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12.06.2012 - Ausgabe: 3/2012

Urban Landscape in Motion

by DI Karl Grimm and DI Dr. Dagmar Grimm-Pretner


How do you turn an unattractive, seldom-used public place in a central location into an internationally-renowned hotspot? In Tyrol, with the Eduard-Wallnöfer-Platz public square in the town of Innsbruck, an answer was found which attracted the interests of landscape architects and architects, as well as the skater-scene, too.

Teenagers have been praising the new public square saying there is “lots of freedom to learn new tricks”. Skaters don’t just travel there from the neighbouring communities, but also from the south of Germany, in order to experience this square - which is definitely something quite different. As a result, it wasn’t a skate park that was built, but an architecturally-superior, open-space design of a historic site which was realised. It’s not just skaters who come here to meet up, but anyone with wheels and no motor. And of course pedestrians who use the square, or who just want to watch the spectacle or who are just passing through.

The Eduard-Wallnöfer-Platz public square, named after a former Tyrol Landeshauptmann (governor) (that corresponds to a German Ministerpräsident (Prime Minister)), is situated in front of the Innsbruck Seat of Government, the so-called Landhaus (country house). The building was built during the Nazi regime as a monumental representative building. The square itself originated after the war in place of a building block when the French Military Government created a Liberation Monument in a welcoming, open environment. This winning goal is in the axis of the building portal and, with this, seems to create a sense of unity. Over the years, further monuments were left at the square and an underground car park was built. The square was hardly used, and then there were signs of deterioration on the slabs and green areas.

For a re-launch of the square, in 2008 the Federal State of Tyrol organised a restricted, construction and art competition which the working team, consisting of LAAC architects and Stiefel Kramer architecture, together with the artist Christoph Grüner could decide for itself.

The new design disentangles the traditional ideas of a park or a square. A closed square sculpture takes the objects from the past and connects them to a logical location.
The terrain surface creates valleys which serve as paths, and hills which are abodes and areas of retreat. The artificial topography integrates monuments and exits for the underground car park and facilitates tree plantations over the roof of the garage. The standard material experiences a subtle arrangement thanks to various surface structures - sandblasted, coarse, polished, reflecting and smooth.

The whole square surface consists of in-situ concrete bays. The slabs, which are over 100 m² in size, are connected to each other using dowel bars.
A high-quality special concrete based on white cement with different-coloured granite as aggregate is used. The flowing concrete moulds were cast on site and subsequently milled. 3-D modelling programmes were used, in CAD and CAM, and the geometry was implemented with the help of templates. A changing appearance was achieved by milling, sandblasting and polishing the surfaces. Hydrophobic treatment and nano-coating support the cleaning process which is planned by regular sweeping and steam-cleaning several times a year.
In the paving joints, slot gutters are integrated inconspicuously for water drainage. The surface water trickles away under the square. In particular, in a few years time the recently-planted 36 trees will provide shade – currently provided by the neighbouring buildings. The tree discs are embedded flush with black metal grid frames in the white concrete hills over the underground car park.

The Eduard-Wallnöfer-Platz public square is being adopted as a large skater arena, but it is also moulded terrain for cyclists, inline skaters and scooters. Young children run over hills and jump from the edges. A water fountain and a well system will be integrated into the area in the summer.

The attractiveness of the public square is partly down to its size of almost 9,000 m² and the diversity of surface shapes. The hills, folds, waves and edges are all different shapes and are not tweaked in accordance to the specific requirements of skaters. But it’s precisely this aspect which makes places interesting for many skaters. These so-called “discovered locations”, in contrast to the “constructed places” of skate parks, are often public places in the centre of town. In specialist literature, four dimensions are identified, which make places attractive for skaters and obviously apply to the Eduard- Wallnöfer-Platz public place: The place has to be easy to reach and well known; it must be suitable for meeting up, relaxation, watching and “hanging about”. A limited about of possible conflicts with other users is also relevant, such as the spectrum of possible tricks. At the Eduard-Wallnöfer-Platz public square, there is plenty to try out and discover from beginners to advanced level. Reducing it to a skater’s paradise, however, is not possible.

The principal behind trying it out, discovering it, also applies to all other users. Away from the traffic, parents let their young ones try out riding a bike for the first time, others are fastening up their inline skates many years later. The pedestrian guidance system is controlled using topography, without the paths being identified.

The homogeneous concrete pavement creates uniformity, which defines the square. Adventurous surface shapes and subtle surface structures generate much diversity in the unity, which establish an exciting spatial experience and permit many different uses. However, the absence of provisions on the square signalise that it is therefore for everyone. This is an essential part of the quality. The Eduard-Wallnöfer-Platz public square is not a traditional youth playground, not an arrangement of individual elements. The coherent draft of the public square integrates the play functions. The consistent, uniform landscape architectural composition allows for many different uses and adoption by all users.

Further information:
Ass.Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Dagmar Grimm-Pretner
(Institute for Landscape Architecture (ILA), University of Agricultural Sciences in Vienna)
Dipl.-Ing. Karl Grimm
(Karl Grimm Landschaftsarchitekten Wien – Karl Grimm Landscape Architects in Vienna)

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