An important aspect of the City of Joburg’s Corridors of Freedom programme was a project led by the Johannesburg Development Agency’s (JDA), the Rea Vaya BRT system. The BRT system was seen as an important component in the Johannesburg public transport system because it would provide affordable public transport. This development came in the years and months leading up to the FIFA World Cup in 2010, and its completion had much political will behind it. The Johannesburg BRT system was the first city in South Africa to implement the system and started operations at the end of August 2009. The development programme included an artworks component, commissioned by the JDA on behalf of the City of Joburg. The project was managed by The Trinity Session, Turkis, and Urban Works.
Details on the public artwork programme
The selection of designs was based on their site-specificity, and ability to create something unique within a limited range of fabrication materials. An article that was published on Arrive Alive in 2009 featured the artwork development programme of the BRT, and gives a good insight into the larger design context of my contribution:
The brief for artists was developed around the need to create a unique experience at each station, while simultaneously aiming for coherence within the context of each station being part of a larger system connecting different parts of Johannesburg. The programme included site-specific research and aimed at empowering local artists. The individual designs were chosen on the strength of their relevance to the particular station’ context.
The stations are made mostly glass and steel, and this created a great backdrop for the artworks. The glass panels allow an abundance of natural light to flood the station, thereby creating a sense of transparency and connectedness with the environment in which each station is situated. This presented an ideal opportunity for artists to incorporate this sense of locality in their designs. But is also meant that the art works needed to take a form that would integrate into the station, and would not block light or vision. The works also needed to be vandal-proof.
To solve these problems it was decided that each art work would take the form of a sand-blasted image, treated with spot-colours. This allows the works to enhance the natural light and the sense of space. The steel elements, facing directly onto the street, presented the artworks team with the opportunity to create designs that would not only engage the users of the station, but also pedestrians and people who live in the vicinity of these stations. The steel panels were treated with a combination of laser-cutting and painting.
My design process
The station in which my design is featured is part of the Rea Vaya’s Phase 1A. I reviewed the areas of stations that needed artwork and decided that the station that had the most crossover with my research interests was in the inner city. The station I chose is called Carlton Eastbound with the closest corner on Albertina Sisulu Road (then called Market Street), between Delvers Street and Troy streets. This is in an area which is known as the fashion district of Johannesburg CBD: it is very urban, and the street level shops are driven by retail. I imagined the BRT stations as being the connectors for people to this area from elsewhere in the city, making the area even more vibrant than it was.
The design was created around the ideas of motion, trade and business. It visualises an experience of moving through the area of Albertina Sisulu Road, Delvers Street and Troye Street. It visualises the movement of people and goods. On the glass panel, the wide variety of fashion items and accessories are arranged in such a way that it allows the eye to dance over the composition. They depict buses going along a route showing images of T-shirts, pants, belts, bags and shoes. On the metal panels, three identical aerial views of the street present the hustle and bustle of the area. This map-like overview of busses and people depicts constantly moving cars and people. In both the glass panel and metal panels the connection between trade and the infrastructure provided by the BRT is established by the inclusion of the image of a bus.
Update on the BRT system, ten years later
When a station ambassador was interviewed in 2010 he said that about 3000 people used this Eastbound route every day. Almost a decade later, however, the BRT system remains underutilised, as outlined in a 2018 article on Engineering News by Irma Venter. The reason is that is given for the low utilisation of the BRT system is that Johannesburg has low urban density, and this results in low vehicle productivity. While there are time savings potentials in using the BRT, low usage and high operational cost are serious problems. According to the article the system is being reformed along the lines of an integrated approach, which integrates BRT systems much more closely to metro buses, trains, and taxis. Such an integrated approach could see some changes to the BRT station operations. The station where my artwork is located is in the Johannesburg CBD and will likely remain a critical point within the network.