celebration promenade: the void as generator in architecture



bloemfontein, south africa


The void as generator of architecture:


The City of Bloemfontein- like many other cities in South- Africa, has suf- fered from a transition to- and from fatigue and renewal; xenophobia and global identity. With the Soccer World Cup approaching, a renewed emphasis falls upon the urban wastelands, post-spaces or voids left over, after events of this magnitude. While addressing the voids that will be left in the future city fabric, the consideration of existing voids, which have over long periods of time become “scars” in our city, becomes inevitable.With regards to the voids or “scars” – which in most cases have had negative physical and mental influences on the urban fabric, as well as the society faced with them- it becomes essential to remedy the wounds that they have created. Through this design exercise, we have made an attempt to fill these voids by restoring the third landscape to its former glory by stitching up the wounds left by its removal. The “solid” new landscape can now become a space for watching, socializing and interacting - a space healed. A space brought to life. A space that will live on.

An urban design process was used in the construction of a laceration, in the form of a bridge over Bloemspruit- which at present acts as an open wound-together with an organic life- giving promenade, running along it. This gives physical design direction to urban growth, conservation and trans- formation in the Bloemfontein city centre. Through the careful consideration of transitional spaces and the effects of solids and voids, on a mental and physical level, the design approach reflects the interface between architecture, landscape and town planning, but also the complex relationship between all the elements of built and unbuilt space.

An opportunity is given for the creation of a meaningful place. Place being a space long taken over by human beings and where something is said about the relationships which human beings have with their own history, their nat- ural environment and with one- another. The idea of non-place, which is built on the concept of unrootedness, is demolished.


”The design space anticipates new ways of how people live. It reflects rural habits within an urban setting - a culture going through a transition.” - Mpheti Morojele


Transitional space:


Transition and change are some of the most important qualities that can be expressed through architecture. These qualities and spaces that express trans- formation play a fundamental role in our existence. They are experienced across many lands and cultures and within many beliefs and practises.

We felt strongly about the fact that he powerful experiences concerned with the process of transformation should not be limited to merely members of a particular group, but should extend beyond limitations and embrace multi- tudes of people, beliefs, uses and qualities. 


This project explores the idea of celebrated spaces and what it means in an urban context. It also questions the creation of physical space that can act as a gateway or transition to celebration which can provide an escape or retreat from the ordinary.


Urban planning- a transition from apartheid: The early government reforms did little to ameliorate the situation created by empty spaces after Apartheid, so conditions deteriorated through accelerated urbanisation, economic stagnation and rising political unrests. The transition period is fraught with difficulties and so warrants detailed consideration. While architecture in South-African cities is a mix of European styles- Cape Dutch, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco and more recently, Tuscan. We were interested in exploring whether the new democratic order is being reflected in new buildings going up specifically with regards to the transitional spaces created by structures. Ideally these spaces would also give way to a new state of mind in the people who used them.

Apartheid has had a profound effect on the country’s architecture- something that is still very evident. In no other country does architecture and urban planning bear such vivid witness to history, to politics and to social division. And these deeply embedded traces of Apartheid remains visible in South Af- rica to this day. “Apartheid didn’t produce public spaces of note. The new style is trying to re-invent those spaces.”-Peter Rich


Transition to the restoration of the third landscape: The third landscape refers to left over space. A void. It refers to the space not used as a result of growth and expansion in cities, like Bloemfontein. It can be seen as the natural element in every dynamically evolving city. The third landscape accumulated in the wake of the socio- and spacio- economic processes of deindustrialization, and technological innovation. These spaces are the abandoned or transitional.

Through the design process that we followed, one of the main objectives became the restoral of the third landscape. It became the medium through which the existing- man made- wound in the urban fabric could be lacerated in an organic way. 

Through the use of this natural element, the void could be filled. The third landscape could begin its natural healing process of breeding the diversity, so urgently needed in the city. The newly integrated landscape will bring humans closer to nature by integrating them into it.



Visual voids in architecture: The “Void” is the space between; space of potential and anticipation. Every architectural project begins in that space where there are potentially endless opportunities and ideas, and room for exploration and discovery. The current uses and abuses of urban space have informed much of the renewed interest in contemporary city life. 


Abstract, absolute, rationalized, commercial, privatised spaces are at odds with differential, chaotic, forgotten, peripheral or public spaces. The visual voids that this project was concerned with, represented themselves- firsts and foremost in the form of the open wound in the urban fabric- the Bloemspruit. The negative spaces created by the inverted building in the surroundings also represented voids that 

needed to be filled. This filling of voids became the main objective of the project. The void became the generator of architecture.


Mental voids in society: Mental voids in the urban fabric, comes into existence as a result of the disruption of the status quo. A void replaces the feeling of community and meaning that once existed.The mental voids that exist in the areas within the chosen site, are reflections of the existing crisis through which the superstructures of social and personal relationships are called into question.A feeling of uncertainty hangs in the air. Reaction within- and to the spaces becomes hard to determine.

It was however determined early in the design process that action is required.Through the physical “laceration” in the form of a connective bridge over Bloemspruit, the project addresses the void which acts as a separating element in the urban fabric. We hope to fill the negative mental void, by replacing the feeling of unrootedness with a sense of community and diversity through the integration of the natural third landscape and other transitional, connective and facilitating elements. 


Design solution


Precedent study: Lebbeus Woods’ construction of the SCAR in Sarajevo.


The site that Woods designed the proposal for, is the ruins of an old tobacco factory in Sarajevo, 

damaged by the siege that took place there. The factory had symbolic meaning- it was something without which the city would be lost.Woods believed that it would not be possible for the destruction to be erased, but that it had to be transcended. It was important in the design to reflect the transformation that needed to take place in the area. To illustrate this concept, Woods used a medical metaphor to express his ideas. He constructed the idea of scars that come from deep wounds. As time passes by, a scar- in the form of a structure is left behind on site- an embodiment of the past and the events leading up to this creation of new tissue in the urban fabric.

The scar acts as a symbol of the healing power of nature and the new tissue that forms on the wound. It symbolises transformation and hope that the past has been overcome and that a new chapter begins.


© Jaun van Wyk