PARK shared with us their proposal for the harbor revitalization competition in Aalesund, Norway. To revitalize the southern harbor district situated adjacent to the historic city center, they put an emphasis on the relationship between the distinct architectural heritage of Ålesund and the new development, which includes large scale functions like a cruise terminal, a hotel, a conference center and a bus station. Their design incorporates an infrastructure that solves the issues of through-traffic and at the same time upgrades public transport and light traffic. More images and architects’ description after the break.
A History of Violence
During the seventies and eighties Ålesund city center was subjected to a rapid modernization that included the construction of a four lane highway cutting through the urban fabric and effectively separating the southern harbor district from the city center. This development – along with a massive landfill that extended the harbor area into the sea – made the distance from the city center to the water even longer.
Today, Ålesund is a city traumatized by this violent implementation of the modernist ideal in architecture and urban planning. In the eyes of many, the regional equilibrium has been upset by these projects and the town hall in particular. The building represents the uniform language of the international style, and as such it has become a symbol of the conflict between a regionally rooted and an ‘international’ aesthetic ideal. This conflict casts a shadow on the city – and the debate about how Ålesund should develop, and this is the context – the underlying condition – that this project departs from.
Fast Forward and Rewind
The means is to simultaneously take a leap into the future and return to a historic situation. But how? Like any other city Ålesund is a player in the global competition to attract tourists, business and educated citizens. The paradigmatic shift from industrial to knowledge based economy has brought about the situation that this project addresses: the need to transform industrial landscapes into urban environments. To turn derelict industry into assets for a city that wants to compete on the regional, national and global markets.
Unfortunately, this conversion often results in a generic type of urbanity that ignores the local conditions and fails the attempt to revitalize in the actual meaning of the word. Mono-functional enclaves with a stereotypical and uninspiring relation to the water are the typical outcome. A previous proposal for a development scheme for the area –dubbed the 2009-plan – displays this very clearly. But the city of Ålesund has the chance to choose a different approach: A combination of ‘efficiency’ and authenticism. On one hand the transformation should improve accessibility and solve infrastructural issues, and on the other hand it should carefully interpret the features and qualities of the historic the city, the rich and unique heritage.
Embrace, Don’t Erase
We want to initiate a dialogue between historic and contemporary architecture. A dialogue that leads to reconciliation. We shouldn’t erase the heritage but to embrace it. Utilize the abruptness of the urban history to create a vibrant and diverse city center. An urban environment that can surprise and stimulate inhabitants as well as visitors. The town hall square will be the cities primary public space, and the boundaries that define it will display the array of architectural styles present in the city. The town hall square will celebrate architectural diversity!
The need for large scale facilities like a conference center, a hotel and a cruise terminal are key functions in the development scheme. They are the portals for tourists and visitors, and therefore they need to exist alongside the historic city center they accommodate. But how? We suggest to create ‘retreat’ for these out-of-scale programs. A retreat and a test bed for experimentation – in the shape of an artificial peninsula that can house the large scale programs that are so difficult to interweave in the existing urban fabric, without either damaging the fabric – as past projects have done – or on the other hand restricting the new buildings to a level that compromises their functionality.
The artificial peninsula is in fact an addition to the existing landfill, but it will appear as a landscaped peninsula. Here the citizens of Ålesund can enjoy themselves in the public park that covers the surface or stroll along the promenade that offers magnificent views of the Keiser promenade and the new marina. But the artificial peninsula is not a solitaire ‘jurassic park’. It is a fully integrated part of the city center. A basin flows between the promenade that is an interpretation of the historic coastline and the new peninsula. But this body of water doesn’t separate – it connects. It is the new urban plaza. A ‘blue plaza’ an entirely new typology, unique for Ålesund.
Return of the Street
The street is an urban phenomenon that historically has proved to be the ideal space for city life to unfold. In the 20th century the modern movement declared war on the street. The averion ultimately resulted in the strict segregation of vehicle and pedestrian traffic into arteries strictly meant for transport. We suggest to reintroduce the street as a means of integrating the city center and the redevelopment of the south harbor. The Keiser Promenaden is a reinterpretation of this street. A vibrant urban space where strolling pedestrians and bicyclers on the move mix with shoppers, clerks out for lunch and visitors looking for the local klipfisk restaurant. A high quality urban space that integrates a variety of traffic modes. Also in the new city block Prestebrygga the historic street is the model for the urban fabric. We suggest using the same ratios between floor area, public and private space, footprint and streetscape as in historic Ålesund.
The City Needs Surgery: Bypass or Pacemaker
Future-proof infrastructural solutions are the key to a successful urban development. Leading the through-traffic around the city center is the first and most fundamental step towards creating a fertile ground for urban development. This reorganization paves the way for a pedestrian -friendly redeveloment of the city center and the harbor district. Relieving the heavily congested Keiser Wilhelmsgate will make it possible to integrate the city center and the southern harbor.
We suggest to lead the through-traffic via a tunnel through the harbor basin. This tunnel will have an exit inside the artificial peninsula, so it will function as a parking garage for visitors who arrive by car but want to enjoy the unique urban environment by foot. The exit also provides vehicle access to the large functions situated on the peninsula: the cruise terminal, the hotel and the conference center. All three have a regional and even international scope so easy access is key. This way the new development becomes a means to reduce car traffic in the city center and at the same time it radically upgrades the accessibility to Ålesund.
This concept challenges the existing scheme for constructing a ‘bypass tunnel’ underneath Brosundet. A solution that will provide easy accessibility to the city center – but at a great cost, as the 2 km tunnel has to be cut deep into the fjell and incorporate two large scale underground parking garages. The surface of the peninsula – the roof of the parking garage – makes up a public park facing the blue plaza and city center. This sloping landscape features pathways that lead to vantage points, and a vegetation recalling the local fauna with pine trees, moss, cloudberries and heather.
Make the Town Hall the Town’s Hall
The buildings location and history makes it a pivotal point in the city. We suggest to refurbish the modernist town hall with a series of new and extrovert functions. It is decisive to give the public access to this monolithic high rise and to utilize its architectural features to give the citizens of Ålesund a new view of their city. The towering ‘højblok’ should be fitted with a public skybar or observation platform, so that everyone can enjoy the view of the southern harbor district as it develops to become a new urban district. Furthermore the town hall should be integrated in the new pedestrian route leading from the Keiser Promenade to the museum and the park on Grimmerhaugen, and making a short cut in the ‘pedestrian domain’ that forms a loop in the city center. The raised platform will become a terrace accommodating pedestrians and in connection with public events it will serve as a tribune and become a part of the town hall square.
Living on the Edge
A new residential city block adjacent to the sea. A continuation of the historic urban fabric. Facing the sea is a line of residential buildings that in scale and typology echo the characteristic warehouses – Sjøboder – that line the inner harbor. These buildings have unspoiled views of the sea and Slinningen and direct access to the water. The row of warehouses form a pocket where wooden multi-storey houses that are arranged in an organic layout to creates a local micro-climate allowing the sun to enter the houses but blocking the cold winds. The interior yard is a continuous landscape that gently sweeps around the buildings and tie the city block together around a common recreational space.
Architects: PARK Location: Ålesund, Norway Competition Area:15 ha Floor Area to be Constructed: 50.000 sqm