Bratislava is not like Rotterdam or other cities that were bombed during World War II. There, the scale of destruction of old buildings gave architects the freedom to indulge their fantasies; the result was many skyscrapers. Here in Bratislava, where the destruction was less extensive, a delicate balance remains between inhabitants and developers. Thus, the city will probably have an easy task rejecting the latest high-rise project.
One can hardly wonder at the urban conservatism of Bratislavans. During the postwar 'ideological bombing' of the downtown area, Bratislava lost two thirds of its historical core. While nobody can now imagine Prague without Mala Strana or Kampa, Bratislava lost its 'Mala Strana' during communism: 228 houses were levelled to make space for the construction of a single bridge.
Given this historical context, Bratislava city real estate has become a battlefield between private developers, who want to make money on their properties and often push for massive new buildings, and city council, which must respect the wishes of conservationists and must have a clear plan of where it wants to locate new businesses and create retail opportunities.
Taking a lesson from the experiences of some western cities, where the construction of suburban hypermarkets gutted the downtown retail core, Bratislava city council is determined not to make the same mistakes. Downtown building will be permitted, but within certain guidelines.
The most significant potential engine of downtown Bratislava growth is SNP Square. Since planning laws do not allow tall buildings to be built on SNP square, the city is now looking for an investor to finance the construction of an underground business, retail and leisure centre with an area of more than 7,600 square meters. No new construction is possible in either the historical core or its environs, largely because no vacant sites exist.
Bratislava does have areas designed for tall buildings. Karadžičová Street is such a zone. Once a periphery, today the street features a tall VÚB bank building that may one day lie on a corridor of skyscrapers.
The other area in which architects can work without the limits they face in the historical centre is that of the new opera building, the winter port and Bratislava's 'Fleet Street' - the Slovakopress complex on Pribinová street. In the early 1990s the city lured foreign investors to this area, but was unable to convince the state government to turn over the land to city council (the city actually owned only two of the 20 city blocks in the planned development zone). Thankfully, the current political climate seems to be in favor of transferring state property to the city, and the planned development may soon be realised.
David Arneil is Associate Director of Cost Management at Capita Beard Dove. His column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.