Up until the beginning of the 20th Century the solution for the public space in almost every city in the world consisted in the positioning of specifically codified elements on a well paved base. For example, the siting of pieces of sculpture with a view to centrality or to certain axes was regarded as resolving all of the problems of the urban space: its monumentality, its identity and its representative status in the city. Since that time the codes and the symbols have changed.
Nowadays architects have to look to the architecture itself for this same identity and status, but with different codes and symbols. The urban spaces of the historic centre of Cork have evidently been designed in this latter sense; in other words, looking to the architecture of the urban space as such for the definition of their identity. The present project proposes a construction system compatible with the differentiated character to be established in the streets and squares of the old city centre of Cork. The project thus opts for a construction system that allows the urban space to be designed in terms of categories (as regards their width, significance and position structure of the city) while preserving the architectural constants which, by ensuring continuity, make the historic city centre recognisable. These constants, which we might call the 'skeleton' of the urban space, are the constituent elements of the general construction system.
This system invariably consists of a band of extremely hard wearing natural stone, on which are all the elements that go to make up the urban space (ramps for pedestrians and vehicles, kerbs, litter bins, street lights, traffic signals and so on). This band, formed by a kerb 2.00m wide, divides the space constituted by St. Patrick Street and Grand Parade. Must a street always be symmetrical with respect to the axis of the roadway? That is to say, with kerbs and pavements that are identical on both sides? Of course not.
Above all where the space situated between the facades is irregular and, on account of its size, has a tendency to convert itself into a great plaza in which pedestrians and vehicles can coexist perfectly. There are many urban elements (in addition to the classic kerbs) which effectively facilitate the passage of vehicles though not exclusively for them. Our municipal technicians and architects must make the effort to find the best way of organizing the harmonious coexistance of vehicles and pedestrians, above all in the historic centres of cities. The appropriate and orderd mix of the two is good for the city and consequently for its economic and social dynamics. The different time zones, for example, make it possible to utilize the urban space in many different ways: at certain times of the day to drain traffic from a sector of the city, and at others as a major pedestrian space.
It is therefore essential that spaces of this type are designed on the basis of the binomial street/plaza. In the project we are presenting here this binomial has been embodied by designing an asymmetrical street. In other words, a kerb 18 cm high and 200cm wide, disposed symmetrically, which liberates a considerable amount of the surface area available for the various different uses of the city. Motor vehicles circulate in the space delimited by the kerb itself and by a triangular shaped protection set into the paved surface to form two traffic lanes with a width of 3.50 m each and two service lanes.
In calculating the dimensions of the vehicle routes we have adopted the most recent thinking on traffic in the city. According to which the dimensions of the section designated for vehicular traffic is determined on the basis of the number of vehicles it is desired should pass through the historic centre and not in terms of the greatest possible number of vehicles which can pass through it. This kerb thus acts as an element of dissuasion, from which different materials flow towards the interior streets running off on either side of St. Patrick Street and Grand Parade.
Within this skeleton structure the materials change according to the category and perceived value of the street, ranging from granite to softer materials. The possibilities are infinite. The horizontal plane formed by the streets is an ordered one. With no unnecessary objects where people can genuinely sense the empty space of the town. These tranquil, ordered surfaces are only modified at particular poitnts, like stressed syllables in a sentence. This has the effect of restoring meaning to the urban space. In the case of the corner of the two streets in the project this specific point is accentuated, for example, by the installation of a large clock set into the pavement with an internal light which acts as a liminous reference for this strategic point of the project.
One of the problems affecting the urban space in many towns and cities is the gradual appearance of small objects with certain specialised functions or in many cases simply abandoned, with no function at all. The ever increasing number of small items of street furniture ought to be a cause of concern to everyone with an interest in improving our public space. These strange occupants of our pavements include the rickety structures of bent metal that serve to accumulate bicycles.
The street furniture in this project has been thought out in terms of the same criterion of versatility as the rest of the project. In other words, a given object can be set down in different ways and serve different uses. The bike park, for instance, is an object that will customarily be used for its intended function while also serving as an ordering element in the public space. Similarly, the street lamp Sarah, especially designed for Cork, has the double function of illuminating the street in two different ways (diffuse or concentrated) as well as exercising the function of ordering and potentiating the asymmetrical form of the street section itself. The architectural and chromatic quality of the facades of the buildings which delimit St. Patrick Street and Grand Parade is expressly highlighted by the simplicity of the project. These facades should be illuminated at night. The existing monuments and fountains emerge directly from the pavement resting directly on the smooth clean surface of the exclusively pedestrian zones.
The Studio BB & GG is run by the architect Beth Gali who's activity encloses industrial and furniture design, architecture, urbanism and landscape architecture. At the moment there are twelve people working in the studio: six architects, one engineer, four students and a secretary: Jaume Benavent, Catrin Dechamps, Olivier Gallez, Beth Gali, Femke Janssen, Nadia Kayat, Oliver Kienzler, Martien Kuipers, Christian Kuttler, Andrea Lotz, Pernilla Magnusson, Shaaf Milani-Nia, Pepa de la Mora, Andrea Morgenstern, Maria Joao Pinto, Arola Tous, Susanne Vecsey and Silvia Vespasiani.
The office has made projects in various European countries: Spain (Barcelona, Huelva, Salamanca), Netherlands (Rotterdam, S'Hertogenbosch, Roermond), France (Paris), Germany (Berlin, Hannover) and Sweden (Malmo).