A Bus Station Like No Other

SANRAL’s creative design approach of bus stations for the Tshwane Rapid Transit (TRT) programme has helped to blend functionality with the rich architectural heritage in the capital city.

Historically important buildings that connect the early days of Pretoria with the vibrant struggle period of the 1950s and 1960s have been used as inspiration in the design of modern bus stations that will facilitate the movement of passengers into the urban core.

The A Re Yeng bus rapid transit system project was started by the City of Tshwane in 2008. SANRAL was appointed to manage the implementation of a project that involves the phased construction of more than 80km of bus lanes and some 50 TRT stations.

In terms of an amended agreement, SANRAL remained responsible for the design and construction of the bus stations along the 1A and 2A lines that connect the inner city with Mamelodi through the eastern suburbs of Tshwane and Soshanguve, explains the Project Manager, Hannes van der Merwe.

A competition for the design of the bus stations along the route was held and the City eventually approved the proposals submitted by two prominent firms of architects, Mashabane Rose and Mathews & Associates. The two selected station types are the Retro Tram concept and the
“Memory Box” concept.

At least two of the stations on the 1A line are situated close to important heritage buildings, Church Square with its many structures dating back to the last decade of the 19th Century and the Old Synagogue on Paul Kruger Street.

This building was constructed with donations from a prominent businessman at the time, Sammy Marks, and completed in 1902. The building, however, soon proved to be too small and the congregation later moved to a new synagogue in the City.

Later plans to develop a new Supreme Court at the site, just to the north of Church Square, did not come to fruition but the Old Synagogue was used as the venue for security- related trials during the apartheid years.

The founding father of South African democracy, former President Nelson Mandela, appeared in the makeshift dock at the Synagogue on three occasions. In the first, so-called Treason Trial, he was acquitted together with 156 other struggle stalwarts such as Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Ahmed Kathrada.

Later he was tried on two more occasions at the Old Synagogue, including during the well-known Rivonia Trial which led to his 27 years of incarceration, including a lengthy period on Robben Island.

The Old Synagogue was last used as a functional building for the inquest into the death of Black Consciousness leader, Steve Biko in 1977. Since then it was turned into a storage facility, and, eventually closed down. Today this historical treasure is shuttered, surrounded by high wire fences and slowly falling into disrepair.

Architect Pieter Mathews says the intention with the design of the bus station in front of the Old Synagogue was to reflect the historical and architectural significance of the building and its environment.

The Old Synagogue is one of the few remaining buildings in South Africa with a Byzantine fac?ade and its characteristic onion domes are indicative of a strong Eastern European influence among the Jewish community at the time.

The “Memory Box” concept is being used at all the stations designed by Mathews & Associates and at the Old Synagogue this was further adapted to blend in with the historical significance of the inner-city precinct. The lines of the exterior design are simple and clean and the scale is lowered so as not to compete with buildings such as the Old Synagogue and the nearby Ou Raadsaal and Palace of Justice.

The glass exterior complements the historical significance of the environment because it reflects the image of the Old Synagogue back to the viewer while simultaneously creating an open and inviting environment for the commuters who will travel on A Re Yeng buses on a daily basis.

This experience is repeated on the inside where the wavy design of the ceiling points commuters towards the travel experience, serving as a shelter and ticketing centre. Hanging wooden panels create the impression of flow to create a tranquil space for commuters within the bustling urban traffic environment.

Van der Merwe says a distinguishing feature of the new stations is the location of vertical art works that represent the culture and history of the immediate environment. Pieter Mathews is also the curator of the artworks that will be placed at 50 stations along the two main TRT corridors.

At the Old Synagogue station – named after struggle activist, Molefe Makinta – an art work done by internationally acclaimed visual artist, Marco Cianfanelli, will be erected. He was also responsible for a sculpture of Nelson Mandela erected at the site in KwaZulu-Natal where he was captured in 1962 prior to his trial at the Old Synagogue.