Tyrsova Park


Development of the Tyršova brownfield site, Plzeň (CZ)
City Visions Europe program 2009-2010

A city made by urban islands
In 1977 during Cornell University’s Summer Academy in Berlin, the German Architect Oswald Mathias Ungers, together with a group of young students conceived "The City within the City: Berlin as a Green Archipelago". Ungers’ idea was to turn Berlin's idiosyncratic character of the 60’s and 70’s – politically divided and economically marginalised - into a laboratory for a new city-consciousness, working against the popular romantic and technocratic planning approaches which had failed to address the contemporary problems of post-industrial European cities in general and in particular, the shrinking city of Berlin. The depopulation of cities, the migration of the middle class to the surrounding countryside and the following immigration of foreign workers into cities were common phenomena at that time. Ungers developed his concept of the city made by islands as a way to respond to these restructuring forces and the process of depopulation. The concept consists of the selection of a series of city islands with strong and distinct physiognomies - given by its specific history, its social structure or spatial quality - which are maintained and eventually completed through the densification or thinning out of the existing built substance. Everything else around these city islands will be green spaces, forests, or allotment gardens: the complementing antithesis to the city parts. If the city parts have distinct urban qualities, the green in between hosts everything else: the temporary, the hybrid, the structures of little value, the leftover. Its is the infinite green forest between the city islands, which – by separating them from each other- defines the structure of the city within the city and explains the metaphor of the green Archipelago

Pilsen, the green Archipelago
It is this project by Oswald Mathias Ungers which came to our mind when visiting the unspoiled setting of the city of Pilsen for the first time. The city is structured by its landscape and topography, shaped by the four rivers, Uhlava, Uslava, Radbuza and Mze. Radiating from the medieval core in the centre, the districts of the city reveal surprisingly distinct patterns of their built form. The 18th and 19th century perimeter-block-enlargments to the South and West of the medieval city, the vast industrial areas from the 19th and 20th century, garden city settlements, some redan-type quarters based on Le Corbusier’s plans for Paris, and the panel housing typical of post-war city expansion: each district clearly delimited, surrounded and separated by unbuilt green areas, forest, rivers. Dormant in the plan of Pilzen, the concept of the Archipelago implies not a city with a single centre, but the coexistence of smaller quarters, each with its own distinct, recognisable character. With such a reading of the city and with regard to the Tyrsova Site, it becomes possible to see the spatial proximity of very different city parts of pilsen and the ruptures inbetween them as potential, rather than as problem: the medieval city core with its historic legacy in proxomity to the large industrial site east of the Radbuza river, the city extension north of the river Mze etc. An interstitial space of artifical green lies in-between this city islands, separates and connects at the same time. It is the yet unbuilt and leftover: the Tyrsova Site and the spaces of the rivers Mze and Radbuza. Following the concept of the archipelago, we propose to maintain and improve the green interstitial spaces as a system of modified nature, a catalogue of green which ranges from forest and landscape preservation area to parks, agricultural areas, leisure, sports and recreational areas.

Connecting the City Parts
As a first intervention in the given perimeter we propose to connect the different city parts around the Tyrsova Site. Today the four-lane Tyrsova street, the bridge crossing the Mze to the north as well as the rivers Mze and Radbuza act as barriers and limit the access to the Tyrsova Site to a few unattractive underpasses or connections. We propose an aerial walkway – a passerelle - which connects 1) the western site of the new theatre with 2) the medieval city centre, 3) the area north of the Mze, 4) the Tyrsova Site and finally with 5) the industrial area east of the river Radbuza. This connection by the aerial walkway with a lenght of 1'200m creates a new densified and uninterrupted experience of the Tyrsova area. 

New programs for the Tyrsova Site
As a second measurement we outline a possible programmatic development of the triangular Tyrsova Site. Since the very birth of Pilsen, the site has been a green space or recreational area. Today, the triangular site, somewhat hidden behind the highway, and accessible only via underpasses and bridges, still has a sense of an unexpected, charming remoteness. A surprising diversity of natural and recreational spots is stringed together, patches of old tree populations and idiosyncratic building types structure the site. With the site conceived as the antithesis to the built city parts around it, we propose essentially to maintain the emptiness of the Tyrsova Site and to improve its natural and diverse qualities. The Tyrsova Site will complement the activities in the old town with its new programmes and spaces. The triangular site will become the green park next to the medieval core. It will host recreational and tourist activities, which would not neatly fit into the tidy image of the medieval core: large beer gardens under the crowns of old trees, colourful circus activities, a multifunctional circular 3000m2 square with removable roof structure, and the like. With regards to Pilsen’s application for Cultural Capital of Europe 2015 temporary cultural and alternative activities would be hosted in this recreational area, be it in the existing old buildings, in the football stadium, or in new pavilion-like structures. The existing sports facilities will be kept and complemented with new swimming pools, sunbathing lawns, dressing rooms and facilities. In order to unlock this potential of the triangular site, the aerial walkway at the northern tip of Tyrsova will serve as an infrastructural backbone for the intended activities and provide access from the surrounding city parts.

To keep the essential atmospheric qualities of the site as they are, or rather strengthen them by making them more experiential, we complement the loose and seemingly almost coincidentally arranged existing spatial fragments of the site with the linear momentum of a long elevated walkway – or a passarelle - positioned along the River Mze. This spatial element oscillating between architecture and infrastructure entails manifold qualities. In addition to its urban potential in precisely framing the Northern edge of the site – giving dimension to the pre-existing fragmented space-, it offers access to the site via the passarelle – conceived as an architectural promenade - allowing the spatial experience of the area from a different height. The height of the passarelle also allows various functions to be very pragmatically arranged on an intermediate level, either accessible from the ground or from the main public level of the footbridge. These functions can be various public facilities such as small bars, cafés or community rooms to share, but also public toilets or a first-aid point for instance. The largest proposed programme arranged underneath and along the passarelle is a public bath with different sizes and types of swimming pools; a fifty-meter pool for contests and exercise, a playfully shaped pool for kids, and a pool as part of a floating platform on the River Mze. The intermediate level and its facilities are intended – as a type of plug-in system – as a light construction in steel and wood, allowing for flexibility and adaptation. The footbridge itself is conceived as a concrete structure that demonstrates a certain idea of permanence through its pure materiality and tectonic appearance. The rectangular shaped columns are arranged in a grid of ca. 15 meters, supporting the 5 metre-wide cantilevered passarelle, and offer a sequence of framed views to the other riverbank of the Mze. The bridge includes various forms of balustrades, which define differing spatial relationships to the surrounding context, as well as different vertical connections to the ground and the intermediate level, conceived either as spacious and gentle ramps, or stairs as short cuts. The open structural principle of the footbridge allows – next to the rather designed and defined facilities on the intermediate level – a more spontaneous and transient occupation of the space underneath by programmes that can change from winter to summer.