Skate and Chill out on the Vienna Gürtel

by Dagmar Grimm-Pretner (Institute for Landscape Architecture (ILA), University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna) and Karl Grimm (Karl Grimm Landschaftsarchitekten, Vienna, licensed and chartered Engineering Consultant for Landscape Planning and Maintenance)

Skate and Chill out on the Vienna Gürtel

After the Ringstraße, the Vienna Gürtel is the second-largest city boulevard and one of the busiest city streets in Austria. Completed in 1900, the surrounding city quarters with modern infrastructure were ideal residential areas for the middle class. Part of the reason for this was the design of the street, with its avenues and six-hectare garden areas in the middle. After the Second World War, the Gürtel developed into a major axis for motorized traffic. This quickly became a burden, and the adjacent neighbourhoods developed into problem areas. Now, city development efforts are encouraging the shift to a trendy city quarter, e.g. through the support of music and youth venues in the archways under the elevated subway on the Gürtel. The next and timely step is to revitalize the open areas along the middle zone of the Gürtel, which get little use.

The modestly designed and rarely used green spaces are being transformed into a modern and lively park; a location with little to offer is becoming a city space for activities and gatherings aimed at young people, in particular. The middle zone of the boulevard is separated from the neighbouring quarters by the flow of traffic. The noise level is relatively high. Activities can take place on this location that would cause conflict in other places. Public recreational space is lacking in the dense, industrial-era city; for this reason, a lot of value is placed on diverse and gender-equitable options. Elderly city residents should also find space to linger in garden areas.

The tree population and the rarely used lawns of the original garden area on the boulevard were maintained. The area for redesign in the middle zone is 250 m long and between 15 and 35 m wide. It is divided by an operations building for the subway on the northern part and a southern section of roughly the same length. Directly below is a subway tunnel, in some places with the original brick vaulting from 1890. For this reason, it is not possible to lower the grounds and heavy loads are out of the question.

The replanning included a needs-assessment survey and participation process. Suggestions were received in advance form a student council in the urban district.

Expert interviews with representatives from social institutions in the surrounding area followed; they explored the existing lack of options and the desires of the users. The group Vienna City Area Renewal GB* (Wiener Gebietsbetreuung Stadterneuerung GB*) conducted the interviews.
Offered two user concept alternatives, skateboarding and a recreational area, the city district chose the middle ground, i.e. a design suitable to skateboarding, but expanded by an area attractive to girls and a “chill-out zone”.
The entire park has been designed so as to be accessible to persons with disabilities. The height differences over longer stretches were compensated for, and the longitudinal gradient lies under 3%. All paths have been paved with asphalt and are easily walkable. Bottlenecks through the furniture have been avoided.
A bicycle path ran through the park; this path has been relocated in places in the direction of the roadway to create a clear separation from the park. The path was also widened and equipped with new lighting.

“Fluid Landscape”

Given the spatial separation of the park area into two sections, an overall, unified design concept was particularly important to the planners. Taking the non-stop flow of traffic on the Gürtel as an inspiration, the planners came up with the abstract image of a river for the concept. This river concept offers the required unity and, at the same time, enables differentiated, yet cohesive design options; planners can add different central usage points in the northern and southern sections and still achieve a sense of harmony among the spaces.
The north section was designed as a “hard” multifunctional space for recreation and skateboarding; the southern section, on the contrary, became a “soft” garden space aimed at relaxation and slacklining.

The Northern Section: “Headwater” – Movement and Gathering Place

The more elevated, narrower north section represents the Alpine “source” of the river, with hard shapes and rapid movement. The planners derived the elements from the “Alpine river course” design idea; the elements symbolize ice floes, rock shelves and islands. The grass dividers along the sides recall the shores of the river and form a spatial barrier to the roadways and streetcar.

Skateboarding and More

The north section was designed in the context of multiple workshops with the Vienna skateboarding scene. The fixed elements were designed specifically for this space; their dimensions, inclines and gaps were adapted to the desires of the skateboarders. The surfaces consist of light granite and prefabricated concrete components. All large elements are composed of a wooden body with concrete slabs to ensure the proper weight is maintained.
The multifunctional space was closed in with concrete ledges of 25 cm in height along the sides next to the streetcar and bicycle path. This keeps the skateboards inside and the mulch outside in the plant borders where it belongs. Stop-fencing for skateboards has been integrated selectively in the surrounding planted areas. With its white lighting, the skateboard area stands out against the yellow lighting of the roads; this makes the objects more noticeable.
Visitors can skateboard in the skate park, but not only there: The “ice floes” and “rock shelves” on the lightly sloping asphalt surface are ideal for skateboarding as well, but are also suited as areas to sit or lie down. This recreational area is open to everyone: pedestrians, skaters, inline-skaters and scooters. No one group has priority over another. As in any shared-space area, mutual consideration and respect is necessary and is promoted.

Trampoline Course and Hammock Tower

A second recreation and communication zone in the north section of the park has been adapted more to the needs of girls. A trampoline course in the shape of a figure-eight supports balance and coordination. There is a hammock tower, which consists of two towers accessible via ropes and rope nets, with hammocks strung between them. The object is well suited to relaxing and watching the activities on the trampoline course. A blue seated stand makes the recreation area a stage. The planning of this area was discussed in a nearby “girls’ café” and the feedback was taken into account for the design.

The South Section: “Lower Course” – Relaxation and Balance

The lower-lying, wider south section represents the “lower course” of a river, with wide, meandering curves; it is meant to invite visitors to stop and relax. This park section is oriented to the sun, and the design is playful. The paths can be used as a circular course. Lawn islands are equipped for slacklining and loungers invite visitors to relax.
Bright, natural mixed perennials and walkable “green carpets” with thyme and Roman chamomile form a subtle frame and border to the circulating traffic.
A group of beautiful pink silk trees (Albizia julibrissin) were planted to add a special touch of colour to this park section. This was the first time these trees were planted in a public green space; they pay reverence to the neighbouring “silk quarter”.

Slacklining

For the trendy activity known as slacklining, five blue steel poles for the attachment of lines were added to the fields that lie within the connecting paths like islands. Furniture for sitting and lying down were added around the poles. Lines of up to 25 metres are possible on the larger areas; the smaller sections can fit lines from six to ten metres. An active slackliner was pulled in as a consultant.

The poles are made of powder-coated sheet steel. They are conical in shape so that the slacklines do not slide on the smooth surface. The height of the poles is 95 cm and the average diameter is 27 cm. Like bollards, they are reinforced with concrete and designed for a tensile load of 40 kN. The poles can also be used for fitness purposes (e.g. stretching).

Emil-Maurer-Platz Park has become a hotspot in the skateboard scene since its opening in 2013. The more contemplative and garden-like zones will bring more focus to the natural components in the warmer seasons.

 

Project Information:
Planning: Karl Grimm Landschaftsarchitekten, Vienna
Participation process: Wiener Gebietsbetreuung Stadterneuerung GB*
Contracting authority: City of Vienna MA42, Vienna City Parks
Financing: City of Vienna – 7th City District; European Union – European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
Area: 8,000 m²
Construction period: March to October 2013

 

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