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Billboards: A case for the Strand-Adderley intersection?

I don’t believe that billboards are the solution to creating vibrant public spaces or that mimicking a “Times Square” or “Picadilly Circus” feel in Cape Town presents a solid urban proposal. I do believe that, good, well thought-out and relevant public space design ideas, are the way to go.

That said, I’m not convinced that large billboards are visual pollution, if used as part of a larger regeneration project or if they can act as the catalyst to physically improve the surrounding area. I find the prospect of a 14x36m video billboard, wrapped around the Woolworths Building in Cape Town quite exciting, and not because it will constantly throw the words “Sanyo” or “Samsung” or “MTN” in the faces of those engaged in its surrounds, including motorists and commuters.

As it stands today, the Strand Adderley intersection, as a major focal point, and busy intersection in the Cape Town CBD  is far from desirable and given its context in the broader CBD, unacceptable. Regardless of the congestion or “busy-ness” that may appear at this intersection , there is no visual diversity, character or interest in this space.

This location, within the context of the broader CBD should, in my mind, be a dominant urban space, physically and in the minds of citizens. As commuters or pedestrians exit from Cape Town Station Square, they should feel a sense of arrival, and through the improved prominence of this site, temporarily using a major billboard, may partially achieve this.

As the above images indicate, every corner of the intersection shows off a dead and deactivated facade. Excluding the Golden Acre (which has seen better days) with its glass facade “opening up” onto Adderley Street, each corner is brown (literally and figuratively), depressing and uninspiring. The corner of Station Square is a reminder of the missed opportunity for a revived public space. Colour and lighting will in my view be a positive addition to this space, even if only temporarily to add touch of excitement . There is no real architectural merit in any facade, to the point that one could motivate for it to remain uncovered. Perhaps these facades should be concealed, not exposed.

Pedestrians are banished from the public realm of the Strand-Adderley intersection into the abyss of the underground Golden Acre retail area , creating “dead space” around its edges. A visual focal point will reintroduce the site as a place of interest, and could act as a catalyst for the broader regeneration or reconfiguration of what should be a public space (perhaps as an extension of Station Square). Who knows, perhaps the City of Cape Town will be forced to rethink this space and make a decision.

The resulting exclusion of pedestrians from this space, and the awkward inclusion of a paved pedestrian path and cyle lane (wrapped around the Golden Acre end) makes the existing Woolworths Billboard very ineffective. Surely it was not intended to target motorists?

In an ideal world, funds would be available for traffic to be diverted underground as we see in City’s like Madrid. This space would be transformed into a public square with pedestrians moving into and across the square. An opportunity for an iconic sculpture or fountain at the centre of this space, along with option of the 14x36m billboard broadcasting major events and scenes from around the City, creates an exciting prospect for the future.

One can imagine this billboard as a public communication tool beyond simply commercial advertizing. An animated screen as part of the Adderley Street night-markets or the “switching on” of the festive lights.

I am certainly not proposing an open-ended billboard policy across the CBD, but in this location, within this context and until futuristic buildings proposals (of suitable architectural quality) for this site become a reality a 14x36m billboard, is a positive urban intervention.

The Future?

Outside of ambitious futuristic proposals suffocated by the recession (see image below), the future of the intersection is limited to the IRT station. The station was initially planned to be located on Adderley Street intersecting with the current start of the Fan Walk. This station will only likely be in place by 2012, if not 2013 and will in itself ask more questions of this site.

The redevelopment of the Golden Acre by Growthpoint, may now take a backseat after their recent acquisition of the V&A Waterfront, while the 2 towers proposed some years ago by a consortium, replacing the current Woolworths Building may be a decade away.

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Rashiq Fataar

Founder and MD at Future Cape Town

Rashiq Fataar is the founder, Editor in Chief and Managing Director of Future Cape Town.