An international contest is being held to design a €7.5 million public plaza connecting the towns of Gorizia in Italy and Nova Gorica in Slovenia (Deadline: 22 June)
The competition seeks ‘innovative and original’ proposals for a square and transcultural hub next to Nova Gorica’s main train station which between 1947 and 1991 served as a development buffer zone and hard border between Italy and the former Yugoslavia, but is now an open border with Slovenia.
The Piazza Transalpina-Europe Square project aims to stitch together the historic settlement of Gorizia in Italy with Nova Gorica, which was built as a separate town following the post-war partitioning of the region and is now in neighbouring Slovenia. Submissions must focus on the creation of a new square and cultural centre and also include a broader masterplan for integrating the surrounding urban border zones.
The competition seeks ‘innovative and original’ proposals for a square and transcultural hub next to Nova Gorica’s main train station
According to the brief: ‘With the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the birth of an expanded united Europe in 1991, Gorizia and Nova Gorica, the two towns once divided by wars, saw new opportunities for connecting the separated parts of the former region, not least the spatial integration of the two cities into a uniform urban structure.
‘In 2019, Nova Gorica and Gorizia set themselves an ambitious goal – to become a cross-border European Capital of Culture in 2025. Regardless of the success of the candidacy, the two administrations, aided by the EGTC, have decided to continue the process of connecting the two cities by planning a common central area on the state border in the area of the railway station of Nova Gorica.’
The old town of Gorizia is the historic centre of Italy’s north-eastern Gorizia province. Following the Second World War, the area was subject to a border dispute with neighbouring Yugoslavia, resulting in the creation of the new planned settlement of Nova Gorica on the other side of the border.
A new transcultural hub, known as the EPICentre, will also be delivered as part of the brief. The ‘economically viable’ building is anticipated as both a self-sustaining tourist destination and a venue for events and exhibitions addressing the history of the unique two towns.
The contest site includes both the area surrounding the train station itself and a larger area of former border zone stretching from Solkan and Salcano to Rožna Dolina and Casa Rossa
The contest site includes both the area surrounding the train station itself and a larger area of former border zone stretching from Solkan and Salcano to Rožna Dolina and Casa Rossa. Proposals will be expected to boost ‘transborder cohesion’ in this wider zone and support the main activity in the square and cultural centre.
Judges will include Nathalie Rozencwajg of London-based Name Architecture; Polona Filipic of the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Architecture; and Helle Juul, of JUUL FROST in Copenhagen. An overall winner, to be announced on 8 July, will receive €25,000 while a second prize of €15,000 and third prize of €8,000 will also be awarded.
How to apply
The deadline for applications is 22 June
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Q&A with Fabiana Pieri
The senior technical officer at the European Group of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) discusses her ambitions for the competition
Why are your holding a competition for a new square and transcultural centre for Gorizia and Nova Gorica?
The city of Nova Gorica (Slovenia) is aiming for the title of 2025 European Capital of Culture (ECoC), and will be presenting its cross-border cooperation with neighbouring Gorizia (Italy) as one of its advantages. The two cities are going to use this opportunity to prepare a joint programme to both promote and strengthen the resources of this unique cross-border area and to become a place of interest for the European public, looking for tradition and modernity, originality and visibility.
For years our two cities have turned their backs towards each other but not any longer. The time has now come to break this closed circle and stand shoulder to shoulder to embrace what lies ahead of us.
Nova Gorica is a young city. In 1948, when the first foundation for a future regional centre was laid, politicians idealistically stated that they were building something that would shine its light across the border. It was the post-war period, a time of healing, forgiveness, progress and hope, as well as a time of fierce ideological antagonism between east and west.
The border which Nova Gorica was supposed to shine across had been delineated a few months earlier at diplomatic tables in cities far from the region, and it was imposed as an artificial barrier upon the population, both Slovenian and Italian. It was to divide families where grandparents could not see their grandchildren grow up, cutting through stables where cows ate in Italy and slept in Yugoslavia, cutting through the living and the dead where the city was on one side and the cemetery on the other.
Transalpina Square was chosen by the European Commission in 2004 as a location to celebrate the enlargement of the European Union. The Mayors of Nova Gorica and Gorizia had removed the fence months earlier and today citizens freely walk across the square. There is no visible sign of separation and the border stone that once divided the two cities is encircled by a mosaic, work of a local artist.
Nova Gorica’s main train station served as a development buffer zone and hard border between Italy and the former Yugoslavia but is now an open border with Slovenia
The occasional tourists, wandering on the now common square in front of the Nova Gorica railway station, enthusiastically take selfies on the mosaic, keeping one foot in Italy and the other in Slovenia. However, the square is disorderly, with cars parked all around the mosaic. Just west of the fence a closed and abandoned hotel is waiting for better times and east of the square the magnificent railway building smells of damp and despondently welcomes the few passenger trains a day.
