CHYBIK + KRISTOF architects & urban designers and DÍLNA have created a new design for Brno's historic Mendel Square. Part of a large revival plan for the city, the design pays homage to the city's rich cultural past. Partnering with local practice DÍLNA, landscape architect Zdenek Sendler, and engineering firm PK Ossendorf, the team exposed the square’s core functional and historic role to drive change in the urban fabric.
As a first phase, the project transforms the existing transportation hub into a vibrant public space. Mendel Square has long foregone its historical significance, increasingly sidelined by its inhabitants as it fell to deterioration. Now, as a homage to the area’s multilayered history, the proposal engages with distinct periods of its past, reflected in the surrounding monuments, all while placing the square as the marker of a new chapter in Brno’s historic and sociocultural narrative.
Mendel Square is conceived as a user-centered public space: accessible and functional. The transformation of the square was first initiated by Brno’s chief architect Michal Sedlacek in 2018. After an in-depth study of the area, Sedlacek and his team proposed a series of adjustments for a comprehensive reconstruction, which, following a local public competition, was awarded to DÍLNA. Working with local authorities and practitioners, the team proposed a multifaceted platform responsive to public needs, supplementing the transportation hub to reconnect it with the city and its inhabitants.
The team explains the siting of the work and how it is "located in the heart of Stare Brno, the oldest part of the town, Mendel Square finds itself at a cultural crossroads for the area. Looking out onto the 14th century Basilica of Assumption of Our Lady, considered one of the Moravian region’s jewels of Gothic architecture, the square is bordered by the centennial Starobrno brewery and adjoining city walls, leading to the city’s towering Spilberk Castle. With deep ties to the adjacent Abbey of Saint Augustin, the square owes its name to Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar who used the affixed monastery’s greenhouse from 1856 to 1863 for the experiments at the roots of modern genetics."
Drawing on the history and scientific legacy of the site, CHYBIK + KRISTOF and DÍLNA extended their revival of the original greenhouse to that of the eponymous neighboring square. Originally used as a public park, the square was damaged by air raids during the Second World War. Rebuilt in the 1960s, shunned by the decades-long Communist regime, it became used for multimodal transport, adding onto its atypical typology composed of a 1930s Modernist building, Post-Modern structures from the 1970s, neoclassical city blocks, and forgotten landmarks. Soon losing its historical value, it was left subject to gradual and irrecoverable decay.
Responding to the square’s primary use as one of Brno’s primary public hubs, they rekindled the site with its past function as an integrated public space. Reorganizing the areas allotted to public transport and the residual green space from the previous layout, the design team revived the square. Centered around a vast circular area, the square is entirely barrier-free, accessible from all sides and visible from all angles. Using exclusively sustainable, reusable materials, they position new stops that ensure the fluid transition from tram and trolleybuses to municipal and regional bus lines. By creating a walkable, inclusive space, the dynamic of the square moves from a place dominated by public transport and cars to a safe center for pedestrians, in turn redefining the flow for the rest of the square.
The urban furniture installed is modular in layout, with movable benches that allows for various arrangements of the space. Calling back to Brno’s signature aesthetics, the paved circle’s red tints reflect that of the bricks that adorn the neighboring Basilica and monastery, surrounded by grey tiles that evoke the dominant granite color in the rest of the city. Erecting specifically bred tree species that retain more water while providing shade, they also envision the square as the new lungs of the city. A water reservoir below the pavement ensures the flow between the roots, supporting this new green community.
CHYBIK + KRISTOF architects Ondrej Chybik and Michal Kristof explain that, "Our new design brings a contemporary relevance to Mendel Square, moving from a lacking transportation terminal to a functional public space. This site plays a central role for the area and for the interactions within it. Rather than opting for a typical four-sided structure, we unify all functions in a core, inclusive paved circle that redefines the space. Not only is it more intelligible, but it also considers the needs of all possible users – locals and foreigners, passengers and visitors, young and old generations alike.”
Led in conjunction with the revival of the neighboring Mendel Greenhouse, Mendel Square is due for completion in July 2022 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Gregor Mendel’s birth.