by Pooja Suresh HollannavarAug 12, 2023
Certain zones from our cities come to mind when the term 'crime' is uttered, zones that are sequestered away from compact locales, or ribbon around privatised land, as well as those sandwiched between densely populated localities. Sometimes an alley winding along the rear outlines of homes and shops, sometimes a narrow street, dimly lit and derelict and ending in a cul-de-sac, sometimes a lane proximal to an inaccessible property contained within a barbed wire fence and at other times, huge playgrounds and parks strewn with garbage and left to rot, or an urban corridor running along an unmaintained and open sewage or drainage channel—the centre for crime and notoriety can vary in scale. These are places and spaces that, without spelling out an unwelcome notice, manage to remain less frequented. They neither house elements and features that can promote activity, nor become intermediary routes for vehicular commutes or walks. Hence, they attract scant footfall.
While reducing such spaces in a city requires planning at an urban level, localised interventions focused on reviving pockets across a city are beneficial for quicker results. An example of a recent public space design in Prague, Czech Republic, that helped revive a network of former transport underpaths is Vltavská Underground, by architecture practice U/U studio and conceptual design consultancy Re_place. While the concept for the revitalisation of the underpass was undertaken by Martin Kontra and Richard Preisler of Re_place, the design was executed by Jiří Kotal, Martin Hrouda, Andrea Nováková, Marek Peřík, Lukáš Kalivoda and Jan Maleček of U / U studio.
The Vltavská underpass is located near the Vltavská metro station and the Vltava river. With the Hlávkův bridge connecting the banks across the river, movement through the Hlávkův Most road was difficult. The underpasses on the bank of the river, hence, enabled vehicles to navigate their way, perpendicular to the Hlávkův Most road. However, upon the closure of the Hlávkův bridge a few years ago, the usage of the underpass continually reduced until it became an abandoned zone, derelict due to neglect. It became a place that was avoided by people while visiting the area. Vltavská Underground is a concrete architecture project that attempts to revive these underpasses, to not only make them safe for visitations but also convert them into public spaces that can become cultural centres and usher people to come together in order to build a community.
The entire underground space underwent deep cleansing, repairs and surface improvements. The linear stream of the Vltava river guides the conceptualisation of the corridor plan. The two underpasses, now revived, provide the scope for the practice of various freestyle activities. They comprise a streetball area, a skating arena, a designated dance floor decorated with mirrors, poles for pole dancing, a bouldering wall, a public art gallery, workout spaces, and obstacles for freestyle sports.
While spaces for a range of activities are liberally provided across the area, more attention is levied on designing spaces for skateboarding, BMX and freestyle scooter riders. Since the underpass is covered and free from the movement of common vehicles, it serves as a space safe for experiments in skating and biking. Artificial light fixed along the length of the underpass ensures that the area can be used just as well at night as during the day. The usage of steel and concrete ensures the structure's durability and ease of maintainance.
The entrance to the concrete and steel structure underpass is dotted with a pop-up bar and bistro, ensuring hence the participation of passive visitors in the area, as well. The underground space also includes a club, with a beautiful view of the city. A sculpture by artists and scenographers Mikoláš Zika and Jan Bejcha, namely Ollie the Pig, is permanently installed at Vltavská Underground. A QR code on its body takes the visitors to a portal where they can make contributions for those who have lost their accommodations in the area.
In expelling the seclusion and darkness paramount in the underpass, with colour, heaps and hurdles, U / U studio manages to create a safe space for pedestrians, cyclists and visitors in the city.
Name: Vltavská Underground
Location: Hlávkův most, Vltavská, Prague 7, Czech Republic
Area: 1810 square meters
Year of completion: 2022
Architect: U / U studio
Concept of the site revitalisation: Re_place
Design team: Jiří Kotal, Martin Hrouda, Andrea Nováková, Marek Peřík, Lukáš Kalivoda, Jan Maleček from U / U studio and Martin Kontra, Richard Preisler from Re_place
Skatepark contractor: Bonidee Skateparks
Graphics: Jakub Karlík
Light design: Maxo Simko, Jan Poš
Lights contractor: TSK
Ollie the Pig sculpture: Mikoláš Zika + Jan Bejcha