Velenje / Slovenia / 2014

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The Velenje "Promenada" is an important city space and a vital city thoroughfare. It is one of the key axes of the city centre, which is why it cannot be considered separately from the other city space within the context of the planned renovation. The intervention into the space must naturally be designed locally, in a way that allows an execution in stages, as provisioned in the project's budget. Still, it makes sense to outline the vision of the revitalization of the entire city centre; in this way, the spatial intervention is given a wider framework, which will ensure an informed sitting into the present and future city space.

Velenje is a special city. As new post-war town, its design was based on the Modernist ideal of the garden city and as such, it is unique in the Slovene space. This special characteristic is to be, first of all, retained; it is then to be rid of unnecessary and undesirable elements that have accrued through time; finally, it needs to be upgraded according to the needs of contemporary life. The city centre must be enhanced with the programmes it is missing, instilling more life into it. We have every possibility to accomplish this: the city centre is closed for traffic, which comparable cities are yet to achieve; and the city's airy design offers sufficient available surfaces to accommodate additional programme.

What, then, is needed for the city centre to be revitalized? People! Only people as active users of the space can infuse the city with the energy necessary for its rebirth. And how to go about bringing more people into the city?

The users of the city centre may be placed roughly into two groups. Those in the first group live in the city; they are the most active users of the space, but there are relatively few of them living in the city centre nowadays. Additional inhabitants must be attracted with greater quality of habitation. New types of flats with multi-leveled, well-lit and airy spaces and green terraces could win over particularly those young families who would otherwise fulfill their housing needs by moving to a single-family house on the outskirts of the town. In doing that, the settlement structure of the city centre is improved and new users of the space are secured. Not insignificantly, such a form of habitation is also much more sustainable than individual residential development in the city's surrounding areas.

Other users arrive into the city, some by bicycle or using public transport. These two forms of access must naturally be encouraged but one needs to realize that due to the relatively small size of the town, it's impossible for the public transport in particular to be fully developed. Due to the town's dispersion, many arrive into the city centre by car, and already today, a large portion of the city's surface is designated for stationary traffic. If the number of visitors to the city centre is to be increased, this is a problem that needs to be solved.

But why do people choose to come to town for? Mainly for the programme and events. To revitalize the city, all the events (of which there is no shortage in Velenje) need to be purposely concentrated in the centre so as to generate the necessary critical mass and continuity of activity. People simply have to get used to coming to the city. The commercial programme will then automatically follow the demand and further enrich the activity in the city centre. Having the necessary infrastructure in place is certainly helpful, though.

Velenje was designed as a garden city and as such, it had a lot of unoccupied ground-level surfaces. With the increase in the number of vehicles, these surfaces began to turn into car parks. Despite the fact that Velenje's centre is a pedestrian zone, a large - possibly too large - portion of the exterior ground surface is designated for stationary traffic. This also crucially affects the quality of open-air habitation. And with the envisioned increase in the number of users of the city centre, car parks stand to become an even bigger problem. For a successful revitalization, solutions need to be found which will increase the number of available parking spaces while reducing the surface area occupied by them at present.

Parking surfaces may be divided into two groups. The first are the residents' parking spaces; due to private ownership, little can be done about those. The surfaces occupied by public car parks, however, need to be rationalized by multi-leveled parking. Such parking arrangements are to be sited along the perimeter road and placed at the beginnings of the main walking directions. This way, they're easily accessible by vehicles and pedestrians alike. Parking and exiting must be uncomplicated, removed by no more than one floor from the street level. There is greenery all around the car park, and it hosts a commercial programme made attractive due to a high frequency of visitors.

Additional car parks (via underground parking garages) may also be secured in places intended for new residential development. Careful spatial policy encouraging the construction of additional parking spaces beside those intended for the new flats could lead to the reduction of the existing privately-owned parking surfaces. If swapping an open-air parking space for a place in an underground parking garage were made compelling enough, the ground-level parking surfaces could be reduced to only emergency parking, temporary parking spaces, and deliveries.

In order to increase the number of full-time residents of the city centre and improve the inhabitant structure, new, higher-quality flats need to be constructed. To young families, they must offer what can currently be provided only by an individual family home, i.e. sufficient living surfaces and quality private and public space. Even at present, however, a flat in the city centre means living close to kindergartens and schools, city playgrounds and youth leisure spaces.

The sitting of new residential capacities must take into account the town's existing urban design where typically tall buildings occupy relatively little ground surface. New residential buildings should also be tall and are to feature large green terraces and interior living spaces with level articulation. The residents' parking is made available in an underground parking garage. Beside young families, such flats, incorporating the advantages of individual and condensed development, will also attract other active categories of residents.

Three main directions intended for pedestrians cross the area of the city centre: the "Park" on both sides of the river Paka; "Commercial Street" terminating in Tito’s Square; and, perpendicular to the first two, the "Promenada", which also connects them. Each of these three bands offers a markedly different use of the space, so it's important that they each receive a distinct visual character. At the points where they come together, the bands visually complement each other and tie the centre together into a logical whole. It therefore makes sense that all the available programme content of the city centre is condensed precisely in these three bands. This way, the users of the space can be constantly animated as they pass through the city, which prevents "grey zones" from being created - these could otherwise lead to the degradation of a given part of the town. Special care is required in allocating the different types of programme content to each of the bands.

