Out of the Riverbed, back in the City

Salzburger Nachrichten | Author Bernhard Flieher | the original text is in german

How does one live well on the river? Two young architects want to bring the city closer to the river, where it already once was.

The Salzach has deepened into its river bed. And so has she withdrawn from the people of the city. And between embankment, cycle paths and sidewalk, multi-lane roads and house walls, it is a tight squeeze for people who want to approach the river. Splashing out. Even letting one’s feet hang in the water is hardly possible. "The river only runs through the city - it does not belong to it at all," says Horst Lechner. Park benches with the best views of the city are quickly occupied on summer days. The slopes behind the water are steep and the outlying area separates the people from the water.ser.

In the Salzburg city area you will never stroll on, but always above the water.  But that was once different. And there is where Lukas Ployer and Horst Lechner want to go again.

The two of them want to go back to the Salzach - directly to and, where possible, into the water. And they want to take the city with them.  25-year-old Ployer from Eugendorf and 26-year-old Lechner, who grew up in the Andräviertel, completed their studies of architecture at the Kunstuni in Linz with a thesis on the "Salzach River." In the subtitle they make their plan clear: "Transformation to a livable space". They are showcasing their work on the Salzach and the surrounding urban space as part of the the Architecture Initiative at the Salzburger Künstlerhaus.

The fact that it takes a transformation for the Salzach to become integrated with people’s lives again implies that the city and the Salzach have alienated themselves from one another and their relationship has disappeared. Lechner and Ployer have meticulously worked through this process as the basis for their vision. In Milan, they also took a course at the university, which focused on the construction and urban revitalization of river landscapes.

In the course of more than a century and a half since its regulation, the Salzach has actually dug itself in. It runs now about seven to eight meters lower than it once did. The Salzach has disappeared, if not quite out of the cityscape, then out of city life. Artificially created parks were created from natural recreation areas such as floodplain landscapes."You can see in old pictures how the river once belonged to life in the city," says Ployer, who used to think of life on and with the river. He believes it should go back to how it was. Or, conversely, that the city should be restore closer to the river..

"There have already been hundreds of projects for this," says Lechner, but they always had problems, "because they was only thought in small sections. The projects weren’t thought out for the entire river, they were all about improving small sections of it. " And most of the time, these projects focused on problematic parts in the tourist areas between the bridge in Nonntal and Makartsteg. These discussions provoke "then always the highest emotions" (Ployer).

The two of them do not fall into this trap. The space of their project ranges from the Überfuhrsteg in the south to the new dam in the north.

The tricky inner-city district where there is the dam at the Kaistraßen and where a lot of  space for motorized traffic is built - is only about 20 percent of the river space, the two observe. “It would be easier to change the remaining 8 percent in the periphery just a few interventions and innovations, so that people - such as pupils in nearby schools - can make better use of the river space,” says Lechner

For years, the two have been dealing with the topic. It is also a kind of artistic heir of Lechner's father. Horst Lechner, who died at the age of 55 in 2014, was one of the few architects in Salzburg who, apart from building, was concerned with the common good of the town, in order to create a harmonious existence in the city. The river and its integration into urban life has always played a significant role. His son, Horst, and Lukas Ployer are not interested in "creating new moods" either. "We just want to bring back qualities that have already been there in the same places," says Ployer.

The two are also not afraid to push aside car traffic to make room on the river for their dieas. "It’s not enough just to plan on the river. We have to think big," says Lechner, who, while proposing concrete measures in their project, said: "It is not easy to implement these ideas. However, it's all about creating awareness for this topic, because it is about the question: how do we want to live in this city?"

The main priority would be a change of the river’s profile. The young utopians propose "staircases and flattening instead of quenching." The current trapezoidal shape that the river has formed is not suitable for bringing people to the river. It could be changed to shallower shores, giving direct access to the water. It is difficult to intervene in the water because of the high flow velocity and because rain and melting snow on the Salzach also have a direct impact on the urban area. In regards to measures for flooding and high water, it is best to “always react to the river instead of acting with it.” 

The young architects are not concerned with dramatic interventions. Instead, "restraint and respect" are their driving forces. Ployer and Lechner deal with the topic on a sensory level and, despite all the expertise between urban planning and floods. “It is not about enlisting yourself into the cityscape as an architect,” says Lechner "It does not make sense to only build something so that someone comes photograph it because it looks so architecturally spectacular," says Ployer. The city has enough of such buildings, especially the historical ones. It's not about tourist attractions, but “about the people who live here and should have something from the river”

Exhibition: Salzach River, Architecture Initiative in the Salzburg Künstlerhaus until 27. May. 

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