In our thoughts and memories we approach Vodice near Šibenik from the sea, just as many other tourist towns and places along the Croatian coast. The picture of these places is a summer postcard, a frozen image at the moment of entering the port in the scenery that is idealised merely by the fact the we approach the land from the freedom of the Adriatic. In the summer, therefore, we perceive the face of Vodice selectively: what stands out within the contours of specific topography is the activities and habits of people, and by listening to their chatter and loud dialect, we can get a rough idea of their way of life. From this perspective, it seems that the winter could also offer an enjoyable life on the coast.
Nevertheless, when you approach Vodice driving down the road off the Adriatic Motorway out of season, the picture is significantly different. The other side of the postcard consists of many private houses and facilities that follow the dictates of tourism during the peak summer holiday season. Public space, which is now almost deserted and exposed to view, often seems, in terms of urbanism, like merely a remnant of predominantly disorganised surroundings.
Thus, this almost absolute focus of life and space on tourism, which is often a characteristic of small towns and places in the Croatian coastal region, creates a striking absence of articulated public space. Such a situation is, as a rule, seen as a consequence of the lack of integral planning, and it is hardly likely that this planning could be improved or refined in any way. On the other hand, the architectural intervention in Vodice, carefully contemplated at a number of levels, softly, clearly and strikingly shows that it does not have to be the case.
The architect Dinko Peračić designed a farmers’ marketplace and fish market in a recess in the back side of a shopping mall in Vodice. This functional content already squeezed itself into the centre of events literally from behind, and is separated from the town’s small park by a pedestrian street. There is certainly no public space as essential as a marketplace. It is a space for everyday use, socialisation and exchange at any time of the year. The original project by Dinko Peračić included the design of the entire shopping street, but the project was gradually being reduced due to the neighbours’ demands and due to some other circumstances. However, this additionally emphasised the quality of his design method. This method allowed for certain flexibility of the project due to its openness to dialogue with users and the fact that different contextual limitations were recognized. It also allowed for the project’s focus on public interest, and all these owing to a lasting basic concept that did not lose its power on account of subsequent interventions.
The project also took into consideration the context at the level of architectural design, exactly to the extent needed for the entirely new spatial value, to establish a language of stability in the given situation. The canopy, as the most prominent element of the composition, which leans against the shopping mall’s roof surfaces, follows their basic geometries and rhythm thus completing an urban block. The robotically-cut glulam (glued laminated timber) with rhomboid structure carries a white self-cleaning hi-tech covering membrane. This refined structure resulted from the logic of construction and imposed itself as one of several entirely pure and underlying themes of the project. This formal consistency of the marketplace with the fish market and a segment of the pedestrian street included in the project is created exactly by the replication of the same raster on the floor surface, made of polished concrete (which is at the same time the foundation slab containing fixtures), as well as by the compatible form of the reinforced concrete pillars.
Apart from the roofing, pillars and floor, the fourth basic element of this spatial composition are the reused existing stone tables. They were renewed and polished so that their smooth texture represents yet another nuance of pleasant whiteness, created by different materials in this space without colours and details. The details, on the other hand, consist of the carefully chosen mobile equipment for the stalls: sun shades, scales, counters, seats... and, of course, abundance of fruits, vegetables, and sea food that actually enliven the space together with the users. In other words, the pragmatic quality of the project demanded to fulfil the needs of the community in restricted circumstances and with limited resources, as well as the undeniable architectural poetics which were possible because the project was based on the expression of universal architectural values: the harmonious scale, well-considered and clear relations in terms of space and planes, forms and rhythm and, furthermore, the choice of material, the construction technology and the type of construction.
Dinko Peračić manages to create the impression of continuity and change, adding them to the best from the surroundings. He pays special attention to the space of the pedestrian street opposite the marketplace, along the edge of the park, that is now given more prominence. A constructed little semi-circular niche with benches along with the newly erected advertising board and the lines of planted mulberries along the edge of the park, offer a space for socialising after shopping. Specially designed foldable stalls are arranged along the promenade. It is why the project is not read as something that started somewhere and then finished, but as a novelty that accentuates the qualities of the place, although it has significantly changed the locality. The very contact with the floor surface makes us pleasantly aware of our existence in space. Alive and actually unfinished, the project has subtly affirmed the new spatial logic, therefore, it seems that it is only a matter of time before its unrealised parts are realised.
This spatial intervention shows an approach practised by an increasing number of architects: architectural design with an emphasised research component and social responsibility, where the architect assumes the role of a mediator between politics and society and attempts to reconcile commercial, private and public interests. The fact – that the City Council of Vodice really wanted to improve the quality of public space and public service and was also open to a contemporary architectural approach and project – is really a fortunate circumstance. Since there is a certain agreement between the micro and the macro worlds in general, this project indicates, at the same time, that a patient, involved, and competent approach can make a change: not only in the field of individual urban planning in particular situations, but also in the field of more complex urban cores, with the aim of dealing with space more fairly. The marketplace in Vodice with the fish market is, therefore, not so much an idealistic, or utopian attempt to generate social life, as it is a promising accomplishment that testifies to the fact that architectural intervention can indeed improve the use of space. Thus it is a delight to know that the author of a useful community service programme, of a new idea that has extremely enriched the existing urban space, has already won two prestigious professional awards in the year of the project’s realization: The 50th Zagreb Salon Award, and the international Piranesi Award for the year 2015.
Dinko Peračić’s project resulted in a fantastic architectural formation of a physically limited spatial interval which creates social activities that exceed it as well as a new atmosphere that again brings a more beautiful reality into the entire ambience throughout the year. Nevertheless, at the same time, this interval offers an entirely different perspective on the broader urban context. While the above-mentioned road from the Adriatic Motorway to the marketplace led me through a space I perceived merely as a constructed environment with nonexistent urban planning regulations, I still perceived it as a place full of disadvantages, but now also as a place full of potential for further urban transformations, of high ethical and aesthetic achievements.