Natural and man-made environments in context of river banks

Tomáš Hanáček


Degraded river waterfront areas become the subject of revitalization in many European cities. Many cities dispose of the attribute of a city on water or the water-city.  How can we evaluate the potential of the area, which combines the natural with the man-made environment? Intelligent urban development is based on revelation of territories. The main goal of this process is to define and implement the most efficient conceptual instruments to take into account the living environment.

The river environment as the part of an urban area consists of four basic parts1:

  1. man-made environment
  2. natural environment
  3. social environment
  4. cultural environment

The river disposes of specific social and natural history in the sense of time and space. The hybrid form of environment is affected by the dynamics of social development and geographical morphology. Termination of the barriers between society and the natural environment creates opportunities for the development of specific cultural environment. Each one of this quaternion represents specific requirements of society. Multidisciplinary review of the theme and discussion with the public provide opportunity to the comprehensive understanding of the issue.

The philosophy of dualism can help us to examine the interaction and relationships between man-made and natural environment. The Greek philosopher Armenides developed the philosophical approach in the context of European philosophy and culture, analogous to Greek philosopher Platon and the French theorist Descart. The philosophy of dualism is closely linked with the dialectic of space and its search for harmony between development and the maintenance of values ​​of the past.

Research on the optimal evaluation of the character and potential of the riverbanks areas is the main goal of this work. Activation of both river banks and mutual coordination create conditions for the formation of “the city on water”. Cultural environment with opportunities for further development in time and space should be the result of the formation of river banks and urban public spaces. The movement in space/time influences the site considerably. Architects declare that this is the protest against universal trends that are anonymous and against coca-cola architecture.

In the case studies of my PhD thesis we use similar methods SKETCH and GO, which combine the multi-sense perception of the environment through short movies and sketches as instruments of urban vision development.

Analytical method SKETCH and GO supports the method Research by Design. This method searches opportunities how to optimize solutions for design in urban space through multi-sense perception of the environment. An important aspect of the method is its multidisciplinary applicability and possibility of comparison of each researched element.

We focus on two Slovak towns (Bratislava and Trenčín) in our case studies. Two major rivers flow trough these towns (Bratislava – Danube and Trenčín – Váh). In both cases we can develop the philosophy of different riverbank character (natural and man-made). Different scales of the urban space provide verification of the hypothesis in practice. The urban vision of the square on water provides a unique proposal of a riverbank as a public space. It is clearly defined by the river and two bridges over the river. The square on water brings a new element into the urban regional character. The phenomenon of the pedestrian bridge described in this case collects and reveals the symbolic value of the site.

Innovative transformation of the riverbanks opens the ways and public interest for creation of high-quality public spaces with a unique cultural identity of the 21st century. We need strategies that minimize negative cultural interferences and maximize both historical and natural benefits of the riverbank public space.


1 enviroment partition according to Christian Norberg Schulz (Genius Loci)

Keywords: river, waterfront, philosophy, natural environment, urban design, artificial environment, city