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Wednesday Sep 21, 2016

Joburg's underground tunnels might become public spaces

Three kilometres of flooded, dingy and forgotten tunnels, hidden in the bowels of the earth in the centre of the Joburg CBD, could soon become trendy, well-lit pedestrian walkways – complete with coffee shops and real parks.

An artist's impression of the "Subcity" walkway.

The Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) plans to commission a feasibility study in the 2016/17 financial year into whether the old postal tunnels – which were closed in 1956 – could be used to connect various transport hubs and buildings.

So far, about 3km of tunnels have been found, but it is suspected there could be more.

Rumour has it that the tunnels extend to Constitution Hill and that in the old days, prisoners were transported through them.

Ray Harli and Yonah Odendal, from Urbansoup Architects and Urban Designers, have great plans for the tunnels. They specialise in transport-related architecture and focus on inner-city regeneration.

They rediscovered the entrance to one of the tunnels while constructing the new Kazerne transit-oriented transport hub near Queen Elizabeth Bridge.

"We were digging away into an old embankment when we found the entrance. We had no idea what was inside. We immediately got the heritage authorities and the JDA, for whom we are working on the Kazerne node, involved. We also started looking at the history of the tunnels," Harli said.

The pair of architects believe the tunnels could contribute to the urban regeneration and "stitching" together of city buildings and transport nodes of the new Kazerne and Park stations, as well as people who use the nearby Noord Street taxi facility. The tunnels would also become a new public space, said Harli.

They are working on a concept whereby the tunnels will act as an urban regenerative spine which will catalyse the regeneration of both existing and new building stock in the Joburg inner city.

They are identifying strategic areas where new ramps and staircases will be positioned at street level to increase accessibility to the tunnels.

The overall intention is to make the tunnels a destination and not only act as a connector.

The feasibility study could take about 18 months. The project has been called "Subcity".

The design of the new facility has purposely incorporated the tunnels' entrance in the overall layout and space planning.

The Star


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