ProstoRoz / Ljubljana

Alenka Korenjak, Masa Cvetko, Ana Celigoj presentation  ProstoRož Hello and welcome!
At the beginning we would like to express our gratitude to the organizers for inviting us to this symposium. We take the invitation to be a positive feedback on our work, which at this time is actually at a very early stage.
Before we begin describing our actual work, we would like to say a few words about the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana.     01. ABOUT LJUBLJANA Ljubljana, situated at the crossroads of alpine, mainland and Mediterranean region, is one of the smallest and youngest European capitals, which has for centuries been a melting pot of Slavic, Germanic and Romanic cultural traits. Until the break-up of Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Ljubljana was merely a capital of one of the Austro-Hungarian lands having no discernible political role. The first important step towards modernisation of medieval Ljubljana (which emerged around three main squares: Mestni, Stari and Novi Square) was the establishment of a council that has at the end of the 17th century invited to Ljubljana numerous foreign, mainly Italian architects thus giving Ljubljana its most eloquent and renowned form.   As national and cultural conscience of Slovenians grew, so grew the importance of Ljubljana, which quickly became one of cultural centres of Slovenian counties. Next to political and cultural changes in the second half of the 19th century, one of the turning points in Ljubljana's development was the disastrous earthquake in 1895. As a result, the city was not only rebuilt, but also presented with a vision of its future urban development. Camille Sitte and Maks Fabiani were invited to cooperate and form a clear and radical plan to constitute contemporary orthogonal street network with architecture under the influence of bigger cities of the monarchy.   After gaining its independence from the monarchy in 1918, Ljubljana became the capital of Slovenia, which was at the time one of the lands of the Yugoslav monarchy. The population of Ljubljana rapidly grew and most of the city's satellite settlements were getting more and more attached to it. Without doubt, the man most credited for establishing Ljubljana's identity is Jože Plenik. His interventions turned Ljubljana, at the time a provincial town beginning to resemble Vienna increasingly, into a unique and original capital with its own character. Parallel to this the functionalist Ljubljana with its villas and apartment blocks as well as one of the trademarks of the city, the skyscraper (at the time one of the highest buildings in Europe) also grew.   Extreme expansion of Ljubljana, however, did not begin until after the Second World War, when Ljubljana officially became the capitol of the Yugoslav republic of Slovenia. In the sixties, the population was already twice that of the thirties and in 1990 its population was already ten times that of a hundred years ago. This led to the emergence of apartment neighbourhoods in the city suburbs in 1950's.   Unfortunately, political changes in early nineties did not lead to Ljubljana developing as a capital, on the contrary: it turned into a city with a negative population growth rate. Contemporary Ljubljana has an unreasonably small city center in comparison to its large suburban areas which still remain attached to rural settlements in their vicinity. The same goes for major routes in the city. Next to a number of unsettled ownership issues after the fall of communism, the lack of vision of city authorities is making any transformation of the currently chaotic city image impossible.   A rapid growth of the population shaped the attitude towards the city and its public spaces. Most of the people coming to Ljubljana left countryside to find work, not because they wanted to live in a city. Nowadays this same people would probably choose commuting to work rather than moving to the city. Those, however, who do like living in Ljubljana, like it because it is small, than already a half hour drive in their car brings them to its outskirts.    In the consciousness of Ljubljana's citizens, there is even less public space than it exists in reality. There are few parks and squares in the city but they are neglected and unused -probably because they are neglected. And what is worse, nobody - neither the people nor the authorities - is showing any effort to break up this vicious circle. The green areas are constantly being sacrificed on account of new parking spaces or apartment buildings.   Faced with this, we asked ourselves: "What kind of public space does Ljubljana need?" We decided to try and find the solution to this puzzle and see what we can do to bring the concept of public spaces, parks, alleys and squares closer to the minds of the citizens of Ljubljana.     02. ABOUT PROSTOROž Our group consists of three architects. Next to our studies and our work in architect offices in the past two years we carried out two ProstoRož events and participated in exhibitions in Ljubljana, Prague and Belgrade. Until very recently, we did not even have an office of our own, so our meetings took place mostly in bars, parks and squares - in a way the project dealing with public spaces was meaningfully conceived within public space itself.   Instead of just watching and thinking about it, we decided to put theory to practice. We decided to expose Ljubljana's weak points and find out how they could be tackled.    
ProstoRož stands for a series of tiny interventions in the city spaces of Ljubljana and its main goal is to bring the state and meaning of public space to general attention.  
Each year, we try to find unnoticed open spaces and through this show that Ljubljana has more public space than most of us realize. Often we are talking about neglected, remote areas, which are not put to any use, but could be – provided that we apply a bit of imagination - transformed into quite feasible and friendly parts within the city.   
