Re-Stitching the City
Johannesburg is a divided city both historically and physically. While Johannesburg is one of the worlds largest conurbations not situated on the coast or on a major watercourse, the railway tracks have acted as a socio-economic and infrastructural divide.
There are a series of bridges which span the divide successfully when seen through an infrastructural lens but which reflect Johannesburg’s pre-occupation with the motor car as the primary means of transport.
The M1 is a freeway overpass with no attempt to accommodate pedestrians. The Queen Elizabeth Bridge’s heavy colonial history and vision of connecting the Cape to Cairo does not improve the already narrow pavements, concrete balustrades and noisy roads.
Lastly the Nelson Mandela Bridge which symbolises connecting the city and the end of Apartheid. This was again designed predominantly for vehicles with two narrow walkways on either side.
We have decided to tackle the widest portion of the railway line in a direct response to the adjacent three bridges and their shortfalls and to create a truly successful pedestrian orientated bridge with accessible public spaces from which to admire the city and interact with people.
The 61 storey skyscraper which defines the new bridge has been strategically placed in the railway sidings connecting two important cultural precincts, namely Braamfontein and Newtown, where the temporarily unused trains are parked. It will be the tallest building in Johannesburg at 288m. The beginning of a new era of tall buildings in Johannesburg.
Johannesburg was developed and planned upon the principle of segregation. The Urban Connector will be one of the agents in re-stitching and repairing Johannesburg. The presence of cables and the building façade sub-structure adopt the language of a woven cloth weaving the city together.
A market place is proposed under the canopy of the building with escalators taking the public down to a train station with a direct link to the trains. Another escalator takes people up to a mezzanine level where three banks of lifts transport them to the three programmes in the building: office, hotel and residential with an iconic restaurant on the 61st floor.
The Urban Connector is completely integrated with the urban fabric. It occupies previously wasted space and connects both sides of the city while creating necessary links to public transport nodes.
The three ends of the bridge meet the pavements where people naturally gather and walk. The tension cable connections as well as the balustrades form benches along the length of the bridge. The absence of basement parking in a car based society and only permitting maintenance and delivery vehicles entrance when necessary promotes walking, cycling and using the trains and taxis.
The height, mass and angle of the elegant tower allows for the slender bridge to be suspended above the railway tracks without load-bearing columns interfering with the trains. It is the bridge which enables the skyscraper to be inhabited and green spaces to float above the once industrial area.