Following on their completed restoration and redesign earlier this year of the Brutalist heritage Zvonarka Central Bus Terminal in Brno, CZ, CHYBIK + KRISTOF ARCHITECTS & URBAN DESIGNERS and DÍLNA unveil their new design for the city’s historical Mendel Square. Conducted in collaboration with local landscape architect Zdenek Sendler and transportation engineering firm PK Ossendorf as the first phase of a larger revival plan for this focal part of the city, they transform the existing, decaying transportation hub into a vibrant public space, celebrating Brno’s cultural patrimony while rethinking the site as a functional entity adapted to contemporary social needs.
Mirroring much of Brno’s millennial architectural patrimony, Mendel Square has long foregone its historical significance to become one of the city’s primary transportation hubs, increasingly sidelined by its inhabitants as it fell to gradual deterioration. Active advocates for the preservation of architectural heritage, CHYBIK + KRISTOF reaffirm their longstanding engagement, as their new design for the site joins the restored Brutalist heritage landmark, Zvonarka Bus Terminal, on the studio’s list of architectural protection initiatives. A homage to the area’s multilayered history, their proposal engages with distinct periods of its past, reflected in the surrounding monuments, all-the-while placing the square as the marker of a new chapter in Brno’s historical and sociocultural narrative.
Reflecting the studio’s analysis of the area’s social dynamics, Mendel Square is conceived as a user-centered public space: accessible and functional. The transformation of the square was first initiated by Brno’s chief architect Michal Sedlacek in 2018. After an in-depth study of the area, Sedlacek and his team proposed a series of adjustments for a comprehensive reconstruction, which, following a local public competition, was awarded to dílna. Working with local authorities and practitioners, including landscape specialist Zdenek Sendler and transportation engineering firm PK Ossendorf, CHYBIK + KRISTOF and dílna propose a multifaceted platform responsive to public needs, supplementing the transportation hub with a sociocultural dimension that has come to characterize many of the studio’s innovative and versatile designs. Adopting a holistic social and technical approach, they reconnect it with the city and its inhabitants, affirming its ties with the past while ensuring its relevance for contemporary, and future, living.
Located in the heart of Stare Brno, the oldest part of the town, Mendel Square finds itself at a cultural crossroads for the area. Looking out onto the 14th-century Basilica of Assumption of Our Lady, considered one of the Moravian region’s jewels of Gothic architecture, the square is bordered by the centennial Starobrno brewery and adjoining city walls, leading to the city’s towering Spilberk Castle. With deep ties to the adjacent Abbey of Saint Augustin, the square owes its name to Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar who used the affixed monastery’s greenhouse from 1856 to 1863 for the experiments at the roots of modern genetics. Drawing on the history and scientific legacy of the site, CHYBIK + KRISTOF and dílna extend their revival of the original greenhouse to that of the eponymous neighboring square. Originally used as a public park, the square was damaged by air raids during the Second World War. Rebuilt in the 1960s, shunned by the decades-long Communist regime, it became used for multimodal transport, adding onto its atypical typology composed of a 1930s Modernist solitaire building, Post-Modern structures from the 1970s, neoclassical city blocks, and forgotten landmarks. Soon losing its historical value, it was left subject to gradual and irrecoverable decay.
Responding to the square’s primary use as one of Brno’s primary public hubs, they rekindle the site with its past function as an integrated public space. Reorganizing the areas allotted to public transport and the residual green space from the previous layout, CHYBIK + KRISTOF and dílna revive and foster thriving social capital. Centered around a vast circular area, the square is entirely barrier-free, accessible from all sides and visible from all angles. Using exclusively sustainable, reusable materials, they position new stops that ensure the fluid transition from tram and trolleybuses to municipal and regional bus lines. By creating a walkable, inclusive space, the dynamic of the square moves from a place dominated by public transport and cars to a safe center for pedestrians, in turn redefining the flow for the rest of the square.
Engaging in a vibrant dialogue with the historic surroundings, they foster recreational use and cultural observation of the city’s assets as the focal point for their design. The urban furniture installed is modular in layout, with movable benches that allows for various arrangements of the space. Calling back to Brno’s signature aesthetics, the paved circle’s red tints reflect that of the bricks that adorn the neighboring Basilica and monastery, surrounded by grey tiles that evoke the dominant granite color in the rest of the city. And, honoring this pillar in the city’s cultural history, they elevate a new statue of Gregor Mendel at the very heart of the square.
Their nature-friendly design, like that of the revived Mendel Greenhouse, references the scientist’s contributions. Erecting specifically bred tree species that retain more water while providing shade, they envision the square as the new lungs of the city, revisiting the greenhouse’s regulative properties and sustainable scheme. A water reservoir below the pavement ensures the flow between the roots, hereby supporting this new green community.
Fusing transportation and cultural functions, CHYBIK + KRISTOF and dílna’s multifaceted design gives prominence to the notion of fluidity: within the square, and as it relates to the rest of the city. Cofounding architects Ondrej Chybik and Michal Kristof explain:
“Our new design brings a contemporary relevance to Mendel Square, moving from a lacking transportation terminal to a functional public space. This site plays a central role for the area and for the interactions within it. Rather than opting for a typical four-sided structure, we unify all functions in a core, inclusive paved circle that redefines the space. Not only is it more intelligible, but it also considers the needs of all possible users – locals and foreigners, passengers and visitors, young and old generations alike.”
Led in conjunction with the revival of the neighboring Mendel Greenhouse, Mendel Square is due for completion in July 2022 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Gregor Mendel’s birth.