Boris Podrecca: The Space of the Mental Aesthetic

Boris Podrecca’s studio in Vienna and its local offices in Italy and Slovenia are working on dozens of designs for locations in Austria, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro.

Boris Podrecca: The Space of the Mental Aesthetic

Irina Chipova: Today you have, perhaps, Europe’s leading practice in the eld of urban square planning, both new and revitalisations. How you did come to this specialisation?

Boris Podrecca: Yes, altogether we have created 33 squares in 8 countries, mainly in central Europe. I trained as an architect; I have also worked in sculpture, mainly with stone. I live in Vienna, although I was born and grew up in Trieste, and it was in Vienna in the twenties and thirties that the concept of ‘space’ was formulated in the ‘Vienna Circle’, a philosophical community which included R. Carnap, M. Schlick, V. Kraft. Space was also a very important category for the architect Adolf Loos, who was working in Vienna. He identi ed the laws governing the design of interiors, the relationship between function and sizes; behind the smooth façades of his buildings one could nd a genuine spatial ‘explosion’. Frederick Kiesler’s theory based on the concept of the ‘endless house’ (Kiesler’s terminology) is still very important for me. Right from the start I was very interested in space. But I grew up in a Mediterranean culture for which all of life ows not in the house, but on the street, so it was natural that I turned to urban space.

What is your basic approach to urban space?

Of course, expertise is important — architectural, technological ... But in the design of urban space there is a role for subjective parameters such as atmosphere, smells, random encounters. The square must possess its own drama, and not mere decoration. It is very important to ‘hear’ a space — to understand what it is already in it, and what can be brought to it. I teach the theory of space at Stuttgart University, and I try to get this across to my students. In creating a square the architect is acting not as a composer creating a new work, but as a conductor, who brings a harmonious sound out of cacophony. By ‘harmonious’ I do not necessarily mean ‘beautiful’. It could be dissonance, con ict. But, in any case, it is an act of conducting.

In recent years there has been a genuine ‘renaissance’ of the urban square, whereas for almost the entire 20th century this topic was not considered relevant — what do you attribute this to?

Today, more often than not, squares are merely decorated, they are dressed in furniture. The problem is that they give out money for sanitising urban spaces left, right and centre, but in most of the competitions held, one sees particularly weak designs, as these days they do not teach this as a subject anywhere. In the 20th century not a single theory was created, not a single textbook was written about how to work with the space of the city. In the twenties and thirties no one cared about public space, there wasn’t a single proclamation on this theme.

In the fties and sixties, as a reaction to the rise of the motor car, pedestrian zones sprang up. They appeared in Germany — the rst one appeared in the city of Schwetzingen — then they spread everywhere. Even the word ‘zone’ speaks volumes, I’ve never liked it. They were an arti cial creation. Of course, transport had ooded the cities and caused their destruction. But for the majority of people the car symbolises freedom — freedom of movement — and no one will give it up voluntarily. Modern ‘pedestrian zones’ are a form of segregation, arti cial selection.

Motta di Livenza, Italy, 2001–2002. With M. Zordan, A. KerstiniMotta di Livenza, Italy, 2001–2002. With M. Zordan, A. Kerstini © Miran Kambic

Town Hall Square, St. Pölten, Austria, 1994–1996Town Hall Square, St. Pölten, Austria, 1994–1996 © Miran Kambic

Praterstern, Wien Nord Station. Vienna, Austria, 2002 With B. Edelmüller and W. Sobek (structural engineer)Praterstern, Wien Nord Station. Vienna, Austria, 2002 With B. Edelmüller and W. Sobek (structural engineer) © atelier podrecca vienna 

Main images © Gerald Zugmann