The Situla Building is a striking new residential and mixed-use block, designed by Bevk Perović, that acts like a new eastern gateway to the city centre of Ljubljana. But the building also sits on a difficult site, adjacent to the city’s main rail line. So is it on the right or the wrong side of the tracks? Nina Štrovs reports.
“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family... Choose a starter home. Choose your friends... Choose your future. Choose life.” so goes (the cleanest bit of) the litany of Mark “Rent-Boy” Renton in Irwin Welsh’s Trainspotting from 1996.
At the massive Situla mixed-use block of 228 apartments, office and commercial space, in the city centre of Ljubljana, the list of choices for new residents is equally long. Choose a typology. Choose a size, Choose an orientation, a view. A level of privacy. A parking space in the basement. A smart system to control your devices... But the dirty bit here is the railway line which runs alongside. For ultimately the primary choice that the developer needs people to make is to opt for a home adjacent to the main rail tracks leading into Ljubljana – not traditionally a good selling point for housing.
However the issue of the difficult location was tackled head-on by the architects, Bevk Perović, who looked to turn all the questions around the building’s siting to advantage: even its architecture takes inspiration from the rough elegance of the railway. On top of this the architects faced extreme limitations on what they could design. The building is part of the Passenger Centre Ljubljana (PCL) master plan, developed from an urban design competition in 2002. The PCL is intended to create a new cultural and district centre, Emonika, with a new central railway station, a new central court building for Slovenia, as well as residential buildings. Situla stands on the north-eastern edge of the master plan site, and forms part of a new, eastern approach to Ljubljana.
The master plan dictated the urban footprint of the building as well as precisely defining its volume whilst the brief from the developer was to achieve very high density within these tight constraints. And added to this was the issue of the immediate vicinity of the railway, not only a disadvantage perceptually for people in Ljubljana, but practically also, with fears of loud train noise and thus useable outdoor spaces.
Bevk Perović, who won the competition for the block in 2007, have not only addressed but utilised all these factors, to create unexpected qualities at the site, and a building of high architectural unity, encompassing a wide range of hybrid programmes and uses.
As partner Matija Bevk of the practice explains: “The only way to make the building an object of desire was to be inspired by and draw on the uniqueness of the location.”
“We tried to propose new ‘themes’ for potential users”, adds Vasa J. Perović. “The 100% glass elevation is a novelty for a residential building in Slovenia, connecting each apartment visually to the city. So the city completes the dwellings in a way, working with the architecture, filling the interiors with dynamism and changing atmosphere.”
The apartments in Situla are intrinsically connected to their specific location within the city. Instead of trying to ignore or hide the railway tracks, Bevk Perović have opened up the building to all the surrounding urban landscape: the railway, the city, the views of the Castle, to nature, out to the Alps. The sliding perforated aluminium panels cladding the building, allow each resident to modulate their own level of privacy, lending a dynamic, changing rhythm to the façade, one that is both responsive and playful.
The architects have designed a wide range of apartment typologies in the building: small single person apartments, medium-sized family ones, duplexes that feel like a house, atrium apartments with patios and lofts, like Mediterranean houses – all within a common volume. The plans are flexible, allowing for adaptation by owners, meaning there’s a dynamism to the Situla’s interior too, which can be transformed to reflect the changing lives of its residents.
So what’s the response and reactions of the public and local residents? How long do people need to accept change, even for the better, to their environment? If architects just keep on building high-quality projects, is a tipping point reached, with a radical shift in public appreciation of new architecture?
“Human nature always resists change to a certain point”, says Bevk, “In Slovenia, it is almost part of the national character. But in every building we design we take great care with the dialogue between the client, the city and the architecture”.
“Of course, we expect a good response from the public, and are always a bit surprised when it doesn’t happen! I guess all changes need time”, adds Perović.
– Nina Štrovs is an editor in chief of Hiše (Houses) Magazine and partner at Granda Architecture Studio, Ljubljana