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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

HRM by Re-Design: Public Transit Inspired

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A series that examines urban and architectural issues in Halifax by way of unbuilt proposals authored by different designers, this week featuring a project by graduate architect Paul Zylstra for a bus shelter at the intersection of Spring Garden Road and South Park Street. All drawings and images courtesy Paul Zylstra.

Text by Dustin Valen

HALIFAX – Criticism of public transit risks becoming a proverb for indignation. Notwithstanding long waits, bad moods, and iffy weather, public transit remains a necessity for many people. Languid discomforts taint our perception of public transit and sidetrack discussions about sustainability, the right to mobility, and the importance of economic diversity in our city. Not the least bit helpful is the searing objectivity that has inspired the design of our existing curbside bus shelters. More insidious than the status quo, these buildings do little to inspire the imagination and underscore the lack of value we invest in our public transit system. A more inspiring discussion surrounds a provocative first year studio project by graduate architect Paul Zylstra who, by creating a pragmatic connection between public transit and public space, transforms the humble bus shelter into an artful paradigm.

A bus shelter personifies a community, signifying a place where people choose to live, work, and shop; a map of public transit across Halifax and its regional municipality reveals the densest and most frequented places in the city as well as daily routines of thousands of commuters. Although individually modest, each bus shelter is part of a vast network that is traveled in small segments by thousands of people every day — tiny outposts that safely negotiate passengers from streets to sidewalks.

Zyltra’s proposal for a shelter at Spring Garden Road and South Park Street artfully mediates between the busy street and park.  Inspired by the essentially public nature of each, the shelter forms a gateway between the street’s edge and green way by elevating one corner of Victoria Park and burrowing beneath it. The orchestration of both public spheres permits the shelter to frame the civic space surrounding the statue of Robbie Burns, and for the park in turn to frame access to public transit. Markedly different from large transit hubs like the proposed Bridge Terminal on the Dartmouth Common, Zylstra’s building remains modest, existing only as part of a larger network linking pedestrians to public spaces throughout the sprawling city; its strength residing in its ubiquity, not its monumentality.

Seen from Spring Garden Road, Robbie Burns appears to rise above the sloping roof

Currently, six bus routes stop at the busy intersection of Spring Garden and South Park; at times fifteen buses are scheduled to arrive in an hour, about one every four minutes — two minutes accounting for buses traveling in both directions.  Defining a corner of both the Public Gardens and Victoria Park, the intersection serves as a gateway to the shops and restaurants lining Spring Garden Road. The significance of the site as a threshold between the Queen Elizabeth II hospital and Dalhousie University to the West, and business district to the East, has made it a popular destination at which to arrive or depart from downtown by students, workers and shoppers alike.

A long site section of Victoria Park with fountain (left), and proposed bus shelter (right)

The proposal firmly anchors the corner of the park at the busy intersection, a strategy that, Zylstra says, simultaneously “provides shelter for commuters and extends the park” while creating a “defined space around the existing statue of Robbie Burns.” As a counterpart to the elevated fountain at the park’s opposite end bordering University Avenue, the rise of the shelter’s roof remains consistent with the park’s formal layout as well as serving the needs of commuters. The resulting mutuality of Victoria Park, its civic space, and the bus terminal is a consequence of a careful reading of the important site and the sensitive design approach taken to accord with the existing conditions.

Rising from the ground, the bus shelter protects the park from both the sight and noise of cars in order to heighten the intimacy of the square surrounding Robbie Burns.  Likewise, the new topography enriches the park with a greater diversity of spaces as people move over, under, and through the shelter, gaining new perspectives from which to survey the surrounding city. A series of study models reveal careful attention paid to the quality of light beneath the shelter’s canopy. The sophistication of the proposal is not belied by its simplicity; by investing this simple building with the particularities of site, Zylstra calls for the pragmatic reconsideration of Halifax’s transit network in which bus shelters are invested with artful, albeit modest designs.

A series of light studies were performed to test the quality of the covered space

The final sculpted form with a single round skylight

Paul Zylstra is a recent graduate of the Dalhousie School of Architecture, he lives and works in Halifax.


One comment

  1. Beautiful concept, and great post – time to start translating all the HRM-centric research coming out of the Dal School of Architecture into actual design proposals! A huge untapped resource.