Moving Ground

Masterplan for activating a creek as a catalyst for the life-quality of a district, in collaboration with ir arch Karel Bruyland


Cutting the 14th district of Budapest from west to east, the Rakos-creek is slowly making its way from spring to join the Donau, further downtown. In Zuglo the Rakos-creek is always there, but also perpetually on the move. Modest as it is, is it merely passing through? Any waterway is always some kind of border that has to be bridged or crossed. Rakos is no exception. Although being a border, it doesn’t really cut the district up in distinct different areas, rather it strolls through the separate areas of Zuglo that seem to be already there. What a great walk: tying together an abandoned railway station, green residential neighborhoods, big scale urban leisure facilities and high rise dwellings. Tamed by urban planning, the creek lost its meandering, snakelike shape and does this walk in straight lines nowadays, only bending a few times in calculated ways. Along this line, the landscape is always changing, but the line itself stays pretty much the same. A quite uniform section moving through the district without much of a topography and with patches of unused or under used land bordering it, sometimes big, sometimes only a few meters in width. The line, together with its green perimeter, is a place of transit. Things are on the move, water, cyclists, hikers; there’s no real reason to stop here. This transitory feel of the creek doesn’t seem to have that much to do with a lack of program or function. There’s lots of things to do at these kinds of ‘unassigned’ places. (Where did you have your first cigarette?) No doubt there is always great potential in these places. Rather it seems to have to do with a lack of place. There are no points on the line to stop at. There are no spots that become a destination in itself, a place to drop off your bike and be at the creek. Instigating people to halt at the creek and really be there, that would be developing the latent quality of this subtle and uncultivated condition.

The creek being a uniform line, points could be imagined that deviate from this uniformity to become destination places. Places to halt for your picnic while cycling. They shouldn’t deviate too much, they belong to the landscape of the creek, they’re part of it, not something different. Since the creek has no real topography except for the riverbed itself, introducing topography can be used to create these places. Digging holes and slopes, shoveling earth and stacking it somewhere else, making hills. Basically moving ground around to make a place. Animals have been doing this for ages. It’s altering the landscape with the elements already there: slopes, grass and green, the slit with the water a few meters lower. It’s researching the minimum requirements to make a space. This is perhaps the simplest of ways in defining a space, so in the end not expensive. Certainly if you think up the design so that ground is only moved on the spot, stacking the exact amount of ground as you’re digging out.

In a first phase, nothing has to be added to make the place work. You can work the only details there are: the slopes. Soft inclination for using, covered with grass. Bigger inclination for looking at, covered with colorful flowers and plants which keep the earth together with their roots. Some elements can be added in a second phase. A concrete surface increases the flexibility of potential use. Later on a bench to sit on. Some standard streetlights mark the places at night and turn them into safe public spaces. No function or program is introduced, the places are versatile micro-environments accommodating all sorts of random, spontaneous or less spontaneous events. Flexibility is at its maximum allowing for different events to take place at different points in time. The construction of one such place can be phased, only adding ‘non-natural’ elements later. In the end it’s a whole family of related, but different spaces, that can start off with just one site, also phasing the Rakos-project as a whole. The variations with this apparatus are pretty much endless. It’s an apparatus which can be applied to the entire length of the creek. Presented here are four very specific designs, each one uniquely attached to its site, fully getting the potential out of each location. Great places for a family pick nick or a beer with your friends: Gate, Arena, Bridge and Garden.

Groundworks, digging and stacking balanced, four typologies
Colourful flowers
Concrete slabs
Street furniture

In collaboration with engineer-architect Karel Bruyland

Competition application for Europan012
Rakos-creek, Zuglo-district, Budapest

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diagram - phases  

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