CHYBIK + KRISTOF Architects has completed the restoration of the landmark Brutalist heritage site, Zvonarka Bus Terminal, in Brno, CZ. The project is the result of a ten-year campaign to preserve the structure, engaging with both public and private stakeholders to secure the funds for restoration and redesign of the decaying space.
Self-initiated in 2011, this redesign and restoration project saw the architects actively engage in preserving the existing Brutalist structure - a steel supporting frame and concrete roof - and its original architectural identity, reflecting CHYBIK + KRISTOF's commitment to perpetuating architectural heritage. Stressing the station's central role in the city and region's socio-cultural fabric, they address the urgency to rethink the use of a decaying transportation hub and public space. Placing transparency, and access, at the root of their design, they have transformed the bus terminal into a functional entity adapted to current social needs.
Akin to the internationally renowned Hotel Praha and Transgas buildings in Prague, Brno's Zvonarka Central Bus Terminal, built in 1988, has long been considered one of the notable remaining examples of the Czech Republic's Brutalist architectural heritage. Dominating much of post-war architecture, Brutalism or 'béton brut' - referring to the exposed concrete architecture that simultaneously celebrates progressiveness and experimentalism - has long polarized architects and scholars alike, among whom CHYBIK + KRISTOF. Like notable figures from Zaha Hadid to Kengo Kuma, they have consistently advocated for the preservation of Brutalist architectural heritage, citing its intriguing aesthetic and raw material qualities.
With many such structures demolished or threatened in recent years - among which the now demolished Hotel Praha (2014) and Transgas (2019), the controversial Robin Hood Gardens (2017) in London and the Burroughs Wellcome Building (2021) in the United States, CHYBIK + KRISTOF affirm their engagement for their protection, placing the Brutalist Zvonarka Bus Terminal building as a local case-in-point of such circumstances. "Demolitions are a global issue," explained co-founding architect Michal Kristof. "Our role as architects is to engage in these conversations and demonstrate that we no longer operate from a blank page. We need to consider and also work from existing architecture - and gradually shift the conversation from creation to transformation."
Designed in 1984 and built in 1988, the Zvonarka Central Bus Terminal has continuously acted as the region's main bus station for intercity transport. In 1989, the building was privatized, with only the first phases of construction complete, and resuming its role as a bus station. Recognized as a Brutalist heritage site, its high maintenance costs led to little upkeep, driving to its gradual deterioration.
In 2011, CHYBIK + KRISTOF grew aware of the station's decaying conditions. Eager to advance a positive alternative to a seemingly irrecoverable space, they reached out to its private owners with an elementary redesign proposal. Drawing wide public attention through social media, their initiative prompted a conversation between local private stakeholders and public authorities - and after a four-year-long collaborative exchange, the required funding was attained in 2015, notably through the project's recognition as a European funds project. In 2021, ten years later, the architects now unveil the restored and redesigned transportation hub and public space - a preserved Brutalist heritage site and reconfigured functional space, attentive to both its history and evolving social needs.
Transparency is at the root of their new design. Paying homage to its original architect Radúz Russ, they proudly expose the station's characteristically raw Brutalist elements - a steel supporting frame and concrete roof - contrasting their angularity with an organic wave that mirrors the seamless flow of vehicles and passengers. They also turn to structural transparency, removing walls and favoring light as evocative of access, safety and comfort. Following the original square floorplan, they reconfigure the main hall as an open structure devoid of walls. With a two-sided roof, the inner space houses the individual bus stops while the outer area serves as a parking space for buses. Eager to open up the terminal onto the city, the architects remove the temporary structures added in the 1990s and erect a second entry to the station at street level. Adding new light fixtures onto the main worn-down structure, which they repaint in white, they introduce a new information office, ticketing and waiting areas, platforms, and an orientation system accessible to the disabled. Through this design, CHYBIK + KRISTOF transformed the building into a dynamic, functional and intrinsically social hub, channeling an unrestricted flow of locals and passengers alike.
"While our familiarity with the city of Brno proved to be a real asset, our engagement for this project resonates with architects internationally," stated Ondrej Chybik and Michal Kristof. "Beyond a functional concern, the architects' role is rooted in understanding, deconstructing and responding to the shortcomings that often form our social structures - that is, our role is intrinsically social, based on 'people.' Ultimately, by revisiting the past, engaging with the present and projecting to the future, architects can, and must, be catalysts for change."
Photography: Alexandra Timpau