It is believed that Plečnik was inspired by Venice and its bridges in his rearrangement of Keller’s concrete river bed of Ljubljanica. What exactly Plečnik had in mind we do not know today but one thing is certain: due to Plečnik’s interventions the ambience and layout of the Ljubljanica riverside has a Venetian flair. As in Venice, Plečnik envisaged and placed several new bridges over the river. Two of them, namely the Triple Bridge and the Shoemakers’ bridge, were realized as public areas and new public spaces.
Plečnik also planned and partially realized the bridge access for the Butchers’ bridge and the Fishmarket footbridge (the footbridge between Ribij trg square and Gerber stairway). While the recently built Butchers’ bridge has a modern image, the Fishmarket footbridge awaits its new solution.
What should this footbridge be like? Plečnik already determined its width with his arrangement of the riverside, while the river determines its length. Taking into consideration the formal language of the neighboring bridges, the Shoemakers’ bridge and the Triple Bridge, which are designed in a Neo-Renaissance manner of plasticity, we can assume that Plečnik’s footbridge would have been formally rich and prominent. Would he have built it as a decorated concrete deck or as a shallow arc construction?
Out of respect to the memory of the master and his artistic authority, the idea of linking the two squares, the Congress and the Fishmarket square, became central to the project. However, this concept did not get started until the wooden, temporary arrangement was set up, which was initiated by the students of architecture from Ljubljana. It pointed to the vital necessity of the new bridge connection, but at the same time — due to its temporary nature — it did not offend the legacy of the great master. That is why people did not judge its aesthetic aspects but merely praised its usefulness. Over the years the wooden construction of the bridge has decayed, so a new, permanent solution has to be found.
If we are looking for a solution in the new spatial and program formats, then the possibilities are countless. If we want to emphasize simplicity and discretion, all solutions are pointing toward a single final solution. Then the question arises, how to realize Plečnik’s idea? Should one design a prominent authorial object with a strong presence in the river corridor, or just the opposite — a discreet, quiet architecture which dwells over the river almost as an immaterial idea of a bridge. Both solutions are possible and legitimate.
In our opinion it seems reasonable not to compete with the master in the formal domain. It was our suggestion, therefore, to place a transparent, elegant footbridge of minimalist design over the river, one which will allow unobstructed views along the river but also connect both banks as a wide viewpoint over the river.
Our aim was to design a bridge that has a construction as thin as possible, and bridge railing as transparent as possible. In this project we used all our previously gained experience with steel construction design and realization, as well as the use of new materials and technologies.
As previously mentioned, in this kind of approach all solutions lead towards a final form, where it is impossible to take anything away or further thin down the construction and thus the shape. Statically speaking, the footbridge is a frame construction with the horizontal element comprising a thin steel box, fastened into the vertical element represented by a concrete pillar on the right bank of Ljubljanica River. On the opposite side, at Makalonca, the steel pylon is simply leaning on the bank with two elastic beds. The steel deck resembles a shallow ‘’V’’ in the cross section, and the deck measures 82 feet in length and 11 feet in width, with a construction height of only 20 inches.
Towards the edges, the deck narrows to a mere 10 inches, which gives it a very elegant look. The shallow triangular cross-section of the deck sets up a dynamic visual dialogue with the views from the river.
From a distance, we first see the bridge as a thin side ridge with one of the lower suspension panels of the deck. The latter is, as one approaches the bridge, widening visually and developing under the bridge an entire view of the bridge deck. Finally, it narrows to a perception of one of the bridge panels.
The deck, in its lowest point, almost touches the central arcade opening of Plečnik’s Makalonca facade and is removed from it with a distance. The deck is off-white in color which corresponds perfectly with the surrounding riverside area, while at the same time the reflections from the river create a play of light and shadow on the lower surface of the bridge. Together with the previously mentioned visual dynamics this effect gives the bridge an interesting kaleidoscopic feeling.
In connecting the deck to the shore and designing the fastening and setting up beds, we decided for an ‘’archaeological’’ approach. In this way we preserved the original appearance of the existing shore facades, (although they are in parts minimally covered by the diagonal profile of the bridge deck). For this purpose the foundations and the beds are concealed behind facade surfaces. For example, near Makalonca the bridge deck is set on a bed which is installed behind Plačnk’s facade and is, when necessary, accessible via revision shafts covered by the pavement of the riverside promenade. It is a simple, yet innovative solution to the problem, leaving the facade intact in case this bridge will be replaced with yet another solution in the future.
The bridge surface is inserted into both shores between Plečnik’s decorative fence made of terrazzo. The walking surface over the steel construction is multi-layered: epoxy layers with a mid-layer of electric heating foil, and an upper layer made of aluminum profiles which are anodized in a light gray color (a relatively new solution but nonetheless used several times in urban footbridges).