We expose these problems in different ways: during the first ProstoRož we used the element of surprise: we furnished city areas with artefacts that you normally would not expect there.   Last year, during the second ProstoRož, our approach was already more systematic: we placed a lot of different equipment into parks to observe how the citizens put it to use.  Our intentions are not daily installations or instant space make-ups. What we are aiming at is to change the perception and attitude towards public spaces in the minds of Ljubljana's citizen and authorities. We tend to expose the potentials of Ljubljana’s public space our experiments showing us what its citizens need.     And now we would like to say a few words about individual projects that we made in the last two years. 03. PROJECTS P_ ATRIUMS   In May 2004 we planned our first event called ProstoRož. Our intention was to find and transform less frequented but interesting places in the old city centre and through this present them anew.
We chose atriums, stairways, underpasses, passages, halls, thin corridors between houses. If made into landmarks on one's way through the city, they evoke a completely new experience of things seen so many times before. Places that have been cleared away and decorated stimulate their inhabitants or occasional passers-by to “adopt” them. We chose 11 interesting yet abandoned locations and singled out their distinctive characteristics, which we later on emphasized.
Most of the things were prepared in advance and assorted to individual locations the day before the opening. Out friends proved to be very helpful at this. The event was officially opened in the atrium of the city hall. After the opening with musical performance, the visitors headed towards other sites. During the following two hours, various music and dance events took place in all of the 11 locations. . The city turned a gallery for a week.
Most of the sites were open to visitors all the time, some, however, had been closed during the night.
Each of the sites was marked with a banner, a concrete cube in front of each entrance and a bag containing maps designed to help locating also other sites.  
Some of the examples are: GARDEN This atrium is used by the inhabitants of the house as the access to their apartments or as storage for things such as wooden boards, boxes and different containers or building materials. At the same time it is the main source of daylight for most of the apartments.  We cleared out the atrium and changed it into a set of beds, where we planted lettuce and strawberries.
The residents told us that prior to the renovation of one house this atrium had already been used as a garden. They helped us set the beds and were very pleased with the results. Some even wished to keep their new “garden”.   APPLES The stairway between these two houses is very narrow. It ascends gently towards the castle; however it ends with a wall. It serves only as a side entrance to the perfumery and is blocked by iron gates. We wished to give this place look of endlessness and thus create a fairy-like effect.
At the same time we wished to observe how the exhibition will change through time, therefore we exhibited objects that could be consumed by the visitors. The surface of the stairway was small enough to be covered completely with a layer of apples. 
From 300kg initially distributed on the floor there were only 50kg left at the end. They were made into apple strudel and juice and sold at the final auction. This installation was most appreciated by the homeless, since they were in for a week of healthy meals.   BALLOONS Along the middle of this atrium there is a wall which divides it into two completely different spaces. One of them being public and running along different shops, whereas the other one is private and quite overgrown and unused. We wished to connect visually the two atriums in spite of the wall separating them so as to create a uniform space. We decided to use the public part as a window into the private one.
Within the public site we arranged steps alongside the wall enabling the visitors to “peep” into the neighbouring garden, where there was a birthday party just about to begin. Colourful balloons, palm trees, a cake and champagne generated a mysterious atmosphere since those invited were nowhere to be seen.   FLAMINGO A narrow but lively corridor connecting the Ljubljanica River with the Mestni trg offered the visitors a new experience. They could make their passage through a series of dangling flowers and metal pipes, which rattled gently.
Security guards were hired to watch over the installation for first three nights, this however did not prevent the flowers to be taken away, which was expected in a way. Surprisingly there were no instances of vandalism. Due to its position, right across the street from the city hall, it has become a background for wedding photos.   FISH A narrow street which connects the city hall with the river is much frequented but neglected. The idea of displaying glass balls with goldfish above the street originates in the name of the street.
30 glass balls with one goldfish in each of them lured the visitors to look up towards usually unseen brick arcs above the street. Fish Street turned out to be the most attractive installation and the goldfish were surely the most frequently photographed and published sight. DECK CHAIRS There are not many places like the patch of grass under the Three Bridges in the centre of Ljubljana; there you can at the same time be close to the river but away from the busy street. This special place however is unknown to most of the passers-by.
