Arabic numerals connect art, technology and our hopes for the future


Numbers. We use them to count, calculate and communicate.

Numbers are also technology, the key to a better and more sustainable future.

And numbers are art.

Siemens has teamed up with calligrapher and artist Wissam Shawkat and Know Creative to present Fabric, a unique perspective on the beauty, magic and vitality of numbers. Together with Fabric, Shawkat and Know Creativ have integrated the Arabic heritage of numbers into the vision for the future of Expo 2020 Dubai – a world in which cities are safe, efficient and in harmony with the natural environment.

The Middle East is the birthplace of the numbering system that most of the world uses today. Numbers are a link with the history of this region, but they also connect us to tomorrow. No city embraces the future like Dubai, and this year’s Expo was a showcase of the transformative power of digitally connected smart cities.

Today we work, play, study and play immersed in an invisible sea of ​​numbers. Our modern way of life is possible through basic code strings of zeros and ones. The vast amounts of data we generate and use every day rely on this binary coding, which endlessly circulates around us to power our digital age.

“It’s amazing to think that behind something as complex as today’s modern digital world hides something as simple as a string of numbers,” says Siemens CEO Helmut von Struve. Middle East.

“Every time we pick up our phone, board a train, or turn on our TV, this binary code keeps things moving. Numbers are the cornerstone of modern life, creating a connected world.

For Fabric, Shawkat and Know Creative created a series of 10 calligraphic images on separate panes. Each illustration represents a part of the Dubai Expo site map. When viewed in full, the layers of imagery overlap to form a complete map of Expo, embedded in an intricate pattern of zeros and ones. The art represents the basic code of digitization and celebrates its connection to Arab culture.

“The 10 digits we know and use ― from 0 to 9 ― were first created in the Arab world over 1,000 years ago,” explains Shawkat. “This numbering system spread from North Africa to Europe, eventually becoming almost universal. So the zeros and ones of the modern numeric code actually have their origins in Arabic history.”

The Arabs, inspired by even older Hindu numbers, developed their own numbering systems. During the 10th century, Arabic numerals spread to Europe from North Africa and Andalusia in Spain. They won converts with their graceful simplicity. As a logical system, Arabic numerals marked a huge improvement over complex Roman numerals. And as calligraphic forms, they had immense aesthetic appeal.

Siemens Fabric captures the digital footprint, the hidden history of Dubai, and plans to spark conversations about the possibilities technology offers for future cities.  Photo: Siemens

This attraction reflects the importance that Arab culture has always given to the art of writing. In Arabic numerals and writing, fluidity and rhythm are paramount, with simple elegance at the forefront. They combine function and form in an ideal union.

Arabic numerals have also been a catalyst for economic and technological progress through the ages. The Arabic system allowed for rapid calculation, a necessity for surveying, navigation, and keeping financial records. From commercial booms to creative explosions such as the Renaissance, numbers have played a vital role.

More recently, numbers have served as a medium for computers and code. Since the 1940s, the principle of “strings of numbers” has led to the various systems such as ASCII and binary coded decimal that computers today use to encode data and telecommunications systems use to transfer it.

Dubai and other digitally connected cities have now entered a new era of nearly endless possibilities for data and digitalization. Siemens builds intuitive bridges between the physical and digital realms. Its objective is to improve the efficiency and reliability of industries and power grids, to alleviate the pressure on resources and to create an urban infrastructure that ensures the safety, comfort and health of people.

“Digitalisation is essential to creating sustainable environments that connect technology and people with major and lasting benefits,” said von Struve. “We believe anything is possible with this approach, with this web of digital code that runs through everything.”

Dubai aims to ensure a legacy for Expo 2020 by reconfiguring the site into a vibrant new urban district. The area will be home to approximately 145,000 people and serve as a magnet for sustainable business and investment.

“A city like Dubai has a unique energy that Know Creative and I sought to capture in this Fabric for Siemens project,” says Shawkat. “No other city is so intertwined with the digital code. At the same time, Dubai is at the heart of the Arab world, where numbers have taken on their globally familiar forms. There is beauty and power in this combination ―of past and present, art and technology ― which we hope will truly inspire people.

Siemens Fabric celebrates this achievement with a story unique to this region, the story of the numbers; how they have inspired and sparked innovation in our world for centuries and will continue to do so in the future as our cities become smarter and more sustainable.

Updated: June 23, 2022, 04:06

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