Pretoria Station, Paul Kruger Street, Pretoria City Centre, Tshwane
The Pretoria Station is situated at the top of Paul Kruger Street (previously Market Street). This street runs all the way through Church Square towards the valley and hills to the north of Pretoria (Greig 1970:167). The station accommodated many railway lines from the Cape, Natal, Delagoa Bay, and the northern Transvaal to Pretoria. In the early 1900s it was decided that Pretoria needed a new railway station because the administrative headquarters of the railways had been moved to Johannesburg (Greig 1970:167).
The Pretoria Station building has great significance with regards to South African history, heritage, architecture and culture for numerous reasons. One of the most important is that it was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who also designed the majestic Union Buildings, built on Meintjieskop a mile from the centre of Pretoria inner city, as well as other Cape Dutch style homesteads, houses, churches and office buildings in the Cape (Hartdegen 1988:98). The materials used for the Pretoria Station and the style in which it is built reflect the transformation of the Republic of South Africa into the independent and diverse country that it is today. Not only the architect of this building, Sir Herbert Baker, but also all the other architects, managers and contractors who were involved in the process of creating this building, remind us of South Africa’s past and England’s influence on our country during that time.
The Pretoria Station was built in 1910 (Hartdegen 1988:98) and is therefore already past the 60 year old mark which makes it, according to the National Heritage Resources Act, a heritage site of South Africa (NHRA 1999). The station also has cultural significance for the community of South Africa, because the Kruger Statue used to stand in the square in front of the station building (Breytenbach 1979:35).
 Current known heritage status
Subject to Section 32 and 34 of the NHRA (25 of 1999) as the work of an architect of note and a building that is older than 60 years.
 Known interested and affected parties
- Department of Architecture, University of Pretoria
- The South African Institute of Architects
- Pretoria Institute for Architecture
- The National Heritage Council of South Africa
- South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA)
The first station building was built in 1893 (Fig 1), and was at the time owned by the Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-maatschappij (NZASM; Netherlands South African Railway Company). The current Pretoria Station building designed by Sir Herbert Baker was only completed in 1910, at the time when the four provinces of South Africa were unified, and it was built with surplus funds of the Government of the province of Transvaal (Fig 1). The Pretoria Station building was Baker’s first design for a public building and it is here that he experimented with techniques and forms that he later used at the Union Buildings (Pretoria Station Update, June 2001:4).
In 1909 Baker received his first large commission for a secular public building in the Transvaal, this being the railway station in Pretoria, and according to him the first negotiations over the Pretoria Station started on 11 February 1909, and the plans for the aborted competition were inspected on the 19th of that same month (Keath 1992:157). Baker specifically asked that the Chief Architect of the Public Works Department, namely Pearcy Eagle, should study the plans and reports because he said that ‘[t]he Railway Department have apparently no architect, and it is no use reporting that things are to be done to the plans if there is no one of knowledge and taste to see that they are carried out.’ Because of this request and the calculated wording that he used it is stated that the job was then as good as his (Keath 1992:157). On March 1909 Baker started on his sketch plans for the station and on 7 April, only three weeks later, the plans were virtually finished, just before his departure to Cape Town, where he consulted with Fred Masey on a few finer details on the station’s design. On 11 August he delivered the contract drawings to Pretoria and construction began soon after (Keath 1992:157).
Mr. H.C. Hull, Colonial Treasurer and Chairman of the Railways Board, laid the foundation stone of the new station building (see Image 2) on 21 May 1910 (Pretoria Station Update, June 2001:4). Non-whites were not allowed to enter or use the main station building until the Group Areas Act was scrapped, and had to make use of the facilities on Bosman Street, an area that was previously called Pretoria B (Pretoria Station Update, June 2001:4).
An arson attack on the Pretoria Station building occurred during the night of 19 February 2001. On Monday afternoon Metrorail experienced some problems along the railway line to Pretoria. The hold-up caused commuters to wait longer than expected for their trains, and at around 6:30 pm more or less 6000 commuters had already been waiting for over an hour, resulting in a small group of individuals becoming restless and in the end violent (Pretoria Station Update, June 2001:1). These few people started to vandalise the building, harassing and attacking the station staff, and ended up setting fire to the furnishings in the Mainline Passenger Services (MLPS) centre on the ground floor of the station building. Although the fire brigade arrived within four minutes of the fire taking hold it was impossible for them to enter the building due to the intensity of the fire, and so almost a hundred percent of the roof structure was destroyed (ibid. 2001:2). Restoration of the Mainline Passenger Services (MLPS) centre, the MLPS ticket office, passenger elevators and almost hundred percent of the roof had to be done (ibid. 2001:3), and was completed at the end of the first quarter of 2002 (ibid. 2001:1).
 Description of site and/or structures and/or interior spaces
One of the problems that the architect had to deal with when designing the station was that it served as a terminal for a number of lines coming from places like the Cape, Natal, and Delagoa Bay, and it also served as a through line to the northern Transvaal (Greig 1970:167). These tracks enter Pretoria through a deep valley and meet the axis of Market Street (now Paul Kruger Street) at an angle of thirty degrees. All these characteristics of the site had an influence on the final design of the building. It was specifically planned with a main entrance block, which included booking halls and administrative offices, situated at right angles to the axis of Paul Kruger Street. This central block is flanked, at sixty degree angles, by two wings which contain further administrative offices. The railway officials could also be accommodated witin these wings. The conditions of the terminal tracks meeting with and entering the main block required the construction of a single roof (typical to European precedents) that could span all the tracks, but this was impossible to achieve (Greig 1970:167).
