LUZ: Today’s Šmartinski Park used to be a vast area of informal and individuals allotment gardens. In the municipal spatial planning documents the area was defined as green space and an infrastructural corridor, but in reality it was covered with garden beds and sheds, cut by a traffic road and crossed by a few main power lines. Still in 2007, the area mainly served as a buffer zone between busy roads and the city’s central cemetery Žale and was constantly referred to as a problem zone. The main reason for the criticism was the contradiction of unregulated gardening and the iconic architecture of the Žale cemetery, designed by recognized Slovene architect Jože Plečnik. Ironically, allotment gardening was indeed planned on the site in late 1950s but went out of control when years went by. At its final stage, gardening here was declared illegal, nobody knew how many individual gardens there are or who they belonged to. The area consisted of vegetable beds with various wooden or tin shacks and small constructions, scattered around. The area was planted randomly with different fruit trees and numerous perennials. From the outside, the place seemed unfriendly, even confusing and difficult to cross, belonging to a closed community of gardeners.
Back in 2007, the area was first in a row to be cleared of illegal allotment in the Municipality of Ljubljana to demonstrate new urban development and management policy. The clearing of gardening beds and sheds was announced and executed in a close cooperation between mayor’s office, municipal officials and public companies. This most delicate action was carried out with a lot of sensitivity to the gardeners and the future of gardening in the city as well as for the area’s future development. The allotment gardeners were able to get explanations from the mayor on site, the vice major gathered a professional team to mark and protect the existing trees form construction damage, and a new gardening policy was announced publicly. Rehabilitation was discussed and planned along with fieldwork which led to an idea of minimal intervention. After clearing of the area only a flowering lawn mixture was sown in the first season and the area was open to public use while the process of planning and designing started. The nearby local communities were consulted about their wishes and they confirmed a need for a new park and playground. The area was to become a public park in a new master plan and the road that was bisecting the area was to be omitted from it. The new park was to become Šmartinski Park, named after a road nearby.
Due to its vast dimension of nearly 13 ha, the transformation of the area into a park was to be gradual, starting the process in 2007, step by step reaching its climax in 2015 by constructing one of the city’s biggest and most exciting playgrounds. In the first phase of park development only two basic walkthrough paths were erected, the terrain was reshaped and new large trees were planted while remnants of existing fruit trees were left on site. The playground was designed later due to many requests. The initial design idea was to provide a play area for all, no matter the age, physical or mental ability. The playground location was planned carefully, with a proper relation to the cemetery, behind a gas station and out of impacts of main road and power lines. The design team’s previous experiences with school and nursery kids participating in various play projects were used as most valuable baseline for a new design concept. The design itself was to provide spaciousness, playful terrain, water feature in combination with sand, lots of vegetation and play equipment with a diverse set of functions – a high climbing net with a view being one of its essentials. Playful water feature and path design were moulded to the park layout, adding soft curved circular shapes with high play value to the existing straight functional park paths.
The transformation of allotment into a park was very well accepted almost from the beginning, even the gardeners recognized the quality of open public space and requests for a playground started to reach the city hall in the first season of park operation. At first idea of a playground in front of a cemetery sounded a bit unusual but life proves it right: people wished to have a playground constructed in a park more than anything and the visitors today are coming from near and far, even from outside of Ljubljana. Some of the users initiated ideas, such as circular paths for running or scooter riding with graphic length marks, a wavy up and down path and a softly curved hill with assortment of slides are the busiest features alongside water play – pumps, dams, channels or mills in combination with sand, a rarity in Ljubljana’s otherwise diverse play options. Playground safety (gravel in combination with sand) is fully provided by careful detailing without abundant constructional additions. After the playground was open, many people visited it, proposing additional bike racks and a dog park and both of proposals were realised. Recent popularity of the park also triggered an expected initiative to build a teahouse with necessary service features for the park and playground users.
Design: LUZ, d.d. (Maja Simoneti, Urška Kranjc, Klara Sulič, Sergej Hiti, Tomaž Stupar – Krajinaris, Dušan Stupar, Tanja Maljevac, Maša Šorn)
Location: Šmartinski park, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Design year: 2015 – 2016
Year of construction: 2015 – 2016
Area: 11 ha
Budget: 1.000.000 EUR
Image Credits: Luka Vidic
Manufacturer of urban Equipment: Kompan, Richterspielgerate, Outsider DK