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Can Landscape Architects Use History to Make a City Stronger?

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre.

Article by Terka Acton Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre, by Darja Matjašec, Sergej Hiti, and Klara Sulič of Ljubljanski urbanistični zavod, d.d. (LUZ), Ljubljana, Slovenia. Cities must adapt if they are to survive. Faced with a shrinking, aging population in its city center, the municipality of Celje resolved to redesign and revive Celje’s open public spaces. For the most recent stage of this work, they engaged Darja Matjašec, Sergej Hiti, and Klara Sulič of LUZ. As landscape architects working in Slovenia, LUZ’s designers are experienced in negotiating the delicate balance between honoring the past and creating spaces for the future. This is something of a Slovenian speciality, as LAN’s Erin Tharp showed in How Velenje Promenada brought light and sunshine back to the city. Celje is Slovenia’s third-largest city. It dates back thousands of years, and its paved streets, imposing castle, and medieval wall fragments reflect this rich history. Today, Celje is an important administrative, commercial, and cultural hub – a status recently boosted by the renewal of public spaces in the historic city center.

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit: Luka Vidic

Public Space Renewal

The project area includes a total of four public squares in the old city center and two main pedestrian streets connecting them. LUZ’s design for the renewal of Celje’s public spaces was realized in 2014. Building on the Past Archaeologists had expected to find some evidence of earlier times during the renewal work, of course, but they did not anticipate the richness of the finds. These include colonnaded Roman roads and villas with murals, mosaics, and hypocaust (hot air) heating. A stone well discovered at the intersection of the two main pedestrian streets — where it is now displayed — neatly illustrates the layers of the city’s history: Originally constructed in the Middle Ages from fragments of Roman stonework, it had the city’s starred crest and the date “1781” chiselled onto its upper rim, recalling the city’s time as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit: Luka Vidic

Genius Loci With so much history to draw on, genius loci – the spirit of the place – is key to this design. But this is not a heavy-handed pastiche: It is, instead, a subtle evocation and interpretation of the past. Each of the public squares has a different identity, and these identities are reflected in the design. The historical context is foregrounded in some parts of the design, for instance in the case of archaeological finds on display in Main Square and elsewhere. In other locations, this heritage is simply suggested, as in the choice of pavers in each site: While the same gray stone is used throughout, large, modern pavers set in stretcher bond are used in motive spaces, while small setts reminiscent of Roman mosaics create a more reflective atmosphere in quieter seating areas.
Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit: Luka Vidic

Repaving so much of the city in variations of one material afforded the opportunity to unify the space, and also allowed the landscape architects both to reflect the heritage of each site and to indicate its intended modern use. Working with historical sites is never straightforward, since it always involves landscape architects in intricate planning and inevitable delays. While the discovery of archaeological finds necessarily complicates a project, there is a compelling argument that it also adds immeasurably to its value and importance by offering a narrative unique to that particular place.
Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit:  Luka Vidic

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit: Luka Vidic. Photo credit: Luka Vidic

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre.

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit: Luka Vidic. Photo credit: Luka Vidic

Properly communicated, a strong historical narrative brings a space alive, giving it real power and saving it from the homogeneity that so often leads to mediocrity. This is certainly true for the renovation of Celje’s old city: LUZ’s approach to historical elements has resulted in a public space renewal project that is both a source of civic pride and a big draw for visitors. New Stories for a Bright Future In addition to making the most of the city’s past, all of the public spaces include fresh elements. Krek Square features a new central fountain outside the imposing neo-Gothic Celje Hall. The fountain’s 12 jets of water are a refreshing sight and sound in the heat and bustle of the city, and the space doubles as a children’s playground.
Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre.

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit: Luka Vidic. Photo credit: Luka Vidic

Metropol Square boasts a newly built platform under the existing plane (Platanus x hispanica) trees. This provides seating for the concerts, open air cinema, and other events held in the square, which is also home to the People’s Savings Bank building designed by Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik. And as well as showcasing the most important of the Roman finds unearthed in the construction works, Main Square has been designed as a key venue for cultural events.
Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre.

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit: Luka Vidic. Photo credit: Luka Vidic

Close attention has been paid to the design of the sleek, modern street furniture displayed throughout the project, with dark gray, powder-coated steel and wood predominating. This palette is complemented by the gray stone used in paving treatments throughout the design, and contrasts nicely with the muted colors and terracotta tiles widely used on the old city’s historic buildings. These durable, high-quality materials will withstand constant use and weathering, and send a clear message about civic pride.
Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre.

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit: Luka Vidic. Photo credit: Luka Vidic

Intriguing sculptures in the streetscape encourage passers-by to linger and — since vehicular traffic is now largely excluded from the old city — children can now freely cycle down the pedestrianized, tree-lined streets. The streets themselves have been the focus of close attention, with metal street names chased into the stone pavers. A star motif (recalling the city’s crest) was restored as part of the work, and marks the intersection of the main thoroughfares. This project has succeeded in refreshing Celje’s city center.
Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre.

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit: Luka Vidic. Photo credit: Luka Vidic

Renovated squares and streets, innovative features, and the recognition of an eventful past all add to the appeal of the city center as a meeting place for both residents and visitors. Has drawing on the past helped to revitalize a city near you? Tell us about it in the comments below. Go to comments
Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre.

Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre. Photo credit: Luka Vidic. Photo credit: Luka Vidic

Full Project Credits For the Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre:

Project Name: Public space renewal in Celje’s Old City Centre Location: Celje’s old city center, Slovenia Budget: € 7.6 million Date of Design: 2011 Date of Construction: 2014 Size: 1.32 hectares / 13,200 square meters Client: The Municipality of Celje Landscape architecture: Darja Matjašec, Sergej Hiti, Klara Sulič / LUZ, d.d. Municipal and energy infrastructure, traffic: LUZ d.d., Elektrosignal d.o.o., Hidroprojekt d.o.o., PIRING s.p., Lespro d.o.o. Lighting design: Arcadia Lightwear Construction: PIRING s.p. Fountain construction: Genera d.o.o. Contractor: Mineral d.o.o with subcontractors Supervision: NAVOR, d.o.o. Photographer: Luka Vidic Recommended Reading:

Article by Terka Acton

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