From a Passing Roadway to a Much-Visited Historic Urban Center
Article by Meenal Suresh – Revitalisation of the Historic Urban Center that is Castle District of Sopron, by Hetedik Műterem Ltd. Hungary.
Can a city close to nowhere regain its tourist inflow just by improving the road channels? Can a city that people just passed by without giving a second glance become an eye-catcher that forces you to roll down your car windows or just step out to feel it for yourself? Is it possible to restore a small historical District overburdened with vehicular traffic over time to its initial beauty while glorifying its historical core?
Find out how Hetedik Muterem did exactly that by giving a makeover to the Castle District of Sopron, Hungary.
Historic Urban Center
The Castle District of Sopron is a U-shaped province at the location of a water ditch, situated on the Austrian border. A widespread fire in 1676 devastated the city and it was reborn over the next few decades with Baroque architecture replacing the earlier medieval style.
The Second World War affected the city dramatically, making it the victim of numerous bomb explosions, its effect still evident in some of the buildings. Ironically, tourists fly down to admire the sufferings of the medieval buildings; a rarity in war- torn Hungary.
The city boasts of strong architectural styles over subsequent years – walls and foundations from the Roman Empire together with a wealth of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque structures display the District’s prosperity, stability, and history.
With its growing popularity, it was a paradox that cyclists and pedestrians weren’t attracted to the square because of major problems like traffic overload, the breaking of the continuous streetscape, traffic stalling due to parking, and insufficient lights acting as a deterrent for people to unwind after dusk.
Would you prefer to walk into a commercial public space where there is no place to relax, no kiosk to have a quick bite, no track to put on your headphones and walk, or no chance to catch up with a friend that you bump into without having the fear of vehicles scraping you or darkness closing in on you during the evenings?
The thin flora, hedges, and retaining walls were overbuilt and in addition, the traffic-dominant roads made the old houses a mere background, leading to the loss of the District’s identity.
To find a solution, the city council announced a competition – “Sopron – Revitalization of the Castle District”. The competition’s aim was to give the area surrounding the historical city a new look and improved function. It was won by Hetedik Muterem along with landscape designer GEUM Muterem.
The first phase of the 15000 sqm public space was completed in 2015 with the middle part of the Castle District devoted to cyclists and pedestrians. What makes the redevelopment of Castle District of Sopron so successful? They simply concentrated on the three major issues to flip the situation. What did they do and how?
Pedestrians are the Priority
The 1.5m long Castle District incorporated a “One-side Channel” structure wherein the existing road was retained and vehicular traffic was trimmed, resulting in ample parking lots and an expansive green belt. The two-way lane was separated from the cyclists track and pedestrian path bordering the houses.
Outdoor furniture, streetlights, fountains and temporary pavilions not only enhanced the aesthetic beauty of the Channel but it also encourages people to hold festivals, exhibitions, concerts or a forum for interaction.
A centrally-located, small Tourist Information Centre houses service rooms and toilets for the public. This building was built recalling the reconstruction works of the latter half of the 20th century using concrete with board formwork, precast reinforced concrete louvers, and wood-panelled facades. It contrasts with the District’s architecture (old blending with the new), making it immediately visible. Being a help centre, this visibility is an added advantage.
Materials Differentiate the Zones
Due to the deep historical roots, unity plays a pivotal role. A pavement of dark-coloured clinker bricks and granite stripes evenly sloping towards the outer arc was adopted to give a uniform colour. The different sectors of the 40 – 60 m wide boulevard are visibly separated with granite stripes still ensuring the integrity, but the pedestrian- and cyclists’ zones have equally placed clinker. Modern materials are used to maintain the small-town coziness.
Natural landscaping elements were used to create illusions in appearance. Trees with small canopies were placed close to the building – to make the buildings seem larger than they are so that the historic scape catches your eye first; and also to cater to the various needs of the pedestrian zones. Tall trees with pierced foliages were grown in the central zone for their majestic appearance and functional use as a shading element.
Identity Established – History Celebrated
The main road is essentially a ring road wrapping the city centre flanked on either side by a row of 18th and 19th century Rococo- and Louis VI-style houses of alternating heights. The brownish-red tiled sloping roof caps all of the 2- and 3- storied houses with white/cream-shaded walls, punctured with a line of repetitive rectangular windows with or without ornamental frames.
All the houses are different but unified by a common style, in turn giving the District an identity as a whole. Squares with statues, fountains and water sprays simply add to the beauty.
The key concept was that when one stands at any point in the Castle District one should know that he is very much part of that area. The duality of the longitudinal dynamism and cross-sectional diversity is the greatest value that they wanted to strengthen in the plan. A sensitive approach was required as the historic dwellings alongside the roads were a major part of the urban space and were to remain dominant.
The first and the largest phase has been successfully completed. The public plaza revitalization will be finished shortly and the renewal of Kisvarkerulet (Small Castle District) and Szechenyi ter will commence. It has managed to unify the present and the past and acts as a bridge between the east and west neighbours of the country.
The goal is to create a well-integrated, bustling plaza that is a haven for pedestrians, while vehicular traffic will soon become destination traffic, so that the District indeed becomes the much-needed landmark of Sopron.
Have they succeeded in inviting more public to the plaza? Small changes make a huge difference in the urban fabric. Is this true here? Is it possible to recreate a lively atmosphere just by proper redefining of spaces? Leave your comments below
Full Project Credits For Historic Urban Center – Castle District of Sopron :
Address: Sopron, Castle District
Area: appr. 15000 sqm public space and 40 sqm public building
Design phase: 2009 (national competition), 2010-2013
Client: Sopron City Council
Architecture: Hetedik Műterem Ltd.
Architect in charge: Levente Szabó DLA
Landscape design: Csenge Csontos (†), Borbála Gyüre, Gergely Lád Geum Műterem
Co-architects: Balázs Biri, Jessica Dvorzsák, Dávid Kohout, Orsolya Simon (Competition: Orsolya Almer, András Páll, Tibor Tánczos)
Inspector of monuments: András Veöreös, Sándor Tárkányi
Traffic engineering: Ádám Rhorer, András Mezey (Közlekedés Ltd.)
Public utilities: Ádám Szabó (Aqua-Duo-Sol Ltd.)
Street lighting technology: Tibor Galazka, Ferenc Horváth (GT-Vill Ltd.)
Civil engineer: Csaba Horváth
Structural expert: Géza Kapovits
Water engineering: Gergely Drobni, László Skublics
Accessibility: Anna Kormányos
General contractor: VEMÉVSZER Ltd.
Photos: Balázs Danyi
Awards: ICOMOS Award 2016, DaNS 20th Salon of Architecture in Novi Sad, Salon Award in urban design category
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Article by Meenal Suresh
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