Unlocking the potential of the Durban city hall precinct : an urban design/town planning response for a post-apartheid South Africa.
Public space is a fundamental component of the urban condition. Throughout the history of settlement planning, its inclusion has represented the role and identity of the citizen in society. By definition, it encapsulates concepts of freedom, justice and social inclusion. The apartheid spatial experience however, has woven persistent spatial distortions into the urban landscape. Public space was imbued with apartheid ideology, promoting sinister nationalist agendas whilst defining spatial experience by race. It is the premise of this paper that South African public space must be re‐conceptualized in order to embody the aspirations of a new democracy and to maintain its relevance in a post‐apartheid landscape. The Durban City Hall Precinct should represent the symbolic heart of the city. The City Hall and its primary public square, Francis Farewell Square, should capture both the city’s history and the direction of its developmental potential. As the most central and prominent public space, its re‐conceptualisation has the capacity to re‐inspire civic identity and turn the tide of a thirty year decline of the inner city. The process used to achieve such aspirations requires an approach broader than a single built environment discipline. Contemporary approaches to complex urban challenges call for greater integration between disciplines, in particular, the fields of town planning, urban design and architecture. The modernist paradigm has seen the divergence of interests and agendas between built environment disciplines at the ultimate expense of place making and identity. As cities grow, we are faced with the expanding monotony of an urban landscape which surrenders the upliftment of the human spirit for infrastructural demand. This study serves to highlight the potential of the City Hall Precinct and the process and depth of approach required to inform relevant public space. The study explores integrative approaches to planning challenges and the role of design in the redevelopment of public space in city centres. Using the City Hall precinct as a case study, the study pursues this holistic approach as a replicable methodology which should underpin the development of all public space initiatives.