Zvonarka Bus Terminal

CHYBIK+KRISTOF

Architects: CHYBIK + KRISTOF
Location: Brno, Czech Republic
Year: 2021
Photography: Alex shoots buildings

Initiated by the architects in 2011, the redesign of Brno’s Zvonarka Central Bus Terminal brings to light the site’s original Brutalist identity and CHYBIK + KRISTOF’s longstanding engagement in preserving architectural heritage. Receptive to the station’s central role in the city’s social fabric, the architects demonstrate their responsibility and commitment to driving constructive social change.

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. “Demolitions are a global issue,” explains 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 phase of construction complete, and resumed its role as a bus station. Recognized as a Brutalist heritage site, its high maintenance costs led to little upkeep, leading to its gradual deterioration.

In 2011, CHYBIK + KRISTOF became 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, 10 years later, the architects unveiled the restored and redesigned transportation hub and public space – a preserved Brutalist heritage site and reconfigured functional space, attentive to both its history and to evolving social needs.

The Zvonarka Central Bus Terminal mirrors CHYBIK + KRISTOF’s profound social awareness in conceiving their projects. First identifying the ongoing social dynamics, they engage with diverse stakeholders: architects, public entities and private partners, local and external. Adopting a holistic sociocultural and technical approach, they ultimately put forward a user-centered, conscious design – one that moves beyond the mere construction process. Stressing the station’s role as the point of entry and departure for the city, they outline the significance of this transitional space, as transportation hubs increasingly come to act as windows onto cities. While conceiving a functional redesign receptive to users’ needs, the architects cultivate the station’s essence as the city’s social nerve, envisioning how to further integrate it into the surrounding urban fabric and invite new social dynamics within it.

“The role of the architect begins prior to the first sketches. Fully understanding the social dynamics at play in every project is at the heart of our practice,” states co-founder Ondrej Chybik. “With this in mind, we as architects assume a crucial role in both the inception and materialization of a project – we are here at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. Instigating a dialogue; resolving the existing shortfalls – social, economic, cultural, and deeply political; bringing forward innovative and inclusive solutions – it is our responsibility to step out of our studios and onto the streets.”

True to these two engagements, CHYBIK + KRISTOF position themselves as both architects and citizens of this urban space. In doing so, they consider the inherent relationships, nuances and synergies between what exists and what is envisioned, the public and the private spheres, the function and the experience – while stressing the station’s primary role as a transportation hub, through which over 820 regional, national and international connections and 17,000 passengers transit each day.

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 to evoke access, safety and comfort. Following the original square floorplan, they reconfigure the main hall as an open structure devoid of walls. 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 to the city, the architects remove the temporary structures added in the 1990s and erect a second entrance 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 transform the building into a dynamic, functional and intrinsically social hub, channeling an unrestricted flow of locals and passengers alike.

Reflecting on this reconstruction and urban renewal project, Ondrej Chybik and Michal Kristof state: “While our familiarity with the city of Brno proved to be a real asset, our engagement for this project resonates with architects internationally. 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 designing for the future, architects can, and must, be catalysts for change.”