Just One of the Growth Rings in Time

architects Aleksandra Krebel, Alan Kostrenčić
project Petar Zoranić Square and Šime Budinić Plaza, Zadar, Croatia
written by Alan Kostrenčić

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The space of Petar Zoranić Square and Šime Budinić Plaza, still in a stage resembling an open crater of an archaeological research site in the middle of the square, and reflecting awkward spatial interventions of the recent past, suggested a hidden beauty, which is impossible to achieve by some architectural or urban gesture, but needs to be developed over time, through life. There are few spaces like this in Zadar that are marked by such a complex relationship between atmosphere, historical values, memory, needs of the contemporary life in the city, the personal and the public, the past, present and future. We did not have to invent the beauty, which, though hidden, had already been there.


For this reason, the concept was very simple. Vaništa once said that he liked to draw scenes at dusk, or in fog, when insignificant details vanish and only the essence remains. The square was designed with the same intention, to reduce architectural gesture to the minimally visible essence, a specific of cleanup that would optimally highlight the pre-existing but hidden value, revealing, at the same time, the essence of space, but also enabling new utilizations, interpretations, new identities.


The solution was essentially reduced to the following three design decisions: not to isolate the archeology in some sort of an open-air museum, but to incorporate it into the life of the square; to solve the complex geometry of the space (in terms of plan and height) with a single continuous plane that would interconnect all differences of the historical, ambient, and functional sequences; and to solve urban equipment as the continuity of the square, and not as applied elements. The archeology – the ancient Porta Terraferma, with the portal and the octagonal tower, and the medieval gate, with the rampart, are partly presented by anastylosis (the ancient octagonal tower), and partly revealed through the glass perforation of the square's surface, thus opening a view into the past. In this way, the past has been admitted to the presence in the present, linking memory and the future through here and now. Further enhanced by an integration of archeology, the aforementioned complexity of the geometry of space was resolved with two superimposed elements – a slightly curved footway, stretched like a canvas between different elevations of the square, creating a dynamic haptic impression and the graphical pattern of the stone pavement. The desired continuity of the square was achieved by the softness of bush hammered Kanfanar limestone (the so-called Istrian yellow, a type of limestone whose color and structure is the closest to the historical paving of the historical center of Zadar), and the granulation of the size of stone slabs. The glass dilation was also solved in the unbrokenness of stone and glass surfaces, continuing the desired continuity of not only the walking surface, but also the temporal layers – the present life of the square and the artefacts from the ancient and medieval times. The play between transparency and reflection of glass produces the dynamics in which the present and past exist simultaneously. And the urban equipment, the last important element of shaping the square, was reduced to just two hypertrophied benches in the shade of ancient plane trees, and the added octagonal tower, reconstructed with anastylosis, which serves as a space for informal seating or socializing. The remaining space was intentionally left empty, opening the possibility for a spontaneous flow of life on the square, offering the void as a quality which can be appropriated by temporary facilities, if necessary.


The material we worked with was, however, much more than a mere matter; and one of the most important materials was the Identity of the Space. That Identity was not just something immediately given, nor was it something that needed to be purified and made clearly visible, but something which is still being built, something which is changing, because it is alive.


The final impression of the square is somewhere between ordinariness – as if it has always been there – and, as Tomislav Pavelić nicely remarked, the amazement of utter simplicity underlined by differences in reflection between glass and stone. It was along these lines that the whole idea evolved. We have understood our architectural intervention as a point in time, something added or subtracted in a specific position of the eternal now on its journey between the past and the future. We wanted to avoid the architectural expression which would try to put the now into into the position of forever. Unlike the historically ingrained concept in which an architectural monument is trying to reach for, or be eternity, the concept of the square is – transience. The awareness that Beauty has existed before us (our intervention), as well as the awareness of the need to provide a space for some new layers of Beauty to be added through utilization and time, was not only our moral obligation, but rather our inspiration.


And as final thoughts, it seems as if design decisions are now no longer important, probably not even visible, because the living area of a square is a lot more than just a sum of design decisions. It exists in the emotion, the atmosphere, the spleen which cannot be designed. It is here that the power of the aforementioned Beauty truly lies, which exists independently of understanding, and evades logical analysis.