During the last ten years Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, has transformed itself from a sleepy post-socialist town into a contemporary european city, and a ever more popular tourist destination. With a systematic approach towards regenerating public space the city has received the European Prize for Public Space in 2012, and has earned the prestigious title “European Green Capital 2016”.
The main street of the city is the Slovenska street (the Slovenian road), which crosses the city in the north-south direction. The street was always a place of urban progress: here the first skyscraper was constructed, the first modernistic housing block... It is also the stage for many important events in the city, such as the marathon and the annual cycling race, various demonstrations, and the record-breaking square dance of the city's high-school graduates.
In a way, it is a space of becoming – a space where the city demonstrates towards what kind of future it strives.
In the sixties it was widened with through demolition of historic city structures, similar to Hausmann's boulevards in Paris. It was transformed into a four-lane radway, and more and more traffic flowed through the centre of the city. In those times, traffic was seen as a sign of vitality – the more intense the traffic, the livelier the city.
Through gradual expansion and accommodation of cars it soon became clear that the needs of the car can never be fully satisfied. Through executing strict and consistent traffic policy and building alternative routes for car traffic the city finally achieved the right conditions to close the Slovenska street for car traffic in 2012.
In 2012 the city issued a call for proposals, in which eour prominent architectural offices participated: Dekleva Gregorič architects, Katušič Kocbek architects, Sadar + Vuga and Scapelab. After preparing their porposals it soon became apparent that the problem is much more complex than it appears. The Slovenska street is the main public transport artery in the city centre, and more than 1600 buses per day flow through it. Coincidentally it collides with the main pedestrian promenade, linking the city centre with the central Tivoli park. It is surrounded by important institutional buildings, such as the national bank, and the ambient is listed as protected heritage.
The four offices thus decided to continue the project as a common, synthesis solution. In a design process which lasted more than two years and included a host of experts in fields ranging from concrete to botany, they created a solution which seems simple, but is very nuanced.
The completed renovation is planned as the first phase, and in the future, the street renovation will continue all the way to the inner city ring.
The New Slovenska Street project is based on cutting-edge concepts in public space design. Despite the large volume of pedestrian and bus traffic it is designed as a “shared space”, a space, where users participate equally, and height differences are reduced to a minimum.
The former four-lane road was thus transformed into the central city avenue. The street is divided in to tree sections, with a concrete road surface and paved pedestrian area.
The transformation drew inspiration from typical avenues in large european cities, where avenues are always marked with two key elements – a vertical and a horizontal one. In this case these are the tree-line of manna ash trees (fraxinus ornus), and the geometric pattern of the pavement, which creates the impression of a fine carpet and increases the optical dimension of urban space.
Through narrowing of the roadway there is now more space for pedestrians, cyclists and restaurant and bar gardens. A new tree line of manna ash trees was planted on the eastern side of the street, which is lit by the afternoon sun. The manna ash trees are resistant to the urban environment, and will adorn the space with white flowers in the spring and bright yellow foliage in the fall.
The urban furniture of the streeft encourages people to stop and rest in the space. Together with increased bar and restaurant areas on the pavement it has helped transform the former traffic lanes into a common, living space of the city.
The cruicual element in the design of the avenue is the pavement. The combination of paving stones in two shapes and colors creates a geometric pattern, which functions as an ornamental carpet and increases the optical dimensions of the urban space.
By placing two pairs of large bus stations the street truly becomes a central transport hub for public transport. Private residents and hotel guests can still acces the buildings with permits.
A car-oriented traffic road is thus transformed into a space which gives priority to public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. By designing a space which promotes sustainable mobility and public transport in the very centre, the city has made a key step in it's transport policy, and completed one of the key projects in the European Green Capital 2016 project.
The new Slovenska street is thus a manifest of the future of the city of Ljubljana. It is a visual transformation of the central city of the capital; but more important than the visual aspect is the functional aspect, in which public transport, pedestrians and cyclists are given a key advantage in moving through the city. The street is, as it has always been, a place of becoming – a place where the city shows what kind of future it strives for. In this case, it is a future, where public transport, pedestrians and cyclists are given priority over the automobile, and where they coexist in harmony.