The South African urban environment, as is the case with most African cities, is fraught with tensions, disjunctions and places that require a broader in-depth understanding of their inner workings. It needs to be integrated on various levels and scales with its urban form and involve its citizens for a clearer way forward. The pre-1994 planning under Apartheid legislation resulted in cities being highly polarised, displaying extraordinary contrasts in wealth and poverty and the constant controlling of movement that was conspicuously aimed at creating separation. During the 1980s and well into the early 1990s, the previous Apartheid Government and the first democratically elected African National Congress (ANC) government, did little to govern or manage the urban environment. For nearly 20 years South African cities were left to expand, grow, invade and develop with very little aim, structure or vision. Due to the non-ability/non-willingness by local government to govern their urban spaces, a variety of informal urban users – including street traders and independently operated mini-bus taxis (14-16 seater vehicle) – appeared in South African cities, impacting dramatically the quality of public spaces. Due to their informal beginnings and operations, functioning independent of any government framework, these urban users were regarded as ‘illegal citizens’ of the city, deprived of a recognised status, occupying any available space, such as under-utilised land, city pavements, city parks and squares. The City of Johannesburg acknowledged this injustice and initiated a variety of public transport initiatives, facilities, trader markets and public space upgrades to both reintegrate these informal users and regenerate many of the poorly maintained civic spaces and areas within Johannesburg. The primary focus on bulk infrastructure, roads and transport is amplified by the fact that urban planning projects are still tendered to and facilitated by engineering firms, of which urban planning and design forms but a subsidiary part.
Re-establishing civic space In South Africa, our cities have for the most part been directed, planned and expanded by the rationalised requirements of vehicular access and bulk service requirements. The fact that our cities have citizens with broader needs than purely vehicular ones has not always been understood by government officials and built environment professionals. The focus on large-scale urban infrastructure has made the engineering fraternity the real driver of our urban environments, resulting in the lack of a sense of civic place making. The discourse revolves around considerations that could ensure a greater sense of civilness. Shouldn’t the provision of basic civic services be deemed important? The questions I have been confronted with more often than most, especially when dealing with larger civic issues and urban design are: What is the fuss, why bother with the regeneration of civic space? Surely the salient issue should be housing, water, electricity and roads; why bother with urbanity? Why the constant bickering to create quality public space? It is my opinion that the public realm in cities has two roles. Firstly, it is the dwelling place of our civic life; and secondly, it is the physical manifestation of the common good. When we degrade the public realm, we will automatically degrade the quality of our civic life and what our society stands for. The quality of our public environment and the ability to create spaces, which are worth caring about comes from a culture of civic design, a body of knowledge, method and skill utilised over centuries. Ignoring these principles has resulted in a scenario where the emphasis of public space design has shifted from the civic to the private sphere. In Johannesburg, we have ensured that a greater part of our cities are not worth caring about. We have created streets, squares and public spaces not worth looking after. Ensuring good quality public space is primarily dependent on our ability to define space by employing the vocabulary, syntaxes, rhythms and patterns of architecture. In an attempt to reintroduce good civic space and to create active and memorable public squares, a new development in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, shifted the focus towards the quality of the urban environment and not the architecture. The resultant development proved to be far more sustainable, as well as more profitable than other contemporary developments. For too long in South Africa our architecture and developments have consciously removed themselves from the public edge and if the longterm sustainability of our cities is to be assured, our spatial principles have to change drastically. The narcissistic position taken by architects and planners has to shift towards the shared and common, towards a greater sensory awareness of our built environment. This aim to create proud public space, a sense of place, an area worth caring for, is so important because it not only informs us where we are geographically, but also where we are in our culture, where we come from and what kind of people we are. It affords us a glimpse to where we are going and most importantly it allows us to dwell in a hopeful present.
Integration of the informal through civic space and architecture
Due to high urban migration into Johannesburg of over 300,000 people per year since 2001, together with a mushrooming of informal street traders and taxi operators, the city initiated a variety of projects to reintegrate the latter into the urban fabric. An important theme in the regeneration of Johannesburg is how to provide these street traders and taxi operators with representative architecture that will enable their endeavours, whilst also providing a sense of ownership and identity, and possibly even a sense of pride.
