Igor Marko is Slovak architect and urban planner, participating in the Vydrica project. In London, he founded the Marko & Place-makers City Creation Studio. As a mediator and consultant, he has been behind various transformative projects around the world.
What was your first thought when you were offered to work on the Vydrica project?
Vydrica is a piece of lost Bratislava that has been waiting a long time for necessary restoration. I was therefore very happy the project had moved forward. The project simply needed time to ripen. I remember that my first thought was: “Wow, this will be a tough nut to crack for architects!” This is one the toughest projects anyone could work on in the context of Bratislava. At that time, I had no idea I would be a part of it. I was offered to work on it, and since then, I’ve been fully aware that it is a unique challenge which needs an extra dose of respect and responsibility.
What was crucial to the solution for this historical area beneath the castle?
There is no more complicated place than the one beneath the castle. In fact, we are returning to the area where Bratislava was historically first created. It is an extreme responsibility and also very difficult to bridge the cycle of time. We are also dealing with the emotional feeling of losing a part of the city which created the natural balance of historical Bratislava. After Vydrica was destroyed by fire and the bridge was created, the city seemed to lose some of that natural logic which had evolved over the years. Vydrica had a lively and multi-cultural character. Rybné square featured everything that a good city should have. This has disappeared, and we are now trying to restore the balance and reconnect Bratislava. From my point of view, it will be quality public areas that will fundamentally affect the character of the lower castle and its seamless integration.
What are the key findings about Vydrica from a detailed study of the area?
I once asked students what ingredient architects need most. One of them said it was patina. I asked the student what he meant, and he told me that it was when “things get settled”. I said this is probably the most difficult, or even impossible, to create in architecture, because a patina is created over time. Vydrica will also need some time to integrate with the environment and everything we are attempting to create. We can design it, create it, supplement it, but only life will demonstrate how it works.
How will the historical district be reflected in the future form of the project?
These are the facts we cannot overlook, and which are interpreted in the zoning plan. The morphology or buildability of the area is conditioned by its topology, which is very nice in this project. The city beneath the castle lived with a pleasant configuration of streets whose variety and diversity were their major quality. We are attempting to imitate and recreate this quality. The historical footprint is given, and the zoning plan clearly dictates how building development should proceed, so we will only be following the logical development and regulation of the territory, which is well established in this case. Many historical artefacts are incorporated sensitively into the new solution. We will also be recycling and using any original materials we find. By combining the materials used, the streets will obtain a unique character, and high-quality, well-integrated detail will create the pleasant functional micro-scale which we admire in historical city centres.
What will Vydrica bring to the city and its residents?
New Vydrica will enrich the historical centre with content and expression. This fundamentally affects the cognitive and quality of experience of the city. Probably the most important will be the new feature of pedestrian access. We want to extend the feeling of compactness and diversity in the existing historical city to Vydrica. In this case, Vydrica is the last piece of a large puzzle. I strongly believe that if we manage to connect the Old Town fully and continuously with Vydrica and other parts of the city, Bratislava will finally start operating in its entirety. Even though it is beautiful in its diversity, the various parts have individual characters and do not seem to be interconnected. The city connections are missing, and Vydrica is one of those priority connections. I feel as if now is the right time for this to happen.
A lot of people have asked me whether this is the right project. I don’t have any magical answer to that, but one thing I know for sure – we are at a time when Bratislava urgently needs this. We have a great team and are fortunate to have a generous and responsible client who understands things. So far, I feel that everything is working as expected.
How do you see life in Vydrica after completion?
Many questions are still open, as Vydrica is not an island and the connecting areas need to be resolved for full integration. Questions such as how will the connection to the Danube work? How will the connection to the Old Town work? How will the connection to the castle and Zuckermandel be solved?