An example to follow: the top 5 waterfront public spaces

How to give a river back to the people through architecture and urban regeneration.

Photo: Vostock-Photo

The OKRA agency specialises in spatial planning, city sustainability, and public space development. They are now curating the development of the design projects for the embankments in 22 Russian cities as part of a Strelka KB and AHML federal project. Strelka Magazine asked the OKRA team — Boudewijn Almekinders, Giuliana Sibilia and Nefeli Kalantzi — to name 5 great waterfront projects and point out the key elements that make these designs successful.

What is important for the development of a public space:

The history of a city gives it its identity: for example, if it’s a city whose history is connected to water somehow, then water can become a symbol, which allows you to exploit this element in many ways in public spaces. This is why it is necessary to first analyse the historical context of a space.

Climate. There might be circumstances where you need to provide comfortable conditions to protect against the sun, other times against the shade, and other times against the wind; all of these are factors that make an embankment more pleasant.

Inclusion. The key point is not to exclude anybody, but rather to try to include everybody. But, at the same time, the project should be naturally embedded in its environment.

Scalability. The design should also consider the potential for further development. If you made a basketball court on the embankment that can only be used for playing basketball, that would not be an ideal use. What you want to do is to provide space instead of occupying space.

Domplain

Photo: OKRA
Photo: OKRA
Photo: OKRA
Photo: OKRA
Photo: OKRA

Where: Utrecht, Netherlands
Advantages: Making history come alive
Designed by:  OKRA
Opening date: 2010

We were asked to make something visible that hadn’t been visible before in a particular area. The city started as a Roman settlement, so, far underneath the surface, there are still remains of the Roman castellum. Archaeologists say, “well, if it’s underground, just leave it, because it’s well preserved; don’t touch it”. Now, with all these blocks of houses there, there’s no question of excavating, and you can’t even see what’s underground, but where the road crosses over it we made a kind of slab of corten steel, so visitors can see that they are entering the Roman castellum.

Visually, this is very powerful. And it works because it tells a story. Sometimes, you don’t really need to put up an informational plaque. We prefer to avoid such explanations, so that people can see the details that make up the design. Maybe they will think, “Oh, well, now I understand what’s there!”. But if you make things very obvious, they can only be interpreted in one way.

HafenCity

Photo: Istockphoto.com
Photo: Istockphoto.com
Photo: Istockphoto.com
Photo: Istockphoto.com
Photo: Istockphoto.com

Where: Hamburg, Germany
Advantages: Resiliency, integrated approach
Designed by: ASTO C Opening date: 2001

HafenCity is located in the area of the former port of Hamburg, so there’s a lot of industrial sites close to the water. So, making them attractive also means mitigating the effects that this industry has on these cities. And industry can have a lot of potential: really nice old buildings, for example, and these areas could be transformed in a sustainable way into new places like culture centers. I think that this is an enormous challenge for at least half of the cities that we’ve been working with.

HafenCity in Hamburg is a place where all kinds of things are combined, and the design itself is very careful. This is a really good example of inviting different architects and different designers from different disciplines to create something new, while also giving people space, and where retail, residential, and everything else are combined. That is what an integrated approach is: HafenCity is designed as a popular public space that provides different functions and also solves some ecological issues, such as flooding. It also has a very high level of resiliency.

Maremagnum

Photo: Istockphoto.com

Where: Barcelona, Spain
Advantages: Combination of industrial and cultural roles
Designed by: L3 5
Opening date: 2012

All of these places along the water were harbour spaces, but the harbours have moved out of the centre of the city. But a lot of people are still using them, so it becomes very intense. In order to reorganise life on the coast, a decision was taken to redevelop the industrial area into a great complex, Maremagnum. This allows the area to become not only a “functional” part of the city, but also to combine social and cultural events. So, it can host big events, because there’s a lot of space, but it can also be very comfortable.The Port of Barcelona is another an example of an industrial place, yet it has also become a social one, too.

QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK

Photo: Istockphoto.com
Photo: Istockphoto.com
Photo: Istockphoto.com

Where: London, Great Britain
Advantages: Reestablishing ecology, remediation
Designed by: Aecom, l andscape architects LDA Design and Hargreaves Associates
Opening date: 2012

Many of the industrial areas that are close to the embankments of rivers have tried to reestablish themselves, and have become very good precedents in terms of reestablishing ecology. There were a lot of attempts to change polluted industrial places along the Thames. Once polluted, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is an example of how a design can become both a place for leisure and an ecological pro ject. Here, the architects and designers used carbonless and water saving technologies in order to reanimate the local ecology.

Madrid RIO

Photo: Vostock-Photo
Photo: Vostock-Photo
Photo: Vostock-Photo
Photo: Vostock-Photo

Where: Madrid, Spain
Advantages: From vehicular to pedestrian traffic
Designed by: WES T8
Opening date: 2011

The story of this project starts in the 1970s when Spain was under very intensive automobilisation, which triggered the building of lots of roads and highways. In the 2000s, the government decided to reconstruct all these roads, and the M30 was one of them. The final redesign of the road presupposed the development of “green” zones, as well as space for pedestrian traffic. Madrid RIO is one of the best examples of how places that are poorly adopted for social use became vital gathering areas. By providing green spaces, underground parking, and walkable places, it became possible to organise a real garden with fruit trees and fountains that are enjoyable for the citizens here.

Text: Ekaterina Arie