ACCADEMIA DI ARCHITETTURA – USI 2016-2017 | Salzburg: The Intelligence of a European City









In the academic year 2016-2017 Salzburg was the focus of the Diploma work of the Academy of Architecture (Università della Svizzera Italiana) – the final design exercise with which Academy’s students end their learning path after six years of training. In the winter semester 2016-17 I taught a class on the societal development strategy of Salzburg, highlighting its relationships with the city’s spatial development strategy. I conducted the research on Salzburg’s development strategy in collaboration with Francesca Mazzoni.

Few European cities have had the same strategic capacity that Salzburg has displayed in the two decades following the Eastwards enlargement of the European Union. It was an inspiring experience to reconstruct the conceptual framework on which the city’s development strategy is grounded. A strategy that is clearly outlined in a number of background reports, which make the strategy accountable.

Accountability is a key issue in a city where different political cultures with clear profiles are competing in shaping the city’s developmet strategy.

At the Museum der Moderne Salzburg the exhibition ‘New Salzburg. Between Memory and Contemporaneity’ was organized. It presented the results of the project that the Academy of Architecture and the Museum der Moderne Salzburg have launched with the support from the City of Salzburg with the aim of promoting a reflection on the urban future of this UNESCO World Heritage–protected city.

With the assistance  of Tommaso Fantini and Stefano Gariglio – who have recently obtained a MSc from the Academy – I synthetized Salzburg’s development strategy in the infographic shown in the photograph that appears in this page (taken by Tommaso Fantini).

In Salzburg: policy issues

Bus Terminal ‘Süd’ in Erzabt-Klotz-Straße (Nonntal), a short-term parking area for tourist buses located five minutes’ walk from Mozart Platz

 One-day tourist visits constitute an increasingly controversial urban practice to be managed in European tourist cities. It is not only the size of the tourist attractions that makes it possible to ‘enjoy’ the city in just one day but also the fact that one-day trips to cities like Salzburg, Venice or Florence (and many others) have become an increasingly widespread cultural pattern coherent with the constraints of the budgets allocated by households to this good. Salzburg has all the features – geographical position, size, and iconic image – to experience a further increase in this type of tourism.

After being parked in one of the bus terminals outside the city, in the evening the coaches in the photo reach this short-term parking area – located about 200 meters from the south-east edge of the historic centre and a few minutes’ walk from Mozart Platz – and remain there just the time needed to pick up the tourists returning from their tour in Salzburg. Likewise, when the coaches arrive early in the morning they remain in the parking area just the time to drop off passengers for their day-visit to the city.

This issue is a methaphor of Salzburg’s current strategic dilemma. Is it a matter of managing an ever increasing flow of daily tourists or rather a matter of setting quantitative limits to this type of tourism?

Work in progress in the area of Salzburg’s main railway station

In the area close to the railway station (Südtiroler Platz), an ambitious urban regeneration project is being implemented, which will lead to the creation of a new city centre. Extensive improvements to the railway station were the first step in this direction. The whole area will be profoundly transformed: a new architectural image will be established and new elementary urban processes will be hosted. ‘First Class’ and ‘Luxury’ are the adjectives associated with the new spaces devoted to ‘living’, ‘business’, ‘shopping’ and ‘banking’. Quite a common model of urban regeneration in contemporary European cities – though not so common in cities of the size of Salzburg. The birth of what will be Salzburg’s strongest focal point raises the question of its consequences on the function and use of the historic centre.

The hydroelectric power plant Sohlstufe Lehen on the Salzach River: a multifaceted project strongly shaped by the constructive dialog with the local society

One of the pillars of Salzburg’s energy potential in terms of renewable energy sources, this run-of-the-river power plant provides an amount of electricity that accounts for the yearly demand of 23,000 families in the northern part of Salzburg. Its significance is not only related to energy production. Notable are also the various environmental benefits gained by the synergic integration of various river engineering and ecological measures: flood protection, prevention of the increasing bed degradation of the Salzach River, stabilization of Salzburg’s groundwater, protection of migratory fish against the in stream barrier, preservation of natural habitats and wildlife. Greatly enhanced was, moreover, the recreational value of the surrounding Glanspitz natural area. With its newly designed open spaces it provides a large variety of recreational opportunities to a densely populated area by accommodating leisure and sports facilities, footpaths and bike trails.

Noteworthy, boasting an impressive – and award-winning – architectural design, the hydroelectric power plant Sohlstufe Lehen testifies of the strongly felt concern for ‘architectural design issues’ in Salzburg’s society – and also of the richness of the local debate in this issue. By strongly interacting with the view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress – therefore having a strong visual impact – the run-of-the river power plant constitutes a interesting case to reflect upon to interpret the complex cultural (and political) relationship between the unchanging historic centre and the changing ‘rest of the built city’.

The Europark Shopping centre

The shopping centre Europark is located in the Northeastern part of Salzburg, very well connected to the city centre and close to the motorway A1. One of the largest and most successful shopping centres in Austria, it is very popular in the area. The premises (shops) for the exchange activities are very well integrated with the variety of premises for ‘public consumption’. Its scale (size), the variety of commodities offered and the variety of consumption activities make this space a focal point of regional importance – and express the role that Salzburg plays with respect to its functional urban area. Contiguous to the Europark shopping centre – and in synergy with it – an IKEA centre strengthens its role as focal point of ‘regional importance’.

Urban redevelopment of the Stadtwerk-Areal Strubergasse brownfield site, located in the Lehen neighbourhood

 This compound is one of the most interesting urban regeneration projects implemented in Salzburg in recent years when assessed from a social planning perspective. Remarkable is the mixité of actors and processes – residential activities, production of various services, recreational activities, cultural activities, and commodities transactions. Remarkably innovative also is the spatial pattern of private, collective and public spaces, which interact in a way that makes the institutional statuses of these spaces partially undefined to a certain extent. Equally noteworthy is that this compound was planned and designed in order not to be self-contained, by hosting elementary urban processes mostly performed by non-residents. It certainly is a notable example of urban design serving the aim of social integration.

Steingasse: an unused territorial capital?

Steingasse is regarded as one of the ‘purest’ parts of Salzbug’s historic centre. Yet it is certainly not one of the most visited. Should this state of the things be regarded as a ‘disequilibrium’ – unused territorial capital – and the touristic use of this gasse intentionally boasted? Or rather the current use should be considered as an equilibrium state? To which extent and in which form each corner of the entire historic centre should be turned into a highly visited touristic site? For a city which has already reached a satisfying level of individual well-being this is a ‘political issue’ related to the economic growth regime the local community may want to adopt.