A destroyed border economy, once dependent on shopping, smuggling and gambling, has left both towns in limbo. They await the big change, the realisation of the great dream, which fuelled the aspirations of the post-war generations. The wall has fallen but still the miracle is yet to be seen, in its place just boredom and disappointment.
We believe that the project for the EPIC – European Platform for the Interpretation of the 20th century – a permanent multimedia exhibition and an events venue is a unique opportunity to create the only one in Europe realised on the territories of two states. The building will also be unique because of its symbolism and content. It will show our common past from two different perspectives, the Italian and the Slovenian one: the same events which happened on this territory viewed from two opposite points of view. Besides these, it will be integrated with a third, external, European or global point of view.
It will encourage the audience to reflect not only on historical, but also on present events. It will make visitors ask themselves: what is the truth? What is our interpretation of it? What is the difference between opinions and mistakes? What is the difference between freedom of choice and ignorance, between free speech and hate speech, between politics and ideological manipulation? We find these questions about truth and its facets to be crucial for today’s complex, fast changing digital reality and particularly vital for new generations, born and raised in the digital era. We believe that by attracting ideas from all over the globe, these questions may be given fresh answers. The competitions of the past have been much more limited in scope and did not involve the same level of cross border cooperation.
We want our EPICentre to shine across many borders as a symbol of collaboration, mutual respect and cultural enrichment. We also see it as the starting point for an ambition, much bigger than the ECoC – to build the first European cross-border city, a trans-national conurbation, a project which, if successful, can radically change the way we see Europe.
Contest site: Europe Square
What would you like to see in responses to the contest brief?
The competition is divided into two areas; the first area of about 8,000 ² comprises the redesign of the square and the proposal for the EPICentre. The second area covers the larger context of the border, which is the conceptual part of the competition, looking at new ways to reconnect the cities.
There are of course constraints pertaining to heritage and landscape and the brief further lists that the solutions proposed:
- not diminish the value of the square as event space and should therefore be structurally designed in a way that ensures or encourages various activities on the town square;
- suggest innovative new spatial solutions for both the building and the square, which could be varied in their juxtapositions;
- be spatially and programmatically flexible and support this concept through creative multifunctional solutions;
- not dwarf the building of the railway station.
The EPICentre shall be an object intended for intercultural cooperation, which means that the new structure should be able to accommodate different programs, activities or exhibitions over time and so flexibility is paramount. Another important aspect is the need for some degree of economic viability and it is asked that competitors suggest functions that would enable the center to generate some income or at least make it feasible for some PPP initiatives, so that the structure would not have to depend wholly on public funds.
Special attention must be paid to environmental sustainability, but the jury will certainly look for innovation, originality, creativity of the proposals. The projects must fully explore the potential of creating identity, symbolic value and cultural unity as well as attract visitors and improve the quality of life of the inhabitants.
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
This is an open competition and the scope of the brief is to tap into the widest possible spectrum of architectural talent across the globe this is in fact the underlying core value of the competition. We are looking for a good idea, not for an Archistar project, so it can certainly be an opportunity for smaller emerging practices and undiscovered talents. Because of the relatively lesser known location of the project, this will be a unique opportunity for both the cities and the winners.
International teams will not need to collaborate with local firms to participate in the competition, but they will most likely need to involve local architects, both Italian and Slovenian, for the second stage, when the contracting authority will be in a position to implement the project and will commission the subsequent design phases.
Contest site: Europe Square
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
Should the bid for Candidacy of Nova Gorica (with partner City Gorizia) for the European Capital of Culture 2025 be successful, many other opportunities will arise for architects and designers to be involved in other ancillary projects. One must also consider the opportunities inherent in this competition for future development of the conceptual part, with ideas for linking the cities in various locations along the border. In terms of green mobility and tourism, we are currently in the process of building cross border cycle path connections that were the object of a recent public procurement contest sponsored by EGTC.
Are there any other recent similar projects which you have been impressed by?
Many important competitions have been organized on the theme of border areas. Two which I can mention are:
In 2013, the ’Borderless Competition: Designing Future ASEAN Borders, sponsored by the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA), with the goal of demonstrating how architecture can re-define the future of ASEAN borders. The competition sought proposals that focused on local border sites, addressing specific cultural, social and ecological issues, while engaging at larger spatial and institutional scale.
In 2017 the ‘Unbuild the wall’ Competition focused on the current border crossing that separates the cities of Nogales, in Mexico and Arizona. The Archstorming Team called for proposals to eliminate the existing border buildings and the wall, replacing them with a space for coexistence, while also allowing a respectful and controlled supervision of the migrants’ flow.
Contest site: Europe Square