At present, the area of the park is on the northern bank of the Paka, enclosed by the river on one side and by the delivery road to the school complex on the other. The visitors to the park don't have a real contact with the river, as the torrential canal of the Paka is liberally overgrown with vegetation. The southern bank of the river serves as a public car park. In accordance with the projection of removing the traffic and parking surfaces from the inner city centre, the green area of the park is to be extended across both banks of the Paka, all the way from the school complex buildings on one side and the Cultural center and the former coal-mine administration building on the other. Paka's relatively deep riverbed now divides the area into half, but by modifying the riverfronts and creating a stepped approach towards the water level, it becomes the area's central element. In several places and on several levels, both riverfronts are connected into a unified whole. Footbridges extend into the network of paths on either bank, terminating at the existing passages between the buildings. So as to achieve better integration into the unified design of the park, the existing delivery and emergency routes are slightly modified. In combination with some of the rigid surfaces, they retain their function to a large extent yet visually, they are subsumed into the network of footpaths.

Cankarjeva Road is already the heart and soul of the city. Its retail character must be retained and enhanced by means of additional programmes. Covering a part of the street from the library to the promenade would allow an intensive use of the space even in adverse weather. Such city space would allow for all kinds of open-air market events such as a flea market, an art fair, etc., which would no longer be weather-dependent.

Commercial Street terminates in Tito’s Square. The square is part of the initial design of the town; it has its place in the townspeople's consciousness and has an indisputable cultural and historical role. But today, this is a large - possibly too large - and insufficiently articulated surface, and this may well be the reason why the plaza only fills up on rare occasions. In order to invigorate this part of the town, additional programmes are desperately needed to attract visitors.

After the closing down of the former marketplace, the most suitable location for a new one is being sought. One of the possibilities is for it to be placed beneath the surface of Tito’s Square. Clearly, the intervention needs to be carried out so as not to modify the plaza's character, but only to accentuate its contour and add a bit level articulation to its surface to make it stand out from the other city surfaces and, crucially, attract a greater number of visitors and passers-by. This will ensure that even when no special events are taking place, the plaza is still populated. The accommodation of the retail programme poses the opportunity to build a parking garage below the ground level, which would eliminate the majority of public car parks in the vicinity and put an end to the parking behind the Cultural center and the municipality building. This would free up additional city surfaces, which can then be given over to public programme.

The existing promenade was created by closing the erstwhile traffic road almost thirty years ago. Even though it was re-paved, a sufficiently thorough transformation never took place and the promenade has retained the character of a road, remaining too wide and rather dull due to the lack of content. It has been a kind of hybrid space between the road and the surface intended for pedestrians - chiefly a straight path quickly leading the users of the secondary-school complex and the community health centre to the inner centre without providing any animation for those out for a walk.

Through renovation, the wide straight connection with a clearly delineated beginning and termination underwent a transformation into a kind of sequence of micro-ambients, of locally widened surfaces connected by a slightly twisting narrower path. These instances of widening (in effect squares) feature attractive concrete urban elements (benches) whose careful arrangement slows down the users and provides focus, framing the space for the additional programme content to take place. As the path locally twists along the surrounding buildings, it gives rise to larger contained open spaces, allowing future expansion of the content from the buildings outwards, or the accommodation of other additional content as required over time. In the initial phase, all these newly-formed public spaces are simply and cost-effectively laid out as sand or grass surfaces, with sand surfaces in particular representing a successful middle ground between grass and paved city spaces and allowing a wide range of use with only modest investment.

With the transformation, the Promenada is turning into a main event axis of the city, its centre being placed into the new amphitheatre along the river. The river Paka is a torrential river, which means that its watercourse swells up significantly a few times a year, but remains relatively shallow at all other times. As a consequence, the riverbed is very deep and until now, the river, which is an attractive element of any city, flowed out of sight somewhere down below. The wide bridge also meant that anyone walking across it had a hard time seeing the river at all. By narrowing the bridge and placing it off the former axis, the space for the construction of an amphitheatre, which slowly slopes down towards the river surface, is recovered. The attractive amphitheatre by the river, with the new bridge serving as its backdrop, becomes the centre of the activity in the city, and the river may once again claim an important spot in the townspeople's consciousness.

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    The Velenje "Promenada" is an important city space and a vital city thoroughfare. It is one of the key axes of the city centre, which is why it cannot be considered separately from the other city space within the context of the planned renovation. The intervention into the space must naturally be designed locally, in a way that allows an execution in stages, as provisioned in the project's budget. Still, it makes sense to outline the vision of the revitalization of the entire city centre; in...

    Project details
    • Year 2014
    • Work finished in 2014
    • Client Velenje Municipality
    • Cost 2.700.000 EUR
    • Status Completed works
    • Type Parks, Public Gardens / Public Squares / Bridges and Walkways
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    Lovers 135 users