From there one can enjoy an unusual view towards the castle. This particular place did not need any additions apart from some deck chairs, where one could enjoy one’s breakfast, eat some ice cream or cool oneself with a drink.   ProstoRož ended with a symbolic auction of exhibits from different locations. One could buy apples, apple strudel, lettuce seedlings, strawberries, flowers and fish bowls with goldfish. Before and after the transformation we cleared out each atrium, stairway or corridor leaving left those particular locations more pleasant even after the end of the project.   Next year we chose parks P. PARKS Most European cities have recently been shifting their attention to public spaces and have made attempts to revise their definitions and to adapt them to the needs of a modern urban dweller. Green spaces within a town are now seen as an important item on the list of its potentials.   The majority of parks in Ljubljana cannot be matched against modern European parks. People rarely spend their free time in them, since the parks lack places to rest; they are poorly maintained and therefore littered with dog excrements. They offer no places to rest or play… In many cases entrances into parks are jammed with parked cars, thus making parks inaccessible.  We chose 11 places connected in a route through the city centre. We picked parks which were either neglected, overlooked, without a name or have in them a great potential for the city. After deciding on the content of individual installations, we explored avenues of financing and execution. Installations have been set up in two days. Our sponsors and many volunteers joined in the work. During the festival we checked the places daily and observed how the visitors related to them. Through installations placed into them, we tried to suggest possible uses to city, the inhabitants of Ljubljana as well as to the tourists.   SWINGS 24 swings were hung at the Castle Hill along the chestnut-lined disclosing different vistas of Ljubljana from a new perspective. A great number of visitors enjoyed the swings inventing new and new »swinging« techniques. Most visitors, children as well as adults and even elderly people, used the swings to enjoy the beautiful view on the city center.   A LIVING ROOM This small park is the home or just a daily shelter for a number of homeless people in Ljubljana. This was one of the reasons why we turned it into an apartment open to everyone. Park's new identity lured also other city dwellers to come and sit in it. We noticed that it became a place where you can have a snack and read your newspaper. At night we switched on powerful lamps which threw a lot of light on it, so there were no traces of vandalism. The homeless firstly opposed the whole idea, but then really went along with it and looked over the place so it would not be destroyed.   HANGING MATS The park is the meeting point of people of all ages. In the immediate vicinity there is the Old people’s home, residential quarter, student home, youth hostel and an alternative community. We hung 10 hammocks on the trees in the park, offering all the passers-by and alternative way of relaxation. Already in the first three days three of the hammock went missing, however the rest were occupied whenever we checked on the park. Some have been damaged, however the visitors alone tried to mend them. As we were removing the nets, we had to wake up a tourist which chose this park for his sleeping place for the whole week.   DOGS We included the Argentina Park into our project because we see it as one of the parks with the greatest development potential in Ljubljana. It stretches over a substantial area with large number of people passing through each day. In spite of that it is mainly »used« only by dog-walkers. To point out this phenomenon we placed into the park 45 dog silhouettes. The number and location of individual silhouettes was different each day. But at the end all of them were sprayed and next day stolen. While setting up the dog silhouettes we were faced with different reactions from the people frequenting the park. Some of the dog owners felt that the installation was an attack on them and their dogs; others felt that it was a good way of focusing the attention to the problem of animals living in the city.   LIBRARY A small park along the monument at the Square of the Republic is unknown to most inhabitants of Ljubljana. It is especially interesting because it features an innovative solution to levelling the park with the surrounding trees. Big concrete containers around trees are usually filled with litter. After cleaning one of them we arranged book shelves along the inner walls of the containers and stacked them with books. Thus we created a pleasant place to study. The park is a popular meeting point of Ljubljana’s drug users, but completely overlooked by other city dwellers as well as the city council, although it stands directly in front of the Parliament.   CUBES The park along the primary school and behind the Cultural and Congress Centre is in a very bad state. There are no benches and no litter bins; the ground is covered in patches of untrimmed grass and mud. Since we anticipated the owner of the park, to prevent any activity on his property, we decided to only line the side of the park with cubes bearing the letters of a three-language slogan:  'private property, access denied’ The passers-by moved the cubes, thus compiling different words such as park, privatisation, beautiful day… After only three days most of the cubes have been demolished. There were only twenty left, among them the words “game over“.  ProstoRož 2005 closed with a discussion on “What type of parks does Ljubljana need?” Our guests were experts on the field of architecture, landscape architecture, space planning and urban sociology discussing their experience of ProstoRož, public and media response to the installations and other related topics. Even though the discussion initially revolved around inadequacy of Ljubljana's parks, our main focus was to compile a list of activities that could be carried out in modern parks and exchange our views on how such parks could be maintained on the principle of public-private partnership.   JOUNG BLOOD And now the last project we did in September 2005 We took part in an exhibition, organized by Prague's CCEA, which exhibits the works of young eastern European architects. Each group was given 1 cubic meter of space to present their thoughts and their work. The nature of our work, however, demanded a different approach. We deal mostly with public space. Museums, which are globally functioning as public spaces, are in Slovenia perceived as more or less elitist and closed institutions which do not really contribute very much to the city life. We attempted to expose the fact that museums in Ljubljana are more or less empty and that citizens of Ljubljana go there rarely if at all. Our installation consisted of an imaginary queue in front of the museum, which indicated that a lot of people are waiting to get in. This was obtained by putting 50 pairs of shoes in a long line which starts on the street and eventually corners into a museum. The shoes were worn out and dyed pink, but each pair had its own character, young, old, male, female...The line stopped at the cash desk, where a sound recording of a crowd was played. The sight of a queue of pink shoes lured quite a few people into the museum. 04. FEEDBACK So much about our work - now we'd like to focus on the feedback on our projects. Different groups of people reacted differently. The one opinion that we value the most, however, is that of Ljubljana's citizens. During our first year, we were dealing more with a semi-public space and had a lot of contact with people living in the old part of Ljubljana. The contact was very direct. In order to make the installations, we had to reach an agreement with house owners. Some of them were ashamed of the state their atriums were in to such an extent that they forbade any activity on their property - others were really enthusiastic about it and always willing to lend a hand. Some even wanted to keep the installations permanently.
