Meeting space in the heart of the city

Posted on: 30th December 2021

A built structure is never independent of its surroundings. It influences its context and neighboring spaces as well as is influenced by them in return. The activities taking place in a building, particularly in a public zone always have a role in developing the identity of its surroundings. A major positive change in one space can impact the surrounding spaces, as well the people who inhabit these spaces. Not only does it shift the way everyday practices were taking place, but it paves way for a new, better identity of the context, in which such spaces are located. The activities change, the response of the community changes, and all give confidence to all parties involved to work together to further improve the character of the surrounding.

The Old Market Hall of Bratislava. Source: Eutropian

Stará Tržnica or the Old Market Hall is an example of bringing such a positive shift in the surrounding. Being a historical building in the center of Bratislava, it has significant importance in the surrounding concerning its architecture, history, and heritage. After operating as a municipal marketplace from 1910- 1960, its function gradually became obsolete and it was used for a number of functions after. From hosting cultural events, acting as a television studio to even standing empty for some years, the Old Market Hall regained its importance and started impacting its surrounding after the Old Market Hall Alliance gained access to the building. They proposed and implemented a redevelopment plan for the building that included a food market every Saturday and cultural events on other days. The new plan also includes several cafes, a grocery shop, a cooking school, and a soda water manufacturer. This gradual development of the building, while being economically sustainable and improving the physical state of the building, has not only revived the old identity of the building but also improved the community life of the surrounding public spaces.

“If you search for a concert hall in the city center, this would be one of the top choices for you. If you want to make a conference, it is probably the best place in the city center, especially if you would like to have some kind of community feeling, and don’t want to go to a hotel. Practically you are left with no other choices.” Jan Mazur

To give functionality to the building, the original space was modified many times, which meant many steps were to be taken during the renovation to bring out the original face of the building hidden underneath many additions done later.

The interior of the Old Market Hall. Source: Eutropian

A step forward:

The importance of the Old Market Hall was seen and felt by many people, and many were already working to take steps for its revitalization. Among these many people, 11 individuals, who came from different fields of expertise regarding public spaces and cultural events, came together to work together for the cause of looking into the history of the market hall and exploring the reasons for its failure. While studying the past, the team realized that their work had the potential of developing the project for the future of the market hall, not only the study of its past. They proposed to organize a weekly market on Saturdays, other events on weekdays, and renting out other parts of the building. After much deliberation, discussion, voting, and even some criticism, the Old Market Hall Alliance got access to the building in 2013 and set up the first food market in the same month.

“As the market hall was to function as a cultural center and a market at the same time, we felt it was good to start with a monthly market first, to try out space. Space was being reconstructed and rebuilt at the time: we had to build a whole market in a building that was changing every week.” Illah van Oljen

The all-inclusive food market:

The food market in the heart of the Old Market Hall. The concept of the food market was materialized gradually and organically in the Old Market Hall. Before becoming a weekly, thing, it started as a once month and then twice a month thing. This gradual development helped the organizers to test different settings and bring in new people who had started working in the food market business. The main driving force for arranging the food market was to bring people together. It is arranged in a way that it was inclusive of all community members. On Saturdays, apart from the food market, children’s theater was arranged and kids and senior citizens have their own designated spaces. People from minority groups are also invited to present their food and music in the market hall. The food market is combined with some other events namely pop-up stores, kid’s events, design and antique markets, wine events, thematic markets. The positive outcome of such events combined with the food market are numerous, but the two main benefits are that such public events bring more and more people together and create a sense of community, and allow local vendors and small businesses to set up their businesses and increase their reach. The vendors of the food market and other tenants of the market hall support each other in every possible way.  

Food market in the market hall. Source: Eutropian

“The proportion between market and social projects depends on the price you charge per square meter. If you run a market price, then non-market participants obviously cannot take it if they don’t have a subsidy. If there is no grant that could help them operate with market rents, then you have to go down if you want to create social value.” Jan Mazur

The other activities provided by tenants of the market hall include a cafeteria that is also a fabrication lab, there is also a workshop with the woodcutter, printers, and other tools for digital fabrication. Another in-demand service is the bike-sharing shop that also offers delivery service to the market shoppers.

Spaces for all age groups. Source: Eutropian

Giving back the original space to the city:

The Old Market Hall being a protected national cultural heritage building, had protection over the hall’s columns, windows, and façade. Modifications were prohibited, particularly on the exterior. Some minor changes that were done, were possible after the permission of the regional heritage office. Nevertheless, the Alliance did not want to change the outlook of the hall even from the interior, rather they wanted it to get its initial appearance and identity back. The main idea was to create an open, flexible space, to accommodate different events at different times. Previously built partitions and kiosks were removed and the walls repainted to their original color. The infrastructure in parts of the hall was reworked and improved and in some parts, an agreement with the tenants was made where they would do the renovation and the costs would be adjusted in their rent. A lot of work was done for soundproofing of the hall, to host concerts and large-scale public events. The walls and windows, particularly towards the residential side were also insulated. The result was an open space, welcoming all kinds of people, for all kinds of events, for community interaction.

“When we first entered the market hall, its open space was fragmented by smaller structures, kiosks erected in the 1990s. We declared that our goal is not to build on all the layers that were added to this market hall, but to give back this space to the city. Our goal was to open the space physically and mentally. We also repainted the interiors to the original green color, erasing the interventions of the 1990s. All our actions fit the protected status of the building. We benefited from heritage protection: we wanted to make use of the advantages of the building as it was invented in 1910.” Gábor Bindics

The renovation of the market hall for public activities positively impacted the surrounding locality and community. The whole area that was previously neglected with many closed shops and dead areas, revived a new life to it. The use of the area has increased and more public spaces are open up with live activities. It has not only created spaces for all people but opened up new doors of interaction between different members of the community.

Video produced by Eutropian for Stara Trznica. 

For further details, download Stara Trznica, Bratislava Observatory Case