Another factor that had to be taken into consideration for the roof was Pretoria’s climate which causes heat and glare for most of the year. It is also an area that is susceptible to hail. The final decision was to cover the narrow platforms serving each of the tracks for a distance of more or less eight hundred feet, and therefore the drama of a colossal arch that is characteristic of some famous terminal railway stations was not possible for this design (Greig 1970:167).
The main building can be entered from the facing square (see Image 3) through a flat-roofed porte-cochère (Keath 1992:164), followed by a long arched and vaulted loggia (Fig 4) which has waiting and luggage rooms at both ends (Greig 1970:169). Besides the ground floor there are two more floors which mainly contain offices. In the middle of these floors is a deep recessed loggia with four sets of twin Ionic columns extending the full height of the two upper floors (Fig 5). Balustrades are provided at the bases of these columns (Fig 5). The columns acts as a screen for the high clerestory windows of the hall behind them. The entrance hall is covered with a reinforced concrete domed roof supported by concrete columns with granite bases. This structure therefore forms a vault with large windows that creates an open and welcoming space for travellers (Greig 1970:169). The ground floor public spaces contain ticket booths, baggage handling, refreshment areas and waiting rooms, a few of which are clad with a variety of marbles and even have beautifully designed skylights (Keath 1992:164).
A variety of materials were used in the construction and finishing of this building, of which most were of an experimental nature (Greig 1970:169). The four large columns in the entrance hall are of a local red granite, and it was the first time that this material was used in South Africa. Instead of using teak for the facings, it was decided to use a simple, inexpensive marble and local slate that also required less maintenance. The first-class waiting room was faced with a more decorative marble imported from Sweden that is light green with white markings on it. Brèche Rose and Norwegian marble of a hard texture line the walls of the general waiting room, giving a cool impression. These marble-lined walls do not only add to the aesthetics of the building but are also resistant to fire, as are the double-reinforced concrete floors (Greig 1970:169).
The station building’s walls are built of stone that is bonded into a brick lining, and have bases faced with a dull-coloured, rugged, but very durable granite. The granite used was quarried at Halfway House, situated between Pretoria and Johannesburg (Greig 1970:169). A type of sandstone that is free-working and does not weather very well was used to face the superstructure of the building (see Image 7). This type of sandstone is known as Flatpan and it was brought from the Orange Free State. The red ‘Italian’ tiles that were used for the roof were made in Vereeniging (see Image 9) and it is also the first time that this particular material was used in a public building in South Africa. The whole station building is topped off with a central clock tower (see Image 10) that was constructed in stone (Greig 1970:170). The ends of the main building’s façade are emphasised by means of balconied Venetian windows at first-floor level, and these windows have pairs of oval apertures beneath the eaves (see Image 10). The roof displays some Mediterranean influences (see Image 11), because of the Wren-inspired flèche that is noticeable on its narrow side (Keath 1992:165). Overall, the main elements used in the building design, such as the wide-eaved, low-pitched, red-tiled roof, the loggias, balconies, ionic columns and arcades, as well as the broad concrete vaults and deeply-splayed window openings in the domed entrance hall, resemble vernacular Italian architecture (Greig 1970:170).
Baker, H. 1912. Pretoria new station. African Architect, Sir Herbert Baker Collection. http://repository.up.ac.za/upspace/handle/2263/501 [Accessed 18 August 2010].
Breytenbach, J.H. 1979. Die Geskiedenis van die Krugerstandbeeld. National Culture-Historical and Open Air Museum, Brochure 1, pp. 35-37.
Geyser, A. & Gevers, E. 1986. ‘Stadsaal, Pretoriusplein en Stasie, Pretoria‘. Information available in the Boukunde Reading Room, University of Pretoria, Archive nrs. 00087 / 00088.
Greig, D.E. 1970. ‘Herbert Baker in South Africa‘. Cape Town: Purnell.
Hartdegen, P. 1988. ‘Our Building Heritage: An Illustrated History‘. Halfway House: Ryll’s.
Keath, M. 1992. ‘Herbert Baker: Architecture and Idealism. 1892-1913: The South African Years‘. Gibraltar: Ashanti.
National Heritage Resource Act (NHRA), 1999, Chapter 2, Part 2, Number 34, Republic of South Africa.
‘The night our station burned’, Pretoria Station Update, Issue 1, June 2001, p. 1.
‘On the Fast Track to Restoration’, Pretoria Station Update, Issue 1, June 2001, p. 3.
‘History of a Noble Building’, Pretoria Station Update, Issue 1, June 2001, p. 4.
‘Completion Date Delayed’, Pretoria Station Update, Issue 2, Dec 2001, p. 1.
Images 1-11: Photographed by Ilze Labuschagne (Author), on 16 August 2010.