We were really delighted by the fact that for a lot of people this was the first time they actually noticed the qualities of the space they were living in. In our second project, dealing with Ljubljana’s parks, we didn't have such a close contact with the people - save some of them, who came to tell us that our efforts were all in vain, since the “junkies” are going to destroy everything anyway. These people expressed a lot of discontent with the state that the city parks were in. The interaction with inhabitants was most intense when the installations were actually set up. Some of the inhabitants help us, while others preferred to watch from afar. A lot of people walk the same route every day so pretty soon they do not pay attention to what surrounds them anymore. But if something in this setting is changed unexpectedly, this attracts their attention and they start to think about the environment they live in. A lot of people didn't notice parts of the old town until we filled them with trivial things like apples, strawberry lanes or fish. It's only after they see a bench, a hammock or a swing that they realize what possibilities a particular space is offering. In 2005, a short survey into parks in Ljubljana was carried out. Most of the people use the parks to shortcut their usual route or to walk their dog. A lot of people are eager to say how much garbage there is in the parks but they can only name two or three parks in Ljubljana. When we put the furniture and other elements in the city parks, some of them - like swings and hammocks in Tivoli - were being occupied constantly. We also noticed that the people themselves took care of the equipment displayed. The parks turned out to be much more crowded, now that they were taken care of and contained at least the basics, like benches and litter bins. The Ljubljana Municipality is, along with the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning and the Ljubljana Tourism Institution, our main source of income. So this is why we are surprised again and again about how little they care about the results. Our first installation was welcomed warmly since we "decorated" the city, but last year they took the whole thing as an attack on the city council.
We felt really disappointed with the company that maintains Ljubljana's parks. When we asked why they were taking away the benches in certain parks, they replied that this is done so the homeless and the “junkies” don't gather there, because they leave a lot of garbage behind, which in turn needs to be cleaned constantly.
Ljubljana Tourism Institution is our best co-operant and they are helping us out also this year. In this line of work, we constantly come across vandalism. With a lot of elements we knew in advance that they would be stolen or damaged. This didn’t stop us, instead we were trying to monitor the rate at which these changes were happening. The numbers of apples and flowers were slowly declining, and during the first year not a single ProstoRož placement was vandalised. The same goes for the second year: quite a few of our park installations made it through the whole three weeks in one piece. Well, in a park adjoining the elementary school, everything was destroyed during the first few days. In our opinion vandalism can be prevented if we make people feel that they also are a part of this whole process. For some youngsters, however, we obviously haven't found the right equipment yet. But we'll definitely keep on trying, because low-budget projects like ours are perfect for evaluating the potentials and traps of public spaces.   CONCLUSION: Wim Wenders once said that it is exactly the empty space that makes a city interesting, but that the city councils, tending to set things straight, can by definition never understand this. We feel that city councils must set public places straight since new “interesting” voids are opening up all the time. A modern city is supposed to be full of contrasts. The problem of Ljubljana is that its voids are no longer perceived as an exception, but rather as a rule that people have already gotten used to. There are a lot of good and quality things going on in the city, music and street theatre festivals etc., but what the city lacks is a common strategy, which would allow for a long-term progress and define a reference frame for expected and unexpected changes. Our installations shouldn't be perceived in terms of criticism, we think of them as a booster which would change attitude towards public space for the better. P. THE RIVER But our efforts are slowly starting to pay since this year we are, as pointed out earlier, working together with Ljubljana Tourism institution on the latest edition of ProstoRož, which is dealing with the Ljubljanica River. So here's one photo - just a taste of what will go on this year, from June 1st to June 18th. You are all invited to check it out! Thank you.