Cite this article
Bočková, M. (2023) ‘Rise of container structures along the Danube River in Bratislava: Transformation of the embankment after the river regulation’, Architecture Papers of the Faculty of Architecture and Design STU, 28(4), pp. 29-37. https://www.doi.org/10.2478/alfa-2023-0023
The paper observes the space along the Danube River in Bratislava as a relatively newly formed terrain, which was created as a by-product of the river regulation at the end of the 19th century. The emerged space offered attractive and spacious building plots for various new typologies and rather than a compact city block, these were mostly hosted in the container-like structures. Referencing the theoretical work of De Solà-Morales, the containers are understood as self-standing, large-volume envelopes containing large interior and exterior spaces, drawing people from the city streets into an artificial environment that creates a controlled platform for order and consumption. The paper distinguishes three different periods of embankment development that correspond to the political and economic historical framework and highlights the specific characteristics of each of them. The first, interwar era brought the concept of freestanding palaces on the waterfront, be it a student dormitory, a national museum, or an art association building. However, the most prominent topic was the International Danube Fair and the pavilions that would host such an event. The fair was more spectacular than a traditional marketplace. These shopping festivities, which lasted on average from 8 to 13 days, were a kind of spectacle, as the situationist Guy Debord later elaborated on these events. The fair was originally held in the premises near the winter port, but later it was considered it should move to the western part of the embankment, on the former Danube alluvium. In the second period, after World War II, the socialist regime took over the under-construction exhibition complex on the waterfront to complete it as a Park of Culture and Recreation. The period of socialism was generally characterized by ambitious plans on both sides of the river, but at the same time, the inability to implement these plans in full. This phenomenon is well illustrated by the construction of the Podhradie housing estate and the construction of the multi-purpose exhibition complex (later named Incheba), which were implemented only to a limited extent, in a fragmentary manner. Finally, the construction of real private container-like structures in the sense of their commercial program and isolated form occurred on the linear space of the embankment only after the fall of socialism. The city was undergoing a post-socialist transformation, a lengthy process that led from the rejection of communism and central planning to the building of democracy with a market economy. After 1989, Bratislava’s territorial strategies also changed. A former “caring” socialist city has gradually become an entrepreneurial capital that did not hesitate to privatize the housing stock and sell off large areas for new, private developments. Together with the formation of strong domestic financial elites, these factors set the new condition for the real estate market and resulted in the construction boom on the waterfront. The long-awaited construction on the waterfront is now in the hands of the private sector, while containers-like residence complexes and shopping malls are ultimately raising the questions about the public space and Rem Koolhaas’s idea of the “generic”. The current construction on Bratislava’s embankment can be analysed from different points of view. The paper presents one of them, namely an insight into the historical context and the conditions that defined the nature of waterfront development in the 20th century. For construction in the 21st century, other actors and other policies and the economic situation were critical. Nevertheless, the article tries to compare the volume and content of these new developments. It transpires that each era produces its characteristic layer in the urban fabric, and the one we experience today is no different. The paper concludes that the city waterfronts generally have a unique capacity to provide an open and neutral space for all kinds of social life. They are often the most attractive thing that cities have to offer. While in many European cities recreational facilities are still part of the area along the river, Bratislava has not offered this option for four decades. Instead, complexes of often questionable value and generic nature are being built on its shores. As the history shows, to build a public and continuous embankment in Bratislava is a vision that has always been beyond the possibilities of the city. Today’s efforts to close the gap on urban development also bring valuable waterfront space, but only under the conditions of associated commerce.