Rocky Street trader market
The Rocky Street trader market was the first pilot project to address the quality of civic architecture and urban space as a regeneration strategy in Yeoville, Johannesburg. The facility caters for the 300 street traders who formerly illegally occupied the streets of Yeoville. The market provides trader stalls, ablution facilities, cooking areas, trader storage spaces and manufacturing cubicles. The intention was to provide a robust structure that could accommodate the changing needs of the street traders and trader types found in Johannesburg. The success of the process was dependent on stakeholder participation and inclusion of the end-users into the design and construction programme. This new building typology, although heavily criticised during its inception, has grown to become a very successful civic building, attracting large numbers of visitors and shoppers on a daily basis.
Metro Mall transport interchange and trader facility
Realising those street traders could not sustain themselves independent of other city functions and activities, further projects were initiated, which followed a more integrative approach. Street traders, for example, go hand in hand with the taxi industry and the same principles guiding the operations of the street traders was applied to formalise the minibus-taxi industry, only on a far larger scale, with far greater impact on the public environment. The Metro Mall Transport Interchange and Trader Facility in the centre of Johannesburg were proposed to ensure greater integration of these marginalised street traders and taxi operators into the public realm. The project accommodates over 2000 minibus taxis, 800 street traders, retailers, community facilities, public squares, sheltered courtyards and markets. The Metro Mall design introduced a significant shift in the approach to dealing with public buildings in South Africa through its provision for a sector of our society that was marginalised in the past. It presents itself with pride and a sense of arrival, avoiding the stereotype taxi ranks we have seen dotted around our urban centres. If anything, it displays a sense of permanence, moving away from the temporary treatment the mini-bus taxis and traders received in the past. One of the initiatives that resulted in broad end-user participation was the introduction of an ‘Artworks Programme’. The city authorities were convinced to allocate 1% of the project budget towards art integrated into the building design and construction. As architects for the project we also identified a number of traders and manufactured items, which could be completed by artists. Over 90 people participated in this programme, trained by established mosaic artists, sculptors, muralists and graphic designers. This has created a great sense of ownership, as many of the traders and taxi drivers who participated in the programme still work in the building and proudly refer to their contribution. It is now a principle in government buildings that a minimum of 1% of the building budget be allocated to an artworks programme.
Baragwanath Transport Interchange and Trader Market (Soweto)
The Baragwanath Transport Interchange and Trader Market was initiated to integrate and uplift this important gateway into Soweto with the further aim to link Greater Soweto with Johannesburg. It is one of the busiest transport nodes in South Africa and the project site stretches over 1300 metres by 50 metres all along the most important arterial route into Soweto. The oblong shape of the site has posed a serious challenge to meet the extended accommodation requirements and the need to establish a number of public gathering spaces for commuters and visitors alike. The spatial principle was to provide an arcade as a structural spine along the entire length of the site. This arcade becomes the binding element for the development to which all the various functional requirements and public spaces are attached. Commuters would walk along the arcade from one public facility, market or gathering space to the next. The arcade is the focal point of the urban intervention within which the greatest number of traders and public amenities and spaces are positioned.
The enormous length of the arcade was spatially differentiated in reference to the functions that happen along it. Landmark structures have been positioned at focal points and public entry points to ensure a greater sense of orientation. These landmark towers also become the focus of artwork done by local traders, to enhance the sense of identity and ownership. As nearly 70% of all Soweto commuters use this interchange, the design seeks to acknowledge the importance of the transport facility and market in the Soweto context. The Taxi Rank and Market have become the train station of the past, the gathering place for the greatest number of its citizens. Concrete was consciously used with the aim to provide a more robust, permanent structure, acknowledging the importance of these types of buildings within our community. The material was sculpturally applied to avoid a monotonous application, given the length of the building, and to stand in contrast to the surrounding repetitive ‘Apartheid’ housing landscape of Soweto. Over the last two decades Johannesburg has slowly grown more confident in its ability
to deal with the large issues confronting it. Whereas the initial projects focused on the basic needs and wants of the city and its people, the latter development requirements speak more and more of assertive interventions, iconic architecture and planning in an effort to display a new sense of pride and selfconsciousness. Exemplary projects that display Johannesburg’s status as a world-class city are coming more to the fore. The danger is
that it becomes so obsessed with large scale internationally recognised interventions that the broader perspective and foundations laid in the early 2000s are forgotten. The self-same confidence by the city, its increasing ability to govern and oversee the vision of the city, is placing more and more emphasis on the quality of the common spaces, public gathering squares and streets as a renewed display of dignity and hopefully a greater sense of civilness