structure is in tilted triangular leaves that complete a very light and eye-catching assembly. Providing shade and rain protection but not storm protection. This is deliberately so, because permanent camping in the building is discouraged.
  • The overall look of the building should be fun, light-weight and inviting.

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Roy Adcock

Born in Pretoria, Roy is an artist and architect. Passionate about all things environmental and sustainable. He spent 40 years in Australia designing and building. He also established the Farmers market in Geelong where he lived, including food with a “taste”, a “place” and